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The National Anthem - The Star-Spangled Banner

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The U.S. National Anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, was written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key. Key was sent to the British fleet in Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812 to secure the release of Dr. William Beanes on September 13, 1814. Beanes was captured by the British during their raid on Washington D.C. Beanes, a local official in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, had arrested two drunken British soldiers. When one escaped, a small force came to release the second, and arrested Beanes. Key was enlisted by the residents of Upper Marlboro to retrieve Beanes, who, as a non-combatant, had no reason for military arrest.

Key was able to retrieve Beanes, but because the British were preparing to bombard Baltimore's Fort McHenry, his ship was detained. The commander of Fort McHenry, Major George Armistead, knew his fort would be a big and welcoming target for the British warships. He had a special, oversized flag made for the fort (which at the time had fifteen stars and fifteen stripes), and it flew for over a year before the night of the bombardment that inspired Key.

Anchored eight miles from the Fort, Key waited for the British to wage and finish their attack on the Fort. The ships used long-range, high-trajectory guns to fire at the fort. Though it tried to return fire, the Fort's cannon were too small to reach the attackers. The attack proceeded through the night and the Americans waited on the detained ship to see if the fort had been captured. As dawn broke, Key watched the fort through a telescope. There he saw the large flag Armistead had had made, flying in the breeze. Key jotted some notes on the back of a letter he had in his pocket, and later in his hotel room in Baltimore, completed a poem, an ode to the sights he'd seen.

The poem was published on handbills on September 20, 1814, and put to the music of the British tune "To Anacreon in Heaven". The Army and Navy adopted the song and considered it the national anthem, though it did not acquire that official distinction until 1916 when Woodrow Wilson declared it such by executive order, and in 1931 when it was declared as such by law (36 USC 301).

The full anthem is presented below, though normally only the first verse is sung.

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O say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' 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 thro' 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 thro' 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 wash'd 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 free-men 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 Pow'r 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!

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