Oh say can you … what?


“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 watched 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 Sept. 14, 1814, Francis Scott Key penned the now familiar words to our national anthem. But how much about the song do you really know? For one, did you know that paragraph above is just one of four verses of the famous song? It’s true. Here’s the rest:

“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, now conceals, now 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 and 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 loved homes and the war’s desolation!

Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land,

Praise the power that hath made and preserved us a nation.

Then conquer we must, for 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.”

It is often stated the Key, a lawyer by trade, wrote The Star Spangled Banner as a poem but biographer Marc Leepson asserted in his book that Key had always intended the verses to be song lyrics.

It’s also worth noting that when Key wrote the lyrics on the back of a letter — there wasn’t a title. In fact, the first time his song was printed in Baltimore newspapers it was titled “Defence of Fort M’Henry.”

It wasn’t until that November when the song was printed as sheet music that the title “The Star-Spangled Banner” appeared.

With media attention focused on the recent NFL protests, more and more Americans are suddenly turning to the anthem with a renewed interest. Specifically, the lines “No refuge could save the hireling and slave, From the terror of flight and the gloom of the grave;” in the third stanza.

The question is being asked: Is the anthem itself racist?

Well, like many things, it depends on who you ask …

It has been well documented by historians that about 4,000 black slaves escaped to the British by way of the Royal Navy. It was later recorded as the largest emancipation of African Americans prior to the Civil War.

After the U.S. and the British ended the War of 1812 by signing a peace treaty in 1814, the American government demanded the return of American “property” — the 4,000 or so slaves that fought against America with the British.

Luckily for them, the Brits refused.

Now, it has been argued that Key simply meant “mercenaries” when writing the lines “no refuge could save the hireling and slave” but that point is often countered that he uses “hirelings” in the same sentence. Such wording strongly suggests to some that when he’s talking about slaves, it’s not a euphemism — he means slaves.

Ultimately, with no proof either way, there’s no real way to know what Key intended with the lines.

The Start Spangled Banner was officially adopted as the United States National Anthem by executive order of President Woodrow Wilson in 1916.

The song — the first verse anyway — was confirmed by Congress in 1931.

comments powered by Disqus