How America’s flag inspired the Star Spangled Banner (Whitney Houston video)

How America’s flag inspired the Star Spangled Banner (Whitney Houston video)

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The 15-star, 15-stripe
The 15-star, 15-stripe "Star Spangled Banner Flag" which inspired the poem hangs at the Smithsonian (Image turned to side)

WASHINGTON, June 14, 2014 — June 14, 1777 is the day when the Continental Congress first issued the U.S. Flag. The flag represents the union of thirteen colonies turned into states.

Congress wrote:

“That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white.”

The colors of the the vertical stripes are white signifying purity and innocence, and red, for hardiness and valor. Blue signifies vigilance, perseverance and justice. The blue rectangle is referred to as the “union” and it bears 50 small, white, five-pointed stars arranged in nine offset horizontal rows of six stars (top and bottom) alternating with rows of five stars.

Nicknames for the flag include the Stars and Stripes, Old Glory, and The Star-Spangled Banner.

READ ALSO: Happy birthday, Stars and Stripes: Why June 14 is Flag Day

This year also marks the 200th anniversary year of The Star Spangled Banner, our national anthem written by Francis Scott Key, a 35-year-old lawyer, during the British bombardment of Baltimore, Maryland in September of the year 1814, near the end of the War of 1812.

Key was on a British flagship, the HHS Tonant, talking to Major General Robert Ross and Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane over dinner, trying to rescue his friend Dr. William Beanes who had been taken as a prisoner of war. They were there to present letters to the British commanders attesting to the fact that Beanes and other Americans had been kind to British soldiers wounded in the battle.

The British would let Dr. Beanes go, but only after they had “burned Baltimore to the ground.” They had already burned Washington, and Fort Washington had fallen, leading to the plunder of Alexandria, Virginia. The United Kingdom is the only country to have ever burned the White House or Washington, D.C.

On September 13, 1814 for more than 24-hours, the British Navy attacked Fort McHenry, the guard post to Baltimore’s harbor. In the “dawn’s early light” Key saw that the American flag no longer flew over the fort, but it was shortly replaced by a forty-two foot flag inspiring the now famous poem, Defence of Fort M’Henry, which became America’s anthem.

That poem was set to the tune of a popular British song written byJohn Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a practice called “contrafactum.” In 1898, the Navy adopted “The Star-Spangled Banner” for official use. President Woodrow Wilson declared the song our national anthem in 1916, and the declaration was signed into a resolution by President Herbert Hoover in March, 1931.

Today, nearly 200 years after Key penned his poem, America still celebrates that early dawn moment that was immortalized in what is now our National Anthem.

Lyrics and full versed song

Defence of Fort M'Henry by Francis Scott Key

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 rockets’ 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 washed 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 freemen shall stand
Between their loved 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 preserved 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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