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The Star Spangled Banner

In 1812 the USA declared war on Britain for a number of reasons including a desire to occupy parts of Canada and the Brits press-ganging American citizens into the Royal Navy. In 1814 British troops marched on Washington D.C. and burned down the White House. Then they sailed for Baltimore, taking a civilian prisoner with them – a Dr. William Beanes.

The next day, Francis Scott Key, a prominent young lawyer from Washington, met with British military commanders and persuaded them to release Beanes. However, the British would not let Key go until the planned bombardment of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry was over. So he was detained on the British boat overnight.

During the night, Key got a first-hand look at the raging battle. He assumed that the British would take Baltimore, as they had Washington. But in the morning, he awoke to find that the American flag was still flying over Fort McHenry.

Inspired by the American defence, he jotted down an emotional poem:
Oh, 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, thro’ the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro’ the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say, does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen thro’ 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 on the stream;
‘Tis the Star Spangled Banner, Oh long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and home of the brave!

Oh, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d homes and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquor 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 home of the brave!
The next day, Key showed the poem to his wife’s sister. She found it so inspiring that she took it to a printer, made hand-bills, and circulated the poem around Baltimore. The next week, the Baltimore American newspaper became the first to publish it.

The poem fitted the melody of The Anacreontic Song, a British drinking song and the official song of the Anacreontic Society, an 18th-century gentlemen's club of amateur musicians in London:
To Anacreon in Heav’n, where he sat in full glee,
A few Sons of Harmony sent a petition;
That he their Inspirer and Patron would be;
When this answer arrived from the Jolly Old Grecian;
“Voice, Fiddle, and Flute, No longer be mute,
I’ll lend you my name and inspire you to boot,
And besides I’ll instruct you like me, to intwine,
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.”
The Star Spangled Banner did not become the American National Anthem until 1931 after being voted down in 1929 because of the British tune, and it being a poor marching song.

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