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the Readings


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Historical Context


Reading 1
Reading 2
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Determining the Facts

Reading 4: After the Battle

The whole East Coast celebrated the successful defense of Baltimore.  At about the same time, the American navy beat a small British fleet on Lake Champlain far to the north.  These two victories erased the shame of the burning of Washington.  They also helped restart stalled peace negotiations.  On December 24, 1814, American and British representatives signed the Treaty of Ghent.  The treaty ended the war, but did not resolve any of the issues that had led to it.

Gen. Andrew Jackson had not heard about the treaty when he defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815.  This splendid victory convinced most Americans that the United States had won the war.  This new country had defeated the greatest military power in the world, even though it only had a tiny, badly equipped army and navy and some poorly trained volunteers.  A cartoon published in Philadelphia shortly after the battle showed American soldiers outside the walls of Fort McHenry.  One was poking “John Bull” with his bayonet (John Bull was a common symbol of England).  Another soldier cried, “Shout, boys, shout.  Huzza for Baltimore, huzza.”  Albert Gallatin had helped negotiate the Treaty of Ghent.  He thought the war made “the people . . . more American; they feel and act more as a nation."4


The victory was a local one for people who lived in Baltimore.  Armistead, Smith, and their men became instant heroes.  Armistead himself died four years later at the age of 39.  The other “Old Defenders” proudly marched in anniversary parades for the rest of their lives.  September 12 is still “Defenders’ Day,” a public holiday in the city.  Fort McHenry and other historic sites hold special celebrations on that day.  There is a Battle Monument in Baltimore that commemorated the 1814 victory.  It has been the official emblem of the city since 1827.


At first, people in Baltimore and Washington were the only ones who knew about Francis Scott Key’s song.  Published sheet music and performances in theaters and at patriotic celebrations soon introduced it to more people.  “The Star-Spangled Banner” became a “national air,” like “Hail Columbia” and “Yankee Doodle.”  In the 1830s, national political parties began to modify the words of the song to use in their campaigns.  Abolitionists and advocates of temperance also adapted it for their own use. 


“The Star-Spangled Banner” was very popular in the North during the Civil War.  It was played when the American flag was lowered at Fort Sumter, the first battle of the war.  It was played again when Union forces took the fort back at the conflict’s end.  It went with Union armies as they entered New Orleans, Savannah, Richmond, and many other towns in the defeated South.


The centennial of the Declaration of Independence in 1876 and the Spanish-American War in the 1890s led to a surge of national pride and patriotism.  By 1905, all military posts and naval vessels were playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at flag raising in the morning and lowering at the end of the day.  All officers and men had to stand at attention during these ceremonies.  Civilians also began to stand at attention during the anthem, which often opened plays, movies, and baseball games.  The military made “The Star-Spangled Banner” the official national anthem for military ceremonies in 1917.


People who wanted Key’s song to be the national anthem of the whole United States introduced 15 different bills in the U.S. Congress between 1912 and 1917.  None of them even came up for a vote.  World War I brought broad-based popular support.  J. Charles Linthicum, a Maryland congressman, and Ella Hauk Holloway, the president of the Maryland State Society, U.S. Daughters of 1812, introduced yet another bill after the war.  Some people opposed the designation.  They thought that the song was too hard to sing.  Some favored “America the Beautiful,” “Yankee Doodle,” or “Hail Columbia” instead.  Temperance groups did not want a former “drinking song” as the national anthem.  Some thought the anti-British sentiments of Key’s lyrics would damage U.S. relations with Britain.  Others thought it might harm the morals of the schoolchildren singing it.


Congressman Linthicum persisted.  By 1929, he had the support of a number of patriotic organizations.  The bill passed both houses of Congress and President Herbert Hoover signed it into law on March 3, 1931. 

Questions for Reading 4

1. What issues did the Treaty of Ghent settle? Who do you think won the War of 1812, based on the treaty? Why did most Americans think the United States won the war?

2. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was particularly popular in the Washington and Baltimore area at first. How did the rest of the country get to know it?

3. The lyrics of “The Star-Spangled Banner” were adapted for use in every national presidential campaign between 1837 and the outbreak of the Civil War. What does that show about its popularity in the United States as a whole?

4. If you lived in the Confederate states during the Civil War, how would you have felt about “The Star-Spangled Banner”?

5. Why do you think it took so long for Key’s song to become the official national anthem of the United States? What were some of the reasons people had for opposing its designation? Do you think those objections were valid?

Reading 4 was based on Harold I. Lessem and George C. Mackenzie, Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Maryland (Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, 1954, reprinted 1961) and Taylor et al, The Star-Spangled Banner.

4Quoted in Taylor et al., The Star-Spangled Banner, 32


Comments or Questions

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