On September 11, 2001, Americans experienced another moment of chaos and doubt as the Twin Towers in New York City fell at the hands of Islamic terrorists. (see ) They yearned for a sign that America still stood, that she had not been defeated. On top of the rubble, three firefighters raised an American flag. Americans felt the hope Francis Scott Key experienced almost exactly 187 years early when seeing the star-spangled banner flying above Fort McHenry. It is a sense of survival, of victory, and of freedom.
September 14, 2017
Francis paced back and forth on the deck as bombs exploded in the night sky. If only he could be with his fellow countrymen defending Fort McHenry. Even though he completed the mission given to him by President James Madison, Francis felt it was in vain as the America he fought so hard for may be gone by morning.
For two years, the Americans had been engaged in what is considered the “Second War for Independence.” On August 24, 1814, the British invaded Washington D.C., burning several buildings, including the Capital and the White House. (see ) Dr. Beanes, as well as many other Americans, where taken prisoner. Madison turned to prominent D.C. attorney, 35-year-old Francis Scott Key, to negotiate the release of the well-known surgeon and other prisoners. Key and U.S. government agent, John Stuart Skinner, boarded the British flagship HMS Tonnant to discuss a prison exchange. After reaching an agreement, Key and Skinner prepared to return to dry land with the newly released fellow Americans. However, after overhearing the British’s plans to attack Baltimore, the men were prevented from returning to American soil until things were over. The British’s first target was Fort McHenry.
Key and Skinner were transferred to a truce ship to wait out the battle. As the sun began to set, Key knew the hardest part of the fight was just beginning. The British and Americans had been combating since just before dawn, but the darkness night brought could be detrimental to the little fort already low on ammunition, men and weapons capable of competing with the British Navy.
As the last bits of sunlight disappeared beyond the horizon, Key became fixated on the flag flying above the fort. When Major George Armistead took command of Fort McHenry in 1813, he was well aware it was a likely target of the British. As a result, he informed the commander of Baltimore defenses:
“We, sir, are ready at Fort McHenry to defend Baltimore against invading by the enemy…except that we have no suitable ensign to display over the Star Fort, and it is my desire to have a flag so large that the British will have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance.”
A large 30 by 42 feet garrison flag, displaying fifteen stars and fifteen stripes, was commissioned for the fort. (see ) It was delivered on August 19, 1813, along with a smaller storm flag to be flown during battles and rainstorms. Key knew if the flag was not still flying when the gunfire eventually stopped, it would mean they would once again be under the thumb of the king.
Key watched as the British cannons relentlessly fired in an unsettling rhythm accompanied by a heavy rainstorm. The explosions lit up the sky like the 4th of July. Yet this was not a celebration of independence, it was an all out war to keep it. His thoughts drifted to the events that brought the two countries to this point. Due to their conflict with France, Britain not only restricted international trade for the United States, they captured American seamen and impressed them into the Royal Navy, forcing the U.S. to go to war in 1812.
When the guns finally fell silent the morning of September 14, 1814, after 25 hours of fighting, there was no light to see if the battle flag or Great Britian’s Union Jack flew over the fort. The explosions allowed glimpses of the flag throughout the night. Yet now that the battle was over, Key asked himself the burning questions, “Can you see the flag? Does the flag still exist as dawn arrives?”
O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilights’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’ve 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’ve the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Key could only determine one thing, the battle flag had been lowered. Anticipation rose along with a newly raised flag which hung partially concealing itself. As the light got brighter and a breeze began to blow, the full glory of the larger American banner became evident for all to see.
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.
For a moment, Key focused on America’s foe. Out of their arrogance and indignation in losing the Revolutionary War, Britain polluted the shores of America with their hopes of conquest. But even hired mercenaries, like the German Hessens, or the forced servicemen, such as the impressed American soldiers, could not bring them victory. This also included the American slaves, who were forced to remain in slavery under British rule, yet were now promised freedom only if they fought for the crown.
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.
Whites and blacks, including escaped slaves, fought side by side at Fort McHenry to ensure freedom in America. Knowing that, Key’s anger quickly subsided as he remembered who the true victor was. It was by God’s hand that America was rescued from the chains of tyranny of the crown. He realized the new little nation, though out-gunned and out-manned, was once again blessed with victory. Key knew the Americans won because their trust was not in themselves, but in the Lord Almighty. (see )
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, 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!
Recently, the Star-Spangled Banner was thrust in the forefront of political discord. At the beginning of the 2016 football season, San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat as the National Anthem played before their pre-season game. At first, he went unnoticed. However, someone spotted him in a photograph and questioned him, resulting in his actions going viral. He stated his protest was over racism in America and police brutality. Claiming to take a stand by sitting down, Kaepernick’s actions have done nothing but fuel anger and divide an already fractured nation. As others started jumping on this latest PC bandwagon, Americans across the country responded by turning off the NFL games.
A year later, several Cleveland Browns players started out their pre-season game by taking a knee during the National Anthem. Afterwards, the Browns invited police and firefighters to hold the ceremonial Opening Day flag, to which they declined. Both protests received much criticism. As a result, the two groups came together and opened a dialog. On opening day, the first responders not only ran out on the field with the players, they all locked arms as they stood in respect for the national anthem. Furthermore, in addition to conducting seminars together in the near future, the players will be participating in ride-alongs with the police. Liberty, this is how differences get resolved and this is the American way.
For many, Kaepernick’s actions seem hypocritical at best. For a black multi-million dollar football player to kneel during the anthem because blacks don’t have opportunities seems a little ironic. Especially after just having eight years of an African-American president. However, it has allowed us to study and share the true story of the Star-Spangled Banner, one that the vast majority of Americans have no knowledge of, including myself, even though we sing the song before every sporting event. We have become a nation that protests a history and past that we actually have no real true understanding of.
Liberty, America isn’t perfect. But neither are the Muslim countries, who began the African slave trade 600 years before white Europeans got involved, and still continue to this day enslaving and raping women as young as nine years old. (see and ) Neither is Spain, who spread slavery in Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean. Neither is Great Britain, who forced the colonists to continue slavery in the 18th century, revoking colonial laws passed to abolish it. (see ) And neither is Africa, who, after conquering rival tribes, ripped families apart and sold their fellow countrymen to the Muslim slave traders. America had to get out from under the tyranny of King George before they were able to finally abolish the truly despicable practice of slavery. (see , , , and )
Kaepernick believes his protest is standing up against racism. However, when people disrespect the flag, they are disrespecting the millions who have fought to keep the Star-Spangled Banner flying high, including blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and most likely even their own ancestors. If it were ever to be pulled down and replaced by another country’s banner, then all of us would be enslaved. That being said, the feelings of inequality and injustice cannot and should not be dismissed. As we have seen recently with neo-Nazis (anti-Jewish), white supremacists (anti-black) and antifa (anti-white), hate groups are alive within America as well as other countries. (see ) In fact, there are more people enslaved today then there were during the entire time of the African slave trade. With the opportunity to be an abolitionist and really make a change in someone’s life who is right now being oppressed and enslaved, these protesters and their supporters, including the media, are eerily silent and unresponsive.
As angry as the flag protesters make many Americans, the vast majority agree they still have the right to do it. It’s what the is all about. What they take issue with is sports figures making a statement while representing their team. Kaepernick is actually disrespecting the symbol that gives him the freedom to protest his country while wearing what should be a non-political jersey. (see )
Kaepernick believes the National Anthem supports slavery and racism. If he would take just a moment to educate himself before acting, he would discover that Union troops used the Star-Spangled Banner as their inspiration to forge ahead in their fight against slavery. In 1861, a fifth verse was added, celebrating the unchaining of millions of those enslaved.
When our land is illumined with Liberty’s smile,
If a foe from within strike a blow at her glory,
Down, down with the traitor that dares to defile
The flag of her stars and the page of her story!
By the millions unchained who our birthright have gained,
We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained!
And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
While the land of the free is the home of the brave.
That’s my 2 cents.
HOLD THE FORT