Monday, July 30, 2018

The OTHER War of Independence

While it’s true I may have nodded off occasionally, just now and thenin American History classokay, maybe most of the time—I'm pretty sure that most of us aren’t nearly as up to speed on America’s SECOND War of Independence as we are the first.

It turns out that The War of 1812 wasn’t just a peppy piece of music. In the early nineteenth century, Great Britain, while fighting a war with Napoleon, set up a naval blockade to cut off trade to France. The U. S. thought this was beyond annoying—it was a violation of international law. Britain—who didn’t give tuppence—seized American ships and pressed the sailors into serving in the British navy. 

Re-enactment of the War of 1812

Skirmishes erupted and turned into a rather serious war between the U.S. and Britain. At one point, the U.S. government was nearly driven into bankruptcy.

Anyway, it was during this war that Francis Scott Key, a big-shot lawyer and part-time poet, witnessed the bombardment of Ft. McHenry, Maryland. He was deeply moved to find, when the smoke cleared in the morning, "that our flag was still there.” And of course, we all know that he wrote the famous poem that later became our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” Key’s poem was set to the tune “To Anacreon in Heaven”just in case you were wondering.

Key was rather influential in the life of the young country. Notably, he contributed counsel to several high profile legal cases, such as. . .
  • the Aaron Burr conspiracy trial  (Burr tried to help Mexico overthrow the Spanish power in the Southwest)
  • the Petticoat Affair (a scandal involving an ex-barmaid and some of President Jackson’s cabinet members' wives who were given to gossip...)
  • the prosecution of Richard Lawrence (for an assassination attempt on Andrew Jackson).

Peggy Eaton, victim of malicious
gossipers in The Petticoat Affair

    While each of these (and many other) important cases were widely known in their time, it’s interesting that Francis Scott Key is best known today for none of them — but rather for penning a poem in his spare time. 

   But such is the power of words. Such is the power of art. Such is the power of one man's passion.

   All of us who scribble poems on old envelops, all who jot down images and thoughts on the backsides of receipts and electric bills — we can look to this man as a kind of patron saint. And that's why on August 1st, we say Happy Birthday to Francis Scott Key.

Francis Scott Key

      Do you know all the verses to his poem? I wish we would bring back Verse 4 to popular use.
      1.) 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 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?

2.) 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.

3.) 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.

4.) 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!

Photo Credits:
    Ships: HMS Endymion and USS President  (War of 1812)
      This work is in the public domain in its country of origin          
      and other countries and areas where the copyright term          
      is the author's life plus 70 years or less;
    Re-enactment of War of 1812--British fire on the Americans--
       Author: Peter K Burian;
    15 Star American Flag -- like the flag at Ft. McHenry --
       Author: Carl Lindberg;
       ineligible for copyright;
    Peggy Eaton -- author unknown;
       Public Domain because first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923;
    Francis Scott Key -- author unknown,
       This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries 
       and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less;
    Eagle with stars -- © Can Stock Photo / lhfgraphics;
    Girl with flag -- © Can Stock Photo / lisafx.


  1. Thanks for this! I must have dozed through the war of 1812 in my history class too. :P Also the four verses of the Star Spangled Banner are awesome. We should use all four all the time.

    1. Thanks, Jemma! I agree. I love all the verses--especially the last one.

  2. The poet has given us something very worthy of his being remembered for the gift. Inspiring words. Thanks for putting the full text before us.
    PS Glad to know of his birthday.

    1. I love the irony of his being remembered for writing a poem instead of all his fancy-pants legal cases! But what a wonderful poem.

  3. It's also the war in which the British burned the White House

    1. Thanks, Phil. I feel like I really didn't learn enough about this important war in school.