Saluting the Star-Spangled Banner on National Anthem Day

A Day to Salute the Star-Spangled Banner
This 1948 U.S. postage stamp depicts Francis Scott Key with two American flags.

Today is National Anthem Day, and it is the creation of British cannon fire, words written by Francis Scott Key, and two presidents’ signatures.


The War of 1812

This conflict marked the second time the Americans and British had clashed in this country.

A majority of Americans opposed the war; many believed a diplomatic accommodation with Britain could have avoided the conflict.

One of those individuals was Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and poet, who referred to the fighting as a “lump of wickedness.”

On August 25, 1814, Dr. William Beanes confronted British soldiers attempting to enter his home outside of Baltimore, Maryland.  

For doing so, the 65-year-old American physician was promptly arrested and taken to the Tonnant, an 80-gun British warship anchored at the confluence of the Patapsco River and Chesapeake Bay.

Learning of Beanes’ incarceration, Key petitioned President James Madison for permission to negotiate the doctor’s release.  

On September 5, Key and Colonel John Skinner, a prisoner-of-exchange officer, set course in a small American flag-of-truce vessel for the Tonnant.

Once aboard, they met with British officers to negotiate a release. Within a week’s time, the British agreed to free the doctor.

Skinner, Beanes and Key returned to their ship; however, they were not allowed to return to Baltimore because they knew of the British plan to attack Fort McHenry.

From a distance of about eight miles, Key and his friends would witness the sea-borne attack.


And the Rockets’ Red Glare . . .

Early on September 13th, nineteen British warships commenced a bombardment of the fortification.  In over 24 hours, more than 1800 cannon balls and rockets were fired.

“It seemed as though mother earth had opened and was vomiting shot and shell in a sheet of fire and brimstone,” Key later wrote.

As the day came to an end, Key related that he could see only the “red glare” of British rockets.

“The heavens aglow were a seething sea of flame,” he recorded.

Key had little hope for the fort’s survival.


By the Dawn’s Early Light

Dawn finally came; the mist and smoke dissipated slowly.

“At last,” wrote Key, “a bright streak of gold mingled with crimson shot athwart the eastern sky … as the morning sun rose.”

Flying over Fort McHenry was a large American flag.

Moved to inspiration, Key took a letter out of his coat pocket and on the back of it wrote a poem he entitled, “Defence of Fort M’Henry.”

Not long after, the poem was printed on pamphlets by the Baltimore American.  Within months it was renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and it appeared in newspapers throughout the country.


National Anthem Day

Set to the music of a popular British song, the anthem became a well-known American patriotic song.

During the 19th century, the military regarded “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem.  President Woodrow Wilson agreed, and in 1916 he signed an executive order recognizing it as such.

Fourteen years later, Congress passed an act confirming Wilson’s order, and on March 3, 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed it into law.


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