A young lawyer, practicing in Washington, D.C., and Maryland, worked to negotiate the release of prisoners during the War of 1812. These efforts led him to dine with British Prisoner Exchange Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner aboard the British ship HMS Tonnant on the evening of Sept. 13, 1814. However, after dinner, he became a prisoner himself — at least overnight — since he had observed the strength of the British ships in Baltimore harbor and become aware of their plans to attack Fort McHenry.
Overnight he anxiously awaited the dawn to see the outcome of the battle. If the U.S. flag were still waving over Fort McHenry, it would indicate the British had failed to capture the fort. If the British flag were waving over the installation, it would indicate the Americans had lost. Who knows what that would have meant for the war, and indeed for the fate of our young country, only 27 years old at the time?
Afterward, the young lawyer, Francis Scott Key, wrote the poem, “Defense of Fort M’Henry,” in which he verbalized his anxious thoughts: “O say, can you see by the dawn’s early light what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?”
In other words, does the banner with the Stars and Stripes, that flew valiantly over the fort last night still proudly wave in the light of the morning sun?
Key’s poem was published within a week and he later took it to a music publisher, who adapted the tune of a popular song to the words of the poem.
It became increasingly popular, although it was not officially adopted as our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” until more than 100 years later.
Americans still feel a thrill of patriotism when the music begins, we turn toward the flag, place hands over hearts, and sing the now-familiar words.
On this Flag Day weekend, may we also remember God’s providential hand in the preserving of our nation and the words of ancient Scripture: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).
— The Rev. Ron McClung, a former pastor of Owosso Wesleyan Church, now living in Indianapolis, currently serves as associate general secretary for the denomination.