Oh, Say Can You See? It’s the Star Spangled Banner’s 200th Anniversary

Fireworks 09 06 14 (2)September 14, 2014 will mark the 200th anniversary of the penning of our national anthem by Baltimore attorney and poet, Francis Scott Key.

My parents and sister and her family all live in Maryland. Every now and then we get to visit the Baltimore area, usually around spring break. This year we visited Fort McHenry, the actual site of the Battle of Baltimore that inspired Francis Scott Key to write what would become our national anthem.

I have wanted to visit Fort McHenry for some time. I am fascinated by the fact that you can walk the ground of historic sites that are much as they were when they took their place in history. In the case of Fort McHenry, it’s also a National Monument with a fascinating museum that tells the story and provides the context in which the Star Spangled Banner was written. When you know more about the circumstances surrounding the Battle of Baltimore, the lyrics of our national anthem make a lot more sense.

The War of 1812 (also known as “The Second War for Independence”) was not a minor skirmish. The most powerful country on earth was intent on destroying the young American nation. After the British burned the Capital, the Treasury and the White House, they set their sights on Baltimore and planned to attack by both land and sea. If Baltimore fell, the British would have likely won the war.

The British Navy bombed Fort McHenry virtually non-stop for 25 hours. When it was all over, the Americans prevailed. The next morning after the shelling ended, and quite literally “by the dawn’s early light”, Key put to pen and paper the question on everyone’s mind: “does that star-spangled banner yet wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

The song was originally written as a poem and was much longer. Today’s National Anthem is the first stanza of that poem. Congress officially made the popular song our national anthem in 1931.

For more information about the history of the Star Spangled Banner and the flag that inspired it, check out these websites:

National Park Service, Fort McHenry


Star Spangled Banner Lyrics

For a replay of what many believe may be the greatest performance of the National Anthem, click here.

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