The Star-Spangled Banner
France and England had been having problems for about 10 years by the year 1812. Great Britain had imposed trade restrictions on the United States to cut down on American trade with France. The United States was very unhappy about that. Also, British ships stopped American ships on the ocean and forcibly dragged off American sailors and put them in the British navy to help them fight the French. In addition, the British had been arming some Native Americans to stop progress of settlement along the western frontier. The War of 1812 was a conflict begun between the United States and Great Britain.
Fighting continued, and in 1814, the British burned the Capitol, the Treasury and the President's House. On September 13, 1814, the British Navy which had been blockading Baltimore (Maryland) Harbor began to send rockets onto Fort McHenry on the mainland. The battle lasted overnight.
Francis Scott Key was a young American lawyer who had a week before this boarded a British ship to try to arrange for the release of a friend who had been captured by the British. Key and his friend were released and went back to an American ship. They watched as the Battle of Baltimore went on.
Key heard the booms and at night saw red in the sky. He was sure that the British would win, but in the morning, he saw the American flag flying over the fort. Key wrote a poem about what he had seen. He set the words to the tune of an old English song. The Baltimore Patriot newspaper printed the words. The poem became famous across the United States and gave its name to the flag.
The original name of the tune which Francis Scott Key used for the Star-Spangled Banner poem was 'To Anacreon in Heaven.' It was first presented at a meeting of a Gentlemen's music club in London, the Anacreontic Society, around 1776. The Society's President wrote the words to accompany the tune as a tribute to a Greek poet Anacreon.
The tune was used several times in early America, so Francis Scott Key knew the melody. The poem Key wrote after he experienced that terrible night in Baltimore and then saw the American flag flying was called 'Defense of Fort McHenry.' Key supervised a full musical arrangement by the composer Thomas Carr. That musical arrangement was called 'The Star-Spangled Banner.'
In 1907, the Library of Congress began an investigation of the song. Finally, in the 1970's, it was determined by a librarian of the Library of Congress, William Lichtenwanger, that the tune was composed by John Stafford Smith, an associate of the Anacreontic Society, not really a member.
During the 1800's, many different sets of lyrics were set to the tune. The Abolitionists used the tune and set to it words to cry out for the abolition of slavery. During the Temperance movement, the fight to ban alcohol from the United States in the late 1800's and early 1900's, the tune was used to describe drunken men coming home to their families.
In the early days of the Civil War, both the North and the South said that the anthem belonged to them. Francis Scott Key was a slave owner from Maryland. After the War, the Star-Spangled became the main American song. President Hoover signed a bill for it to be adopted as the national anthem in 1931.
Many people complain that the song is hard to sing, and the words are not easy to remember. No matter what the criticism, when Americans sing the anthem at sports events or at more serious locations, they are giving voice to their passion and love for the United States.
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