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U.S. Politics

The Star Spangled Banner. The National Anthem of the United States

It was during the war of 1812, the so-called 'Second War of Independence', and the heavy bombing of Baltimores's Fort McHenry by British war ships, when Mr. Francis Scott Key, a young respectable advocate, wrote the first lines of 'The Star Spangled Banner'.
Reason for the reference to the American flag was, that he felt so relieved, when he saw the flag still blowing above Fort Henry after the night of the British attack.

'The Star Spangled Banner' should express his delight, his gratification about America's victory over the British.

He wrote these first lines in the aerly morning hours of September 14th, 1814.

The melody was taken from an old 'drinking song' composed by John Stafford Smith in the year 1780, which had the title "To Anacreon in Heaven".

But at this time it wasn't the national Anthem, instead of that former President ruled in 1916 that it has to be played on festive military and naval occasions. It was not before 1931 that The Star Spangled Banner became the nations most important composition by an Act of Congress, which finally agreed.

United States Codes

Title 36 of the United States Code, Section 301 (former 170), regulates:
(a) Designation: The composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.
(b) Conduct During Playing: During a rendition of the national anthem

Conduct during playing

"During a rendition of the national anthem - (1) when the flag is displayed - (A) all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart; (B) men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold the headdress at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and (C) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note; and (2) when the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.."

Brief Biographies

Francis Scott Key

(1779-1843), lawyer
Born on August 1st in Terra Rubra, Maryland, where his parents owned a larger estate.
Once a pacifist he changed to a big patriot during the War of 1812, the so-called Second War for Independence. At the time he wrote the famous verses of "The Star Spangled Banner" he was aboard a British war ship as a negotiator of the Americans to convince the British to release the captured physician William Beanes, a friend of Keys. The British agreed but delayed both mens departure, because an attack on Baltimore's Fort Henry was in the making.
Key and Beanes couldn't prevent the attack and had only the choice to observe what would happen.
The next morning after a heavy bombing of Fort Henry he was very relieved to to that the American flag, the Star Spangled Banner, was still flown over the Fort.

John Stafford Smith

(1750-1836), composer
Born in Gloucester, Gloucestershire, England.
Member of the well renowned "Anachreonic Society", to which J. S. Bach belonged, too.
1780 he composed the drinking song "To Anacreon in Heaven".

The U.S. National Anthem: The Star Spangled Banner

The anthem consists of 4 verses and normally only the first is played.

The Star Spangled Banner Lyrics

Oh, 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 thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thru 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 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! Oh 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 washed out of of their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave'
From the terror of flight and 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.

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.


Replica of the first printed edition, which combined text and music - one of ten existing copies; photo: LoC



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