Then Conquer We Must, When Our Cause It is Just

School children hold out the unfurled Star-Spangled Banner at Fort McHenry’s interior Parade Ground.

John Hartvigsen

Francis Scott Key, a 35 year old lawyer, wrote a poem titled, “Defence of Fort M’Henry”  early in the morning of September 14, 1814.  Expressing  his feelings when he saw the Garrison Flag still flying over Fort McHenry,  Key knew that the fort had not surrendered during the battle that had raged throughout the night.

Set to music the poem appeared with  a new name as the “Star-Spangled Banner.”  The meter of the poem fit that of a British tune, The Anacreontic Song.”  Key’s poem that became a song grew in popularity throughout the 19th century and into the 20th century.  Finally, in 1931 Congress approved a bill that Herbert Hoover signed into law making the “Star-Spangled Banner” our National Anthem.

At the beginning Francis Scott Key had been against the War of 1812, but when British troops invaded his homeland, he took up the patriot cause and negotiated exchange of prisoners with the enemy.  Living in 19th century Maryland, he had a mixed  record about slavery as did many of his contemporary countrymen.  We should not judge by 21st century sensitivities and values, but rather acknowledge him and others for their contributions.  They were not perfect, and neither are we.

A new challenge to the Anthem’s meaning is that “it’s racist; it doesn’t represent our community, it’s anti-black.”

This interpretation comes for taking a phrase out of context from the third stanza, which is rarely sung.  A careful reading clearly shows that the entire stanza describes the enemy and not Fort McHenry’s defenders.  It is derogatorily comparing the British troops and sailors as “hirelings and slaves.”  It does not express support for slavery or suggest that inferiority of blacks.

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.

Twenty-first century values are best expressed by the last stanza:

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved 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 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!

All were not freemen in 1814, but during the Civil War Americans paid with there blood to atone for and end slavery.  We have made great progress in ending racial prejudice, but we are still struggling to win victory over racism, for “our cause it is just.”

“And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”  We still strive to make Key’s words a reality for all Americans.

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