The Star-Spangled Banner

Francis Scott Key

Happy Fourth of July!!  Meet Francis Scott Key, a young lawyer from Maryland. In 1814 towards the end of the War of 1812, Key who was a lawyer and an amateur poet was negotiating a prisoner exchange with the British.  He was aboard the HMS Tonnant on the night of September 13 and 14 when the British fleet bombarded Fort McHenry in Baltimore.

Through the rockets red glare and the bombs bursting in air, Key was able to see that the American flag at Fort McHenry was still waving and reported it to the American prisoners below deck.  The experience inspired Key to write and publish the poem “The Defence of Fort McHenry”, which was published on September 20, 1814. It was placed to music and has become known as “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Fort McHenry

The first and last of the four stanzas are provided below.  The fourth stanza (seldom read and never sung) epitomizes the concepts of American exceptionality, reliance on God and appreciation for God-given liberties which, though profound beliefs of American citizens for more than two centuries, have been questioned by some today.

The Star-Spangled Banner

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 through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through 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?

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The original Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired Key, is one of the most treasured artifacts in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington,D.C.

To read more about Key and the Star Spangled Banner:


Tomorrow, The First Official Flag         Rita Bay

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