Do you recognize these words? Do you know where they came from?
Yes, this is our National Anthem. It was written as a poem by Francis Scott Key on September 14,1814. Key was a 35 year old lawyer in Washington DC during the War of 1812. The War of 1812 was the second war that Americans fought against England. Many Americans did not agree with the declaration of war against England but President Madison requested this declaration from Congress in response to England impressing our sailors.
Key was one of those Americans that did not agree with the war. However, war came to Washington on August 24,1814 as the British burned the Capital and the White House. The British were heading north toward Maryland to take Fort McHenry and Key was going to be in the middle of the battle.
The British soldiers were looting throughout the cities in Maryland and a doctor named William Beanes complained as the British were looting his office. The British soldiers had him arrested and placed on a prison ship in Chesapeake Bay in view of Fort McHenry.
Beanes was a family friend of Key and when he heard of this, he wanted to do something to help him. He appealed to President Madison to be able to negotiate his release. On September 7, 1814 Key and an prison exchange officer were allowed to board the British ship and were able to convince the British commander to release the doctor.
As they were ready to leave the ship, the Battle of Baltimore was beginning and they were now stuck. They watched the entire bombardment from the ship as night fell on September 13th. Fort McHenry took a such a beating that Key thought it would be impossible for it to survive. The bombs bursting in air, lit up the sky like fireworks.
He waited in anticipation for the sun to rise on the 14th to see which flag would be flying over the fort. As the sun rose, he was relieved and proud to see that, “Our flag was still there”! The Americans had won the Battle of Baltimore.
Key had written some of the lines aboard the ship and completed his poem later. The poem eventually was put to music and became out national anthem in 1931.
Francis Scott Key’s poem tells a story. A story of a divided nation not wanting to be involved in another war. A story of innocent civilians caught in the middle. It is also a reminder that no matter how much pounding, attack, or bombardment our nation takes, you can have confidence that in the “dawns early light” our flag will still be there.