National Anthem

The Star-Spangled Banner, the American national anthem, is one of the nations strongest symbols of its patriotism. Written by Francis Key Scott (1814) in the midst of the War of 1812, this songs empowering lyrics inspire and humble us at the start of sporting events, school presentations and political exhibitions. With its unforgettable melody, the national anthem represents a rich part of American history.

War of 1812

To understand how and why the Star-Spangled Banner came together to become our national anthem, its important to have a basic knowledge of the setting in which it was written, namely the War of 1812. Here is a brief summary of this historical conflict.

As the British tried to control Americas shipping and trade activities, tensions began to build between the two countries. To fend off the British attempts to dominate America, Major George Armistead, Commander of Fort McHenry, declared that he wanted a flag so tremendous that “the British would have no trouble seeing it from a distance.”

As a result, Mary Young Pickersgill, a local “maker of colors,” created an impressive flag that measured 30 x 42 feet, with its stars measured two feet from point to point. Using more than forty yards of cloth, the flag was so large that it had to be completed on the floor of a local brewery.

Tensions between America and Britain finally came to a head with the outbreak of the War of 1812 when the British entered Chesapeake Bay, captured Washington and burned the White House. Although the British army was unsuccessful in its subsequent attack on Baltimore, it continued to invade other cities and imprison American citizens.

Francis Scott Key, a young lawyer and poet, knew that his friend Dr. William Beanes had been taken prisoner aboard a British ship. With his friend Colonel Skinner, Francis Scott Key approached the British ship to negotiate the release of Beanes.

While the British agreed to release Dr. Beanes, they detained both Key and Skinner on the ship because these men had become privy to secret information while on board. From this position, Key and Skinner witnessed the British attack the American troops.

British Attack

The intense British attack on Americans that included 1500 rounds of heavy shells moved Francis Scott Key. Although the shells had been set with time delay fuses, many of them detonated mid-air. The British also used the new Congrove rocket, a rocket that left its erratic path etched in the sky as a red streak, as they attacked.

Words Take Shape

Francis Scott Key watched from the deck of the British ship on September 12th and 13th, 1814. As he noted his observations, he wrote of “the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air.” As the bright sun rose in the morning, Key was flooded with emotion when he noticed that the giant banner still stood, writing “our flag was still there.”

Defense of Fort McHenry

Key”s poem, entitled Defense of Fort McHenry, was printed and circulated throughout the Baltimore area. It instantly gained popularity among Americans. Not only did a number of different newspapers publish it, many public speakers performed it at rallies and gatherings to inspire patriotism. During one of these public performances, an actor referred to the poem as The Star Spangled Banner. The name soon replaced the former title, Defense of For McHenry.

National Anthem: The Star-Spangled Banner

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson declared that The Star Spangled Banner would be the National Anthem of the United States of America. However, Congress didnt make Wilsons declaration official until March 3, 1931.

When the poem was set to music, ironically, the anthem”s beautiful melody was actually adopted from an old English drinking song composed by John Stafford Smith in the 1700”s.

Over the years, editors have changed the Star-Spangled Banner”s punctuation and even some of its words. Nevertheless, its spirit remains true to that precarious morning when Francis Scott Key was inspired to note his observations. To this day, his legacy of hope and undying patriotism still represents the American spirit.