September 16 1814: Francis Scott Key and An American Anthem

On September 16 1814, the British marines guarding Francis Scott Key leave his sloop and he is able to return, with his companions, to Baltimore. Key takes a room in the Indian Queen Hotel at the southeast corner of Hanover and Baltimore Streets. He has with him the notes and lines for the poem that he was moved to write on seeing the American flag yet waiving over the ramparts of Fort McHenry on September 14 1814. He will revise and copy his poem at the hotel. He will first call it the Defence of Fort McHenry. Later, it will be known as the Star Spangled Banner, the American national anthem. The image above may be a copy of the poem written by him.

Key’s original poem contains the seldom referred to third stanza that includes a line that with the British terror “No refuge could save the hireling and slave.” This line reminds one that Francis Scott Key came from a slave owning family, and that he was angered by the British attempt to lure slaves away during the War of 1812. Slavery, the original sin at the heart of the American experiment, finds its way into each of its symbols. Roger Taney, who encouraged Key to publish his poem, was Key’s brother-in-law. Taney is also the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who wrote the majority opinion in the Dred Scott decision of 1857 that held that African-Americans could not be citizens of the United States under the Constitution.  

O say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ 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?

On the shore dimly seen through 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 in 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.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth 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 loved 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 preserved 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![1]


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