Fort McHenry, Baltimore; Wikimedia Commons


The “Star Spangled Banner” was formally adopted for the American anthem in 1931, with a law signed by president Herbert Hoover. The lyrics come from the Defence of Fort McHenry, a poem by Francis Scott Key. He witnessed the British siege of Fort McHenry in the war of 1812.


American English has changed since the time the Anthem was written. Today, the language has the word “defense” for the former “defence”.




O! Say, can you see
by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hail’d
by the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose bright stars and broad stripes,
through the clouds of the fight,
O’er the ramparts we watch’d
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 that 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 host 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 wash’d 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 lov’d homes and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d 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.


The story of the Anthem music


Some resources would tell that the tune of the Anthem is “an old British drinking song”. There is nothing to support the attribution. Singing the Anthem accurately might belong with illusions, if to think about inebriation. The tune musical harmony can be difficult to vocalize, with impediment.


The composer, John Stafford Smith, was son of Martin Smith, an organist of Gloucester Cathedral. John was born in 1750 and composed his tune in mid 1760s. He did not write, however probably, for occasions to involve alcohol.


The conjecture may have come with John Stafford Smith’s joining the Anacreontic society, which yet happened years after he composed the tune. First publication of the music also came after years, by The Vocal Magazine in 1778, in London.


The story of the Anthem text


“The annexed song was composed under the following circumstances—A gentleman had left Baltimore, in a flag of truce for the purpose of getting released from the British fleet, a friend of his who had been captured at Marlborough.—He went as far as the mouth of Patuxent, and was not permitted to return lest the intended attack on Baltimore should be disclosed.


He was therefore brought up the Bay to the mouth of Patapsco, where the flag vessel was kept under the guns of a frigate, and he was compelled to witness the bombardment of Fort McHenry, which the Admiral had boasted that he would carry in a few hours, and that the city must fall. He watched the flag at the Fort through the whole day with an anxiety that can be better felt than described, until the night prevented him from seeing it. In the night he watched the Bomb Shells, and at early dawn his eye was again greeted by the proudly waving flag of his country.” (The 1812 broadside text, see at the Library of Congress).


Some people may remember the Anthem as saying “through the midst of the deep”. The reference might be to the Bible, for example Luke 4:30. But he, passing through the midst of them, went his way. The passage, as in the American Standard Bible, tells about release of captives and remaining unhurt from opponents. The oldest American Bible is the Eliot Bible, published in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1663.


Munroe & French published the Anthem in the Baltimore Patriot and Evening Advertiser. Below, we can see a facsimile of a print from September 20, 1814



The facsimile here comes from the Ritual of the Star-Spangled Banner, a book of the Star Spangled Banner Association in Baltimore, Maryland.


The autographed manuscript of the Anthem from October 21, 1840, says, “through the mists of the deep”. There are a few autograph copies of the Anthem. The Samuel Sands print from “The American Farmer” on September 21, 1814, also has the phrase “the mists”.




The autograph manuscript from October 21, 1840, signed by Francis Scott Key. The manuscript is available online from the Library of Congress.