Song Background: “The Star-Spangled Banner”

The “Star-Spangled Banner” is the national anthem of the United States. It is often heard at the start of ball games and is also played at firework shows on Independence Day. In honor of the Fourth of July, I’d love to tell you a little bit about the history of the American national anthem. Many people naturally assume the anthem was written in 1776, the year that the United States of America became a nation. However, it was actually composed by Francis Scott Key on September 14, 1814

A Poem Written in a Time of War

On June 18, 1812, President James Madison declared war on Great Britain, officially beginning the War of 1812. During the war, Francis Scott Key worked as a lawyer who sometimes wrote poetry. Key was initially against the war, calling it a “lump of wickedness.” However, he was inspired by the “Battle of Baltimore” to write the words to the “Star-Spangled Banner.” This battle was fought on both land and sea on September 13, 1814. The British attacked at dawn that day: “by the dawn’s early light.” While on a ship in the Baltimore harbor, Key witnessed “the bombs bursting in air.” However, that next morning, he saw the American flag, not the Union Jack waving “o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” 

Key did not initially name his poem “The Star-Spangled Banner” but rather “Defense of Fort M’Henry.” Upon its completion, Key’s brother-in-law, Joseph Nicholson, helped print the song for the public to read. Nicholson also included a note that the song should be sung to an English drinking song called “To Anacreon in Heaven.” After being printed, the song took off and spread like wildfire across the nation. By the end of that year, it was known across America and renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner.” 

A Poem Becomes a National Anthem

While the song did not instantly become the national anthem, it was well-liked and used at a number of patriotic gatherings. It was so well received that when the Civil War broke out in 1861, both the Yankees and Confederates wanted to claim the song as their own battle tune. The South argued that the song had southern roots, while the North eagerly added a verse to the lyrics in an attempt to make the song their own. The north’s revised version made it into a number of school books that included the new lyric, “the millions unchained who our birthright have gained.”

When Americans and Bits allied during World War I, controversy arose over the song concerning the “anti-British lyrics” such as the third stanza which says, “Their blood was wash’d out their foul footsteps pollution.” However, despite the tension, President Woodrow Wilson declared it should be played at military functions. 

In 1918, the song transitioned from military to All-American when it was played at a baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox. Congressman John Charles Linthicum of Maryland, then got five million signatures on a petition to have “The Star-Spangled Banner” became the National Anthem. However, the US House Committee of the Judiciary resisted this movement as they felt it was too hard for most people to sing. Elsie Riley, a soprano, sang the song to prove them wrong, and on March 4, 1931, President Herbert Hoover officially made “The Star-Spangled Banner” the national anthem of the United States of America. 

Bonus Facts

  • Some people have issues with the national anthem being written by a slave owner
  • Despite there being four verses, usually, only the first verse is sung at public events. 
  • It was at a Baltimore music store where the title was changed to “The Star-Spangled Banner.” 


I would strongly encourage you to stand when you are at a ball game or any other event where the “Star-Spangled Banner” is played or sung. Don’t not eat, chew gum, or talk. Stand and gaze proudly at the flag in honor of what country has been through and what it stands for. If you wish, you may put your hand over your heart and sing along. It is disrespectful to our country when people do not stand, no matter what their political reasons may be. When the National Anthem is played, one should show pride in their country, not use it as a means to protest whatever political disputes are occuring at the time.