O say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro’ the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro’ the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
On the shore dimly seen thro’ the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
“The Star-Spangled Banner” is the national anthem of the United States. The lyrics were written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key, a 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet, after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland by British ships in Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812. It became well known as a patriotic song to the tune of a popular English song, “To Anacreon in Heaven.” It was recognized for official use by the United States Navy (1889) and by the White House (1916), and was made the national anthem by a Congressional resolution on March 3, 1931. Although the song has four stanzas, only the first is commonly sung today.
On September 3, 1814, Key and John S. Skinner of Baltimore, Maryland, an American prisoner exchange agent, set sail from Baltimore aboard the sloop HMS Minden flying a flag of truce approved by James Madison. Their goal was to secure the release of Dr. William Beanes, the elderly and popular town physician of Upper Marlboro, a friend of Key’s who had been captured in Washington, DC and had been accused of harboring British deserters. Key and Skinner boarded the British flagship HMS Tonnant on September 7 and spoke with General Robert Ross and Admiral Alexander Cochrane over dinner, while they also discussed war plans. In the beginning, Ross and Cochrane refused to release Beanes, but relented after Key and Skinner showed them letters written by wounded British prisoners praising Beanes and other Americans for their kind treatment.
Because Key and Skinner had heard much of the preparations for the Baltimore attack, they were held captive until after the battle, first aboard HMS Surprise, and later back onto the Minden sloop, waiting behind the British fleet. On September 13, at 7 a.m., the British fleet attacked the fort and the Battle of Baltimore was under way. Bombardment of the fort continued until 1 a.m. on September 14, after which some British gunboats attempted to slip past the fort and effect a landing in a cove to the west of it, but they were turned away by gunners at nearby Fort Covington, the city’s last line of defense. During the rainy night, Key had witnessed the bombardment and observed that the fort’s smaller “storm flag” continued to fly, but once the shelling stopped and it grew dark, he would not know how the battle turned out until dawn. By then, the storm flag had been lowered and the larger main flag had been raised.
Francis Scott Key’s original manuscript copy of his Star-Spangled Banner poem. It is now on display at the Maryland Historical Society.Key was inspired by the American victory and the sight of the enormous American flag flying triumphantly above the fort. This flag, with fifteen stars and fifteen stripes, is today on display in the National Museum of American History, a part of the Smithsonian Institution. This flag was restored in 1914 by Amelia Fowler, and again in 1998 as part of an ongoing conservation program.
The next day, Key wrote a poem aboard the ship on the back of a letter he had in his pocket, continuing to write during the sail. After being released with Skinner in Baltimore at twilight on September 16, Key finished the poem at the Indian Queen Hotel where he was staying, entitling it “Defence of Fort McHenry”.
Key gave his poem to his brother-in-law, Judge Joseph H. Nicholson, who recognized that the poem fit the tune of “To Anacreon in Heaven”, a popular melody dating from the mid-1760s, written in London by John Stafford Smith. Nicholson took the poem to a printer. These broadside copies, the song’s first known printing, were printed anonymously in Baltimore on September 17 — of these, two known copies still exist.
On September 20, both the Baltimore Patriot and The American printed the song, with the note “Tune: Anacreon in Heaven.” The song quickly became popular, with 17 newspapers from Georgia to New Hampshire printing it. Soon after, Thomas Carr of the Carr Music Store in Baltimore published the words and music together under the title “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The song quickly became popular, and the first public performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” took place in October, when Baltimore actor Ferdinand Durang sang the song at Captain McCauley’s tavern.
Percy Moran drew Francis Scott Key reaching out towards the flag in 1913. The song gained popularity throughout the19th century. On July 27, 1889, Secretary of the Navy Benjamin F. Tracy signed General Order #374, making “The Star-Spangled Banner” the official tune to be played at the raising of the flag.
In 1916, Woodrow Wilson ordered that “The Star Spangled Banner” be played at military and other appropriate occasions. Two years later, in 1918, the song was first played at a baseball game; in the World Series, the band started an impromptu performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the seventh-inning stretch. The players and spectators stood at attention, took off their hats, and sang, giving rise to a tradition that is repeated at almost every professional baseball game in United States today, though it is now performed prior to the first pitch.
On November 3, 1929, Robert Ripley drew a cartoon in his Believe it or Not!, saying, “Believe it or Not, America has no national anthem.” In 1931, John Philip Sousa published his opinion in favor, stating that “it is the spirit of the music that inspires” as much as it is Key’s “soulstirring” words. By Congressional resolution signed by President Herbert Hoover, “The Star-Spangled Banner” was adopted as the national anthem of the United States on March 3rd, 1931.
on: 14th April 06