Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Story Behind the National Anthem

[Reposted from my archives. Happy birthday America!]

The Story Behind The National Anthem
By an unknown speaker

There was a lawyer once. His name was Francis Scott Key. He penned a song that I'm sure you're aware of. You've seen it; it's in most hymnals throughout our churches. It's called the National Anthem. It is our song as an American.

We go, however, to a ballgame; we stand in our church services and we sing the words to that song and they float over our minds and our lips and we don't even realize what we're singing. Most of us have memorized it as a child. But we've never really thought about what it means. Let me tell you a story.

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.

He penned the song.

"Oh say, can you the dawn's early light...what so proudly we the twilight's last gleaming...for the rocket's red glare...the bombs bursting in air...gave proof through the night...that the flag was still there! Oh say, does that star spangled banner yet (fly and) wave...for the land of the free...and the home of the brave." The debt was demanded. The was paid.

(Actual lyrics)
The Star Spangled Banner
O 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 through the perilous fight
O'er the ramparts we watch'd were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bomb 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 - O 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 wash'd out their foul footstep's 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 lov'd home and the war's desolation!
Blest with vict'ry and peace may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv'd 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.


R. Sherman said...

Thanks for this.

Beau said...

That was nice.

edifice rex said...

Hey, I thought I left a comment? Anyway, great story; very moving. thanks for sharing this.

Ed Abbey said...

Edifice Rex - Fear not you did... just on the one I posted a couple years ago which I linked to your blog. It was only then that I decided to repost it for those who might not have seen it.

PhilippinesPhil said...

A lot of hyperbole there, but nice sentiment. Interestingly, the commander of the Brit forces invading by land was killed in the attempt, effectively ending the British's hopes of taking Baltimore by that method. Hundreds of British ships? Yeah right. If there was a total of 25 I'd be surprised. And Key was only out there to negotiate for one man, that's it. A little modification and you can make that story woth reading Ed. Right now its just a fairy tale based on half truths. Didn't I give you hell over this one last year too? When you going to fix it man?

Ed Abbey said...

Phil - You have said those things before when I have posted this. I haven't edited it because I didn't write it. The author is unknown.

Anonymous said...

Why mess up a beautiful, inspiring, true story?
See here for a list of some of the problems:

Ed Abbey said...

Anonymous - I have a big problem with the site that you pointed me too. The very first thing that the person listed as being wrong with this story is wrong himself. Nowhere in the transcript above or any audio versions does it say this story is about the Revolutionary War. The author of the rebuttal makes it clear from the start of his rebuttal that he hasn't read or listened to the article he is refuting. Hardly seems worth believing anything says don't you think?

Anonymous said...

My first response got lost in posting, so here is an abbreviated version.

I don't always trust everything at that site so I looked around for more information (how I found this). You are correct in that there is no reference to Revolutionary War (none to 1812 either). But the War of 1812 was fought by the United States (15 of them). The story above many times uses "colonies" and "colonists" [even by Key] but never "states". So why use incorrect terms from the past? It would be as though I referred to a recent trip to "Czechoslovakia" depsite that country having split up years ago. There are other more blatant errors. I guess I just don't understand why someone would write the story this way when a more factual accounting could be just as inspiring. The mentality of one commenter at FR who wrote he didn't know or care if story was true shows a disregard for accuracy which bothers me.


Ed Abbey said...

Anonymous - The citizens of America in that era did indeed refer to themselves as colonists. In fact, there are scholars that believe that the founding fathers looked at America as thirteen governments of independent countries bound by one more powerful government rather than a union of states under one government. I don't agree with this assessment from my studies but it is out there none-the-less.

I look at this story and all other historical writings as this: They are one person's interpretation of what transpired and none of us know what really happened. ALL historical writings are interpretations of events. Yes there are several things incorrect in the above posting such as number of boats and that the flag was physically held up by dead bodies. There are also several things listed in the link you pointed out that can neither be proven right or wrong. However, the greater context of this posting, i.e. patriots gave their lives so that we might be free today, is true and the reason why I continue to repost this every forth of July.

I would very much like to find the author of this but to date have been unable to locate the person. The audio version that floats around the web was created by Jan Mickelson of WHO radio who taped the speech and added the patriotic melodies in the background. It is from him that I first heard this and later found the transcript above.

Anonymous said...

The earliest reference I could find was someone saying they had seen it in the early 1990's.
I looked around for early newspapers and books and couldn't (in the limited internet search i did) find any reference to how americans or british referred to us.