“The Star-Spangled Banner”: The Origins and Missing Verse

Jul 11, 2023


At the pinnacle of the War of 1812, British naval ships were moving into position to attack the star-shaped, Fort McHenry. On one of those ships, American Dr. William Beanes was being held as a prisoner for helping both the British and the Americans. His acquaintance (attorney and poet), Francis Scott Key, negotiated Beanes’ release, but the British kept the men from returning to Baltimore until after the city was taken in battle, fearing they would warn the Americans. Dr. William Beanes and Francis Scott Key helplessly watched the attack from the deck of a British warship. After a 25- hour bombardment, the Americans erected an enormous flag to prove their unwavering patriotism. What the men witnessed that day led Francis Scott Key to pen the familiar first line of the song on the back of a letter, while he watched the American flag wave over the fort. Three additional verses were later written in Baltimore and set to the tune of “To Anacreon in Heaven” (a popular English song).

A local printer printed the song, “Defense of Fort M’Henry,” (as it was called at the time). Then, two local newspapers published and spread it throughout the East Coast. By November of 1814, Key’s song was re-titled “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The song gained popularity following the Civil War when Americans were hungry for unity. The flag’s symbolism and the song’s meaning deepened the country’s association with liberty. In the 1890s, the U.S. Military adopted the song for use during ceremonies by playing it when raising and lowering the colors. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson designated “The Star-Spangled Banner” as our national anthem, and Congress passed a bill in 1930, making it official.

Many sources today leave out the fourth and final verse—the lines reflecting Key’s belief in God’s hand over our nation. Yet, this country’s founders and early patriots depended on God during the turbulent, foundational years that formed the United States of America. That fourth verse resonates with the political climate we live in today as much as it pertained to 1814. The words go right to the heart of American patriots standing on the same biblical principles and promises of God as the people who came before us to light the fiery torch of freedom we now carry.

Here are the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner” in its entirety:

“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 bomb 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 footstep’s 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 victory and peace may the heaven 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.”

Prayer: Our Heavenly Father, we thank You for loving us and giving us a country worth fighting for. Help us to put our trust in You as patriots did before us. Preserve our heritage and let our flag freely wave for many years to come in this Christian nation! In Your name, we pray, Amen!

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