September 13th marks the birthday of America’s national anthem: The Star-Spangled Banner.
Over the years, The Star-Spangled Banner has received its share of knocks and insults. Some say it’s too long. Others say it’s too hard to sing. Still others say that it’s focused on a minor episode in American history, and thus not an accurate representation of the country.
Recently, Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the singing of The Star-Spangled Banner and a debate started over one of the national anthem's unknown verses.
According to Jon Schwarz at The Intercept, the third verse of The Star-Spangled Banner references the fact that the British tried to incite a slave rebellion so that the Americans would be attacked from within. Schwarz goes on to explain:
“So when Key penned ‘No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,’ he was taking great satisfaction in the death of slaves who’d freed themselves.”
Kyle Becker of the Independent Journal Review argues that such an idea is nonsense. Those lines, he says, refer to the despised British practice of impressment, which put all American men at risk of bondage on Britain’s naval ships and served as a primary catalyst of the War of 1812.
Regardless of who is right, doesn’t the fact that we’re actually having this argument demonstrate how little we know about the full extent of our national anthem? Instead of complaining about its deficiencies in length or musicality, should we instead expose ourselves to the entirety of the song, the history it depicts, and the stunning victory it portrays?
“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 through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s 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 in 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 footstep’s 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.”
Image Credit: Edward Moran public domain