Star-Spangled Banner, The

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Star-Spangled Banner, The,

American national anthem, beginning, "O say can you see by the dawn's early light." The words were written by Francis Scott KeyKey, Francis Scott
, 1779–1843, American poet, author of the Star-Spangled Banner, b. present Carroll co., Md. A lawyer, he was U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia (1833–41).
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, a young Washington attorney who during the War of 1812 sailed to the British fleet to obtain the release of a captured American. Key was detained by the British and witnessed from ship the bombardment of Fort McHenryFort McHenry,
former U.S. military post in Baltimore harbor; built 1794–1805. In the War of 1812 it was bombarded (Sept. 13–14, 1814) by a British fleet under Sir Alexander Cochrane, but the fort, commanded by Maj. George Armistead, resisted the attack.
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 during the night of Sept. 13–14, 1814. Defended under the command of Major George ArmisteadArmistead, George
, 1780–1818, American artillery officer distinguished in the War of 1812, b. Virginia. He took part in the capture of Fort George on the Niagara frontier but is better remembered as the defender of Fort McHenry against British attack (Sept.
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, the fort withstood the attack, and the sight of the American flag flying at dawn inspired Key's verses, which were written on the way ashore in the morning.

After circulating as a handbill, the lyrics were published in a Baltimore newspaper on Sept. 20, 1814. The tune was taken from the English popular song "To Anacreon in Heaven." The original "Star-Spangled Banner," as written by Key, had a much faster tempo than the version usually sung today, and was typically performed by a soloist rather than a massed group of people. The "Anacreontic" melody was used with lyrics adapted to a number of causes of the 19th cent, and it emerged, with Key's lyrics, as the most important American hymn during ReconstructionReconstruction,
1865–77, in U.S. history, the period of readjustment following the Civil War. At the end of the Civil War, the defeated South was a ruined land. The physical destruction wrought by the invading Union forces was enormous, and the old social and economic
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It was not until the 20th cent., however, that the melody and Key's words became inextricably connected as America's anthem. Their designation as such first became official by executive order of President Wilson in 1916, although the army and the navy had for some years regarded "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the national anthem. Wilson's order was confirmed by act of Congress in 1931. The large flag that inspired the anthem, with 15 stars and stripes and originally 30-by-42-ft (9.1-by-12.8-m), has been in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution since 1907.


See studies by V. Weybright (1935), L. Taylor and J. Brodie (2008), and M. Ferris (2014).

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Star-Spangled Banner, The

U.S. national anthem. [Am. Hist.: EB, IX: 532]
See: America

Star-Spangled Banner, The

national anthem of the United States. [Am. Music: Scholes, 980]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.