Our National Anthem 1812-09-14

Yes, today is THE day. Fly your 15 star, 15 stripe flag if you’ve got it (it’s still a legal flag of the United States), if you don’t, 50/13 will certainly do. Bonus points for either the Gadsden flag or a Trump flag below the US flag.

The birthday of our national anthem. Well sort of.

You see, Francis Scott Key didn’t set out to write the national anthem. He was writing a poem. And the poem was actually titled, Defence of Fort M’Henry (yes, what we now think of as the British spelling of Defense).

I won’t belabor that part of the story. It’s told far better here anyway (I know my limitations):

Defence of Fort M’Henry was not set to music until somewhat later, I don’t know when. But the actual tune is not original for the song, it was originally To Anacreon In Heaven, which was written in Britain and was popular in both Britain and the United States. Here are the words to that song, as ripped from Wikipedia. (They also have an instrumental audio file, which sounds a little…different from The Star Spangled Banner.)

To Anacreon in Heav’n, where he sat in full Glee,
A few Sons of Harmony sent a Petition,
That he their Inspirer and Patron would be;
When this answer arriv’d from the Jolly Old Grecian
“Voice, Fiddle, and Flute,
“no longer be mute,”
I’ll lend you my Name and inspire you to boot,”
And, besides I’ll instruct you, like me, to intwine
“The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus‘s Vine.”

The news through Olympus immediately flew;
When Old Thunder pretended to give himself Airs.
“If these Mortals are suffer’d their Scheme to persue,
“The Devil a Goddess will stay above Stairs.
“Hark! already they cry,
“In transports of Joy,
“Away to the Sons of Anacreon we’ll fly,[28]
“And there, with good Fellows, we’ll learn to intwine
“The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.

Yecch. And it goes on for four more verses. Anyone wondering why we broke away from England need look no farther.

It wasn’t until 1931 (March 3 to be precise) that the combined tune and poem, now The Star Spangled Banner, was officially made our national anthem by act of Congress. It had been recognized for official use by the United States Navy in 1889, and by Woodrow Wilson in 1916.

So…what did we use before this? There was no official national anthem at all. So we improvised, adapted, and overcame.

“Hail Columbia” was used at most official functions. We still use it, it’s what they play for the Vice President since he’s still a heartbeat away from meriting “Hail to the Chief.” He gets the ruffles and flourishes (you know, bom-bottebom-bottebom, bom-bottebom-bottebom…), then “Hail Columbia.”

Also in use was “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” but, much as I like that one, it suffers from one major defect: It is the same melody as “God Save the Queen” (or King, depending on who’s reigning at the moment). Our words were written by Samual Francis Smith in 1831.

Given that we’d gone to a lot of trouble to tell the United Kingdom what to go do with itself in the 1770s and again in the 1810s, did we really want to be using their melody for our national anthem?

Another favorite choice from those days of no official anthem is special to me, “America the Beautiful” since it was written right here in my county (El Paso County, Colorado). Congress actually considered it for the official national anthem. It was written by Catherine Lee Bates in 1893; the words started coming to her when she was at the top of Pikes Peak, she put them on paper that evening in her hotel (the original Antlers hotel). Like the “Star Spangled Banner” it started out as just a poem, “Pikes Peak”, got renamed “America” for publication, and got set to someone else’s tune, “Materna” (which in turn was from a church hymn published in 1892).

It also went through multiple versions, here’s the 1893 original. It settled into final form in 1911.

O great for halcyon skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
Till souls wax fair as earth and air
And music-hearted sea!
O great for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
Till paths be wrought through wilds of thought
By pilgrim foot and knee!
O great for glory-tale
Of liberating strife,
When once or twice, for man's avail,
Men lavished precious life!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain,
The banner of the free!
O great for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
Till nobler men keep once again
Thy whiter jubilee!

So there you have it, the songs we used before we had an official national anthem.

I’ll close, of course, with “The Star Spangled Banner” sung in St. Pauls, London, September 14, 2001, nineteen years ago today:

32 thoughts on “Our National Anthem 1812-09-14

  1. Thanks. This is extremely helpful. Not only filled with great information – that video of the people in England singing the SSB – very moving – it reminds me of Bono at that concert after 9/11 with the leather bomber jacket with the American flag lining inside. There was a very positive crowd reaction to Bono’s statement, although – honestly – it just bothered me for some reason.

    I don’t want to say exactly what this means, because I think that I suddenly agree with FBIanon as far as the potential of too much disclosure too fast to badly harm international relationships by a shallow understanding of what transpired. Saying “they did this” and “we did that” – well, it doesn’t quite work. The whole situation was too complicated.

    Let’s see how much disclosure we get – or don’t get – particularly before the election, and in the next couple of weeks.

    Liked by 11 people

  2. America, The Beautiful ….

    Pike’s Peak, Colorado

    really great and enjoyable thread/info, Steve…the history of all our anthems… America, The Beautiful has always been my favorite…moves me to tears, every time.

    hard to stomach, hard to take what traitors do to destroy and wreck, burn down and demolish all the greatness for which we should be so grateful.

    Liked by 11 people

  3. thanks Steve for this wonderful and timely post!
    I can’t believe the assho*es in sports that wanna disrespect our country and her people. they are losing the backing of the American people and they don’t even realize it yet. they will when their pricey contracts plummet.

    Liked by 8 people

  4. Thanks Steve for the history lesson. This should be taught in school (am sure it’s not) and if we had an honest media they should highlight this too. You know like unite the country……. oh that’s right we can’t have that now can we. The thing of it is, these leftist don’t realize there going to be some of the first people the communists will want to get rid of.

    Liked by 9 people

  5. Favorite renderings of our National Anthem. (Hint – Beyoncé ain’t among them.)

    NY Philharmonic – NYC – 9 days after 9/11!

    Army Navy choirs at 2014 Army Navy Game

    Combined Military Academy Choirs – Army Herald Trumpets – Superbowl XXXIX 2005
    Jacksonville FL

    Renee Fleming

    Liked by 6 people

  6. In the early days of Seattle’s CHAZ and CHOP, attacks against statues in DC and across the country, with Chicago, Portland and NYC assaulted by Antifa, Occupy and BLM, and streets being painted with the DNC fundraising organization* slogan: BLACK LIVES MATTER, Mark Levin ended his week’s broadcast with America The Beautiful – by Ray Charles

    It was stunning and the perfect prayer for this time in the life of our nation.

    All the words of this song speak to what our country needs so much!

    May they resound in every heart and bring conviction, healing love and peace to all Americans.

    America the Beautiful
    O beautiful for spacious skies,
    For amber waves of grain,
    For purple mountain majesties
    Above the fruited plain!
    America! America!
    God shed His grace on thee
    And crown thy good with brotherhood
    From sea to shining sea!

    O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
    Whose stern, impassioned stress
    A thoroughfare for freedom beat
    Across the wilderness!
    America! America!
    God mend thine every flaw,
    Confirm thy soul in self-control,
    Thy liberty in law!

    O beautiful for heroes proved
    In liberating strife,
    Who more than self their country loved
    And mercy more than life!
    America! America!
    May God thy gold refine,
    Till all success be nobleness,
    And every gain divine!

    O beautiful for patriot dream
    That sees beyond the years
    Thine alabaster cities gleam
    Undimmed by human tears!
    America! America!
    God shed His grace on thee
    And crown thy good with brotherhood
    From sea to shining sea!


    Words by Katharine Lee Bates with melody by by Samuel Ward

    *(Yep – BLM funds go straight to Act Blue and into the DNC coffers)

    Liked by 7 people

  7. I had never seen that video of The Star Spangled Banner being sung in London after 9/11. That was very touching. What more effective way to honor a people than to sing their anthem. That is one reason why it it is so important to honor our national symbols.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I was attracted by the irony. Francis Scott Key wrote the words during a war against the United Kingdom, it’s a story of our defiance of the UK. Yet here were people in the UK singing it!

      Add to that: once I realized that it was sung on *this day* in 2001, the anniversary of the writing of the words, there was NO way I wasn’t going to use it!

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Yes, I thought the same thing, that it’s about how we defeated them and became the land of the free, first in the Revolution, and then, specifically, in the War of 1812. Nice of them to ignore that and honor our country. 🇺🇸

        Liked by 5 people

        1. We seem (on both sides) to be willing to let bygones be bygones.

          There is a scene in “The Great Escape” where one of the American prisoners is informed by one of the Kraut** guards that the British actually burned Washington DC and suggested America was on the wrong side. [Yes, it was a movie, but based on something that did happen, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Krauts did take that line with our prisoners; I do know someone whose father was asked why with a German last name he was fighting the Krauts.]

          The kriegie (“kriegie” was the POWs’ nickname for themselves) basically told the guard that he was full of it–but, actually, he wasn’t. The Brits did indeed burn parts of Washington DC including the White House. It wasn’t an easy war, not when your own capital gets sacked by the enemy.

          ** Between 1 Sep 1939 and 8 May 1945, Germans were called Krauts, then magically their prior name was restored to them. It’s incorrect to call a German a Kraut in today’s context, it was the only correct thing to do in that context.

          Liked by 4 people

  8. Unfortunately, the flag itself, the REAL Star Spangled Banner that flew over the fort that night is very slowly disintegrating while on display at the Smithsonian in the American History building.

    When I first saw it a few decades ago (Carter was president) it was hanging in the entrance hall. It’s now in a case designed to keep it from completely falling apart. The gunpowder from the battle is taking its toll on the fibers.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I’ve seen it hanging; I knew they had done some work on it, but I did not know it was still in bad shape. 😦

      I suppose, “when 208 years old am I, look this good I will not” is one way to look at it.

      Liked by 3 people

          1. With all the money we waste making shrimp run on treadmills, you would think they could fund research into finding/creating a gaseous or liquid substance that neutralizes gunpowder.

            Liked by 3 people

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