Today in History – March 3, 1931

It’s the song we all know by heart – we’ve heard it and sang it countless times. It’s played at many political events as well as most all sporting events. It’s one of the most difficult songs to sing – so much so that even professional singers have botched it on numerous occasions. But the Star Spangled Banner didn’t become our national anthem until President Herbert Hoover, on March 3, 1931, signed an act making it the official national anthem of the United States.

SSB lyrics

In September of 1814, on a mission approved by President James Madison, Francis Scott Key and John Stuart Skinner met aboard the HMS Tonnant with British officers Major General Robert Ross and Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane in efforts to secure a prisoner exchange. Because Key and Skinner had heard details of the plans for the attack on Baltimore, they were held captive until after the battle.

15 star flag

The US flag that inspired Key.

During the rainy night, Key had witnessed the bombardment and observed that the fort’s smaller “storm flag” continued to fly, but once the shell and rocket barrage had stopped, he would not know how the battle turned out until dawn. On the morning of September 14, the storm flag had been lowered and the larger flag had been raised. It was then he knew America had been victorious and was inspired to write the then poem, The Defence of Fort M’Henry.

Later set to music and renamed the Star Spangled Banner, the song was recognized for official use by the U.S. Navy in 1889, and by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, but it wasn’t until 1931 that it became official.

Although most adults have fully memorized the first verse, few people know there are actually four verses. As badly as some singers drag out the singing of the anthem, it’s probably a good thing they don’t sing all 4 verses.

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming, Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming? And the rocket’s 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 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 wash’d 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 lov’d home 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.

This video was made in 2010 at a Herman Cain Q&A, and when this man sang the fourth (although he referred to it as the second) verse it brought people to their feet and me to tears. (It gets me every time I hear it)

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Long may she wave.

~Kathy

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4 Responses to Today in History – March 3, 1931

  1. vonmesser says:

    Way too many people don’t even know the words for verse one, let alone any of the others. Some few of us know the one for the guys up north….O Canada, our home and native land…… (I can usually get through verse one of that one, as well as God Save the Queen and all of the Deutschlandleid).

  2. Uriel says:

    Thanks Kathy for this great Reminder!!