Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Please Don't Hate the Anthem. Learn the Whole Story.

NFL players, and now youth are kneeling during the playing of The National Anthem. That's their right, and while I don't agree with it, I support their right to do it.

But now, there is hate speech about the anthem itself, with people saying that Francis Scott Key was racist, as is the anthem, and therefore "The Star-Spangled Banner" is not worthy of representing America. I think the real issue is that most of us don't know the whole story. I posted this response to an article I read supporting the claim of the anthem's racism. Here is a brief attempt to explain Key's words.

I am an author who spent eight years researching the Chesapeake conflict of the War of 1812, and I must respectfully disagree with this thread. You have to judge the song by the times in which it was written. It in many ways this song is what preserved the nation. 

The Chesapeake region had been under relentless attack. First it was economic blockades that crippled the economy, then the kidnapping of over 4000 Americans from boats and ships, impressing them into British naval service under threat of being hanged for treason if they resisted. 

Maryland cities like Havre De Grace and Leonardtown were bombed to oblivion. Key was on the battlefield when the British mowed through the troops at Bladensburg on the way to Washington City,  and then, the unthinkable happened. 

The Capital had been torched, the President's House, Capitol building, Library of Congress and most of the federal buildings burned. People weren't sure if the Constitution had survived. Even the President and other federal leaders had fled the city. Baltimore was next, and If she fell, the British would have cut us off north and south. Their next goal was to take the Mississippi which would have cut us off east and west. The nation would have been dissected.

Admiral Cockburn hated Baltimore because of her famed Clipper ships, and her strategic importance to the nation. She was the third largest port, and the largest port not occupied at the time, and he wanted that prize.

At that moment, if Baltimore fell, the nation would likely never be the same. Key knew that. He  also had family in the city, and while being held by the British, he heard Admiral Cockburn boast about the horror they would unleash upon Baltimore's citizens,  as they had done in Hampton. Virginia, where the British unleashed French prisoners upon the populace. Citizens were murdered and women were raped. These were the terrors that filled him that night of the bombardment.

When he saw the flag the next morning. he felt every possible emotion. Relief, gratitude, anger, patriotism. The icons of America had been burned in Washington, but a new symbol of America remained-- the Star-Spangled flag that gave proof that the city had held, and the the British had failed. Key's poem had been written under the most extreme duress, on the back on a piece of paper, as a conversation ensued during the agonizing hours of waiting passed. His poem was printed and circulated amongst the troops, rallying them,  raising a broken people from their knees, and giving them hope. That is why the anthem deserves to be honored. Because it gave a nation hope.

I have never heard that Key was racist. He struggled to choose the law over the clergy. he was the writer of hymns and a man who longed for a better world. But if you have proof of this claim, my only rebuttal is that we will find few men worthy of our admiration if we judge those of another era by today's understanding. We must measure men within the context of their own time, their own struggles, their own sensibilities, while celebrating the courageous visionaries who dared fight for something better.

So please don't hate the anthem. Learn the whole story. It is a beautiful story. it is every American's story.


  1. Laurie--thank you so much. Well-said!! I have your series, and enjoyed so much the wonderfully researched story of the "Second War of Independence". As an old history teacher, i can only say "kudos to you".

    1. Thanks so much for weighing in. This trend of disrespecting the flag and the anthem breaks my heart, particularly that a new generation is growing up with no attachment to the emblems of America. Very sad.