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9.10: Primary Source Reading: The Star-Spangled Banner

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    264108
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    “The Star-Spangled Banner” is the national anthem of the United States of America. The lyrics come from “Defence of Fort M’Henry”, a poem written in 1814 by the 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships of the Royal Navy in the Chesapeake Bay during the Battle of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812.

    Text from a broadside printing of the Star Spangled Banner.
    One of two surviving copies of the 1812 broadside printing of the Defense of Fort McHenry, a poem that later became the national anthem of the United States.

    The poem was set to the tune of a popular British song written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men’s social club in London. “To Anacreon in Heaven” (or “The Anacreontic Song”), with various lyrics, was already popular in the United States. Set to Key’s poem and renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner”, it would soon become a well-known American patriotic song. With a range of one octave and one fifth (a semitone more than an octave and a half), it is known for being difficult to sing. Although the poem has four stanzas, only the first is commonly sung today.

    “The Star-Spangled Banner” was recognized for official use by the U.S. Navy in 1889, and by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, and was made the national anthem by a congressional resolution on March 3, 1931 (46 Stat. 1508, codified at 36 U.S.C. § 301), which was signed by President Herbert Hoover.

    Before 1931, other songs served as the hymns of American officialdom. “Hail, Columbia” served this purpose at official functions for most of the 19th century. “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”, whose melody is identical to “God Save the Queen”, the British national anthem,[2] also served as a de facto anthem.[3] Following the War of 1812 and subsequent American wars, other songs emerged to compete for popularity at public events, among them “The Star-Spangled Banner”. 

    Text of the Star-Spangled Banner

    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 watch’d, 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?

    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 on 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 washed out their foul footsteps 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.

    Old, yellowed version of the printed Star-Spangled Banner
    This 1814 copy of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was the first printed edition to combine the words and sheet music.
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    9.10: Primary Source Reading: The Star-Spangled Banner is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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