The Story Behind The Star Spangled Banner

The Star Spangled Banner is the greatest and most awesome national anthem of all time. Okay, being a home grown Mid-Western American, maybe I’m a little biased. But there aren’t many things more rousing than hearing your favorite artist belt out America’s song.

In honor of America’s birthday, we’re sharing the Star Spangled Banner in its entirety, along with some interesting facts about this inspiring anthem. 

In 1814, amateur poet Francis Scott Key wrote a poem originally titled “The Defense of Fort McHenry” after he witnessed the Maryland fort being bombarded by the British during the War of 1812. Legend has it that Key was inspired by the sight of a lone US flag still flying at daybreak after a long night of intense fighting, which is the genesis for this crescendo: “And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.” 

Francis Scott Key was born on August 1, 1779, at his family’s estate in what is now Carroll County Maryland. He eventually became a successful lawyer, and was later appointed US Attorney for the District of Columbia. 

America declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812 after a series of escalating trade disagreements. British troops invaded Washington DC and burned the White House, Capital Building and Library of Congress in August of 1814. Their next target would be Baltimore. 

During Britain’s military onslaught, one of Key’s friends, Dr. Williams Beanes was taken prisoner by the British. Key, being a passionate and ingenuitive friend, located the ship that Beanes was being held and negotiated his release. However, Keys and Beanes were not allowed to leave until after the British bombarded Fort McHenry. 

Key watched the British blast the fort from a boat anchored several miles offshore from Baltimore. The Fort stood strong, and eventually the British forces gave up. Key was relieved and inspired when he saw the American Flag still flying over Fort McHenry. That morning, he quickly penned a few lines in tribute to what he had witnessed. Those few lines turned into what we know today as The Star Spangled Banner.

At the time, Key’s original poem was printed in many newspapers and was often set to the music of a popular English drinking song called “To Anacreon in Heaven”. Eventually people began referring to the song as “The Star-Spangled Banner” and in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson announced that it should be played at all official events. It was adopted as the National Anthem of the United States of America on March 3, 1931.  

The flag that flew over Fort McHenry in 1914 is housed in the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History in Washington DC. 

Whitney Houston performing the National Anthem at Super Bowl XXXV in 1991, often cited as one the best performances of The Star-Spangled Banner of all time.

The original poem as written by Francis Scott Key. 

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?

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 wash’d out their foul footstep’s 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 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.


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