We know the story of how The Star-Spangled Banner was written. Francis Scott Key, lawyer and amateur poet, sat aboard a British warship in Baltimore Harbor watching the bombardment of Fort McHenry when the lyrics came to him.
He had gone to the ship to discuss a prisoner exchange, but was forced to stay when the battle commenced. From his vantage on the ship, he watched the start of the bombardment, the “rockets’ red glare” illuminating the scene. When dawn finally broke, the Stars and Stripes still flew over the fort, signaling that the Americans had held on.
The original poem was entitled The Defense of Fort McHenry, but Key gave it to a friend who set it to the tune of The Anacreontic Song, a popular piece at the time. It would be another hundred years before The Star-Spangled Banner would become the national anthem, a decision finalized by President Herbert Hoover in 1931. Before that, it was used in a number of military capacities and during events such as the World Series.
This year, we celebrate the bicentennial of The Star-Spangled Banner and what it has meant for our nation since it was written. Until 1931, the United States actually did not have a national anthem. Several different songs were played and sung as patriotic pieces, but none were official anthems.
The song has been criticized in the past for glorifying conflict over the other great accomplishments this nation has achieved, but I would argue that those people miss the deeper nature our anthem has come to possess. It is not just about the military struggle the song details, but also the countless other struggles our nation has endured. Internal strife threatened to tear our nation in two, but we somehow mended the scars of war that separated us. Racial segregation insulted the very idea of our freedom, but we are to this day working to right those wrongs, in spite of our differences. The vast majority of us are the descendants of immigrants who braved famine, storm, and misery to embrace the promise that was and is America.
Those are the battles that the lyrics of The Star-Spangled Banner have come to represent. We are, all of us, a product of the struggle against tyranny that our anthem describes, be it the tyranny of imperialist power, the tyranny of ignorance, the tyranny of indifference, and so much more. In the hearts of people around the nation and the world, there is the fear that the beauty that is freedom may not last the night; but if we strive to be leaders in the fight for the rights of all mankind, we can make sure that by the dawn’s early light the spirit of liberty might continue to wave.
Of course, we here at Pepper have a number of beautiful arrangements of The Star-Spangled Banner. Look through our collection and we’re sure you will find a version you like!