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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Tips on Tuesday: Celebrating America and The Star Spangled Banner--Our National Anthem

I had a few requests for more information after my first
Celebrating America post. My plan was to get this written and posted on the Fourth of July...but if you saw the post about how we spent our holiday, you'll understand why this is a little late.

Below is information regarding our National Anthem. I know a lot of people would lobby to abandon this for another song, but when you know the meaning behind the lyrics, I don't know if you would want to change anything.

Some things you might not know about the National Anthem. It was written by Francis Scott Key, a lawyer from Baltimore, wrote this while being held captive on a British ship. It was during the War of 1812, when Key went to attempt to negotiate the release of American prisoners. While aboard the ship, he heard about the plans to attack Baltimore and was kept as a prisoner until after the attack.

Here is the story as I have heard it. I found this reprint here. The author is unknown, but they credit a WHO Radio broadcast from 2003. I saw a video made of this exact wording back in 1995, so I know the origins precede the radio broadcast. I apologize that I haven't found the author to credit. The photos below are the actual flag that flew over Fort McHenry. After I heard the story behind the song, I no longer wish to change the song. It speaks to the heart of the American spirit.

The Story behind The Star Spangled Banner
Francis Scott Key was a lawyer in Baltimore. The colonies were engaged in vicious conflict with the mother country, Britain. Because of this conflict (and the protractiveness of it), they had accumulated prisoners on both sides. The American colonies had prisoners and the British had prisoners. And the American Government initiated a move. They went to the British and said let us negotiate for the release of these prisoners. They said, “We want to send a man out to discuss this with you.” They were holding the American prisoners in boats about a thousand yards offshore. And they said, “We want to send a man by the name of Francis Scott Key. He will come out and negotiate to see if we can make a mutual exchange.”

On the appointed day, in a rowboat, he went out to this boat and he negotiated with the British Officials. And they reached a conclusion that men could be exchanged on a one-for-one basis. Francis Scott Key, Jubilant with the fact that he'd been successful, went down below in the boats and what he'd found was a cargo hold full of humanity. Men.

And he said, "Men, I've got news for you tonight, you're free!" He said, "Tonight I have negotiated successfully your return to the colonies." He said, "You'll be taken out of this boat, out of this filth, out of your chains.” As he went back up on board to arrange for their passage to the shore, the admiral came and he said, “We have a slight problem.” He said, “We will still honor our commitment to release these men, but it'll be merely academic after tonight. It won't matter.”

Francis Scott Key said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Well Mr. Key, tonight, we have laid an ultimatum upon the colonies. Your people will either capitulate and lay down the colors of that flag that you think so much of, or -- you see that fort right over there -- Fort Henry?" He said, "We're going to remove it from the face of the earth."

[Key] said, "How are you going to do that?"
[The admiral] said, "If you will, scan the horizon of the sea."
As [Key] looked, he could see hundreds of little dots.
And [The admiral] said, “That's the entire British war fleet.” He said, “All of the gun power; all of the armament is being called upon to demolish that fort. [The fleet] will be here within striking distance in a matter of about two and a half hours.” He said, “The war is over; these men would be free anyway.”
[Key] said, "You can't shell that fort!" He said, “That's a large fort.” He said, “It's full of women and children.” He said, “It's predominantly not a military fort.”
[The Admiral] said, "Don't worry about it. They said we've left them a 'way out'"
[Key] said, "What's that?"
[The Admiral] said, "Do you see that flag way up there on the rampart?" He said, "We have told them that if they will lower that flag, the shelling will stop immediately...and we'll know that they've surrendered...and you'll now be under British rule.”

Francis Scott Key went down below and told the men what was about to happen. And they said, "How many ships?", and he said, "Hundreds." The ships got closer. Francis Scott Key went back up on top and he said, "Men, I'll shout down to you what's going on as we watch." As twilight began to fall…and as the hays hung over the oceans as it does at sunset, suddenly the British war fleet unleashed.


He said, "The sounds were deafening." He said, "There were so many guns, there were no reliefs." He said, "It was absolutely impossible to talk or hear." He said, "Suddenly, the sky, although dark, was suddenly lit." And he says from down below, all he could hear, the men, the prisoners saying was, "Tell us where the flag is. What have they done with the flag? Is the flag still flying over the rampart? Tell us!"

One hour. Two hours. Three hours into the shelling. Every time the bomb would explode and it would be close to the flag, they could see the flag in the illuminated red glare of that bomb, and Francis Scott Key would report down to the men below, "It's still up! It's not down!”

The admiral came, and he said, "Your people are insane." He said, "What's the matter with them?" He said, "Don't they understand this is an impossible situation?"

Francis Scott Key said he remembered what George Washington had said. He said, "The thing that sets the American Christian apart from all other people in the world is he will die on his feet before he'll live on his knees.”

The Admiral said, “We have now instructed all of the guns to focus on the rampart to take that flag down.” He said, “We don't understand something. Our reconnaissance tells us that that flag has been hit directly...again...and again...and again, and yet it's still flying. We don't understand that.” “But”, he said; “now we're about to bring every gun, for the next three hours, to bear on that point.”

Francis Scott Key said the barrage was unmerciful. All that he could hear...was the men down below...praying. The prayer: "God keep that flag flying...where we last saw it."

Sunrise came. [Key] said there was a heavy mist hanging over the land, but the rampart was tall enough...there stood the flag...completely shreds. The flagpole itself was at a crazy angle. But the flag was still at the top. Francis Scott Key (went aboard and) immediately went into Fort Henry to see what had happened. And what he'd found had happened was that that flagpole and that flag had suffered repetitious direct hits...and when it had fallen...that men, fathers...who knew what it meant for that flag to be on the ground...although knowing that all of the British guns were trained on it, walked over and held it up...humanly...until they died. Their bodies were removed and others took their place.

Francis Scott Key said what held that flagpole in place at that unusual angle...were patriots' bodies.

The Star Spangled Banner
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! Oh 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 victory 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!

God Bless America!

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