The National Anthem

What big league baseball game could be complete without a rousing rendition of the National Anthem? Most Americans, however, do not know the complete story of how America’s official song came into being.

The story of the National Anthem occurs in the context of the War of 1812. In this time of war with Great Britain, Americans again sought God’s gracious providential aid. On September 10, 1813, for example, Lieutenant Oliver Hazard Perry won a remarkable victory over the British Navy on Lake Erie. When the victory was secure, it was reported that he bowed his head and said, “The prayers of my wife are answered.” He wrote to the Secretary of the Navy:

It has pleased the Almighty to give the arms of the United States a signal victory over their enemies on this lake. The British squadron, consisting of two ships, two brigs, one schooner, and one sloop have this moment surrendered to the force of my command after a sharp conflict.

Another hero of the War of 1812 was Andrew Jackson. In the Battle of New Orleans, on January 8, 1815, the United States achieved one of the greatest victories in the War. Andrew Jackson, the commander in chief, wrote of the day to this friend Robert Hays:

It appears that the unerring hand of Providence shielded my men from the shower of balls, bombs, and rockets, when every ball and bomb from our guns carried with them a mission of death.

After the same battle, he also wrote to Secretary of War James Monroe:

Heaven, to be sure, has interposed most wonderfully in our behalf, and I am filled with gratitude, when I look back to what we have escaped.

In the context of this war, the National Anthem was conceived. The story begins with the first light of dawn on September 13, 1814. It was then that the British fleet commenced its bombardment of Fort McHenry, in Baltimore’s harbor. Throughout the day and night, the cannonade continued, lighting up the sky with explosions.

Historic image of Fort McHenry

Aboard a British ship as the battle ensued, were two Americans, under a flag of truce. Francis Scott Key and the other man were there to negotiate an exchange of prisoners. During the bombing, Key wrote in his notebook the words that came to mind as he watched to see if the fort’s huge flag was still standing after each blast. Early on the next day, a storm blew in, shrouding the attack on Baltimore’s harbor. Key hoped to see the star spangled banner still flying over Fort McHenry. Joyfully, at the first light of dawn, he saw the American flag still waving over the Fort. It was then that he wrote the moving poem that would become our National Anthem:

O 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, through the perilous fight,

O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?

And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs 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?

But all but forgotten are the stirring words of the last stanza of our National Anthem. While rarely sung today, the words clearly reveal a faith in God’s providential care, and also suggest a motto for our Nation. The last stanza of our National Anthem says:

O! thus be it ever when free men shall stand

Between their loved home 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 to 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!

The American National Anthem Text

The Star Spangled Banner became our National Anthem on March 3, 1931. When our nation recognized it as our official Anthem, the future generations of America were called with heart and lips to affirm that government and faith were allies in regard to the praise that is due to the providential “Pow’r that hath made and preserved us a nation!”

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