Sunday, September 14, 2014

#767. 200th anniversary of "The Star-Spangled Banner"

Francis Scott Key (1779-1843) was a guest aboard the HMS Tonnant (yes, a British ship) when the bombardment of Fort McHenry began on September 13th, 1814.  The rest is history.  He composed "The Star-Spangled Banner," which became the national anthem in 1931, the next morning.  It's the defining moment of the otherwise forgotten War of 1812, a conflict I've come to study (in a strictly amateur fashion) over the years and admire as one of the defining formative moments of America's past.  It was a deeply unpopular war (although I struggle with finding popular ones) and as such probably did James Madison a lot of harm despite an otherwise stellar legacy (Father of the Constitution).  Key was a man of his time, a lawyer and proponent of slavery (yeah, kind of sucks) and so while building a significant legacy of his own was also part of an ignominious one that was hotly debated in his day and years away from being addressed directly.  They were days that pushed the country toward Civil War.  But for one brief moment, the survival of a flag was cause for immeasurable pride, relief, joy.  Other than the raising of another one during WWII, Old Glory has no more defining moment, one many Americans take for granted today, a song they find hard to appreciate, but it's some of the truest poetry we've ever produced.  To wit, the famous first stanza:

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?


The Armchair Squid said...

Key was a Marylander and, of course, Fort McHenry's in Baltimore so this was a central piece of the Maryland history curriculum back when I was a young lad. Probably still is.

Maurice Mitchell said...

The guy was a lyrical genius, but it does suck that he was a supporter of slavery. Of course most people were, so he wasn't unusual.

Tony Laplume said...

Squid, that's why we Mainers study Joshua Chamberlain, too. Or maybe because Jeff Daniels was so awesome in Gettysburg.

Maurice, good point.

The Armchair Squid said...

Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass were the other big stars. Edgar Allen Poe (born in Boston but died in Baltimore) and Babe Ruth? Never mentioned.

Herb said...

Not everyone knows that there are actually four verses to the song. Even back in the early 70's, the 3 television stations signed off the air (Yes, the TV and most radio stations were off the air at a certain time) around 11 or 12 o'clock, giving all their call signs and technical info, then playing the National Anthem. One night one of the Green Bay stations played a recording of a young woman playng the guitar and singing the fourth verse. The station received so many protest calls and letters that they had to go on the 6 O'clock news and explain. It was funny and sad at the same time. Here's the offending verse that was thought to be a disrespectful parody:

Oh! 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!

Tony Laplume said...

How about Edgar Allen Ruth, the home run hitting novelist who played for the Headless Yankees while brainstorming stories?

Herb, according to my research there was even a verse added during the Civil War. It's funny, because we all ought to know there are, in fact, other verses, but they're so much less known (there are people who think the song ought to be played as fast as possible) it'd be a kick to have the whole thing sung. Just imagine!

The Armchair Squid said...

Speaking of headless Yankees, my daughter and I had a funny conversation tonight. As you probably know, the Orioles and Red Sox have a series at Camden this weekend so the game was on NESN tonight. Living with me and living with New England, she's torn between the two teams (inasmuch as she cares at all). I explained that either way, she just had to remember the Yankees are evil.

She rolled her eyes and said, "Dad, I've known that since I was like 3!"

Good girl.

Tony Laplume said...

You are officially a good, nay GREAT! father.


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