The History of Our National Anthem

July 4, 2009 at 4:41 am (Freedom, Homeschooling)

“If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36)

All Four Stanzas
by Isaac Asimov

I have a weakness–I am crazy, absolutely nuts, about our national anthem.

The words are difficult and the tune is almost impossible, but frequently when I’m taking a shower I sing it with as much power and emotion as I can. It shakes me up every time.

I was once asked to speak at a luncheon. Taking my life in my hands, I announced I was going to sing our national anthem–all four stanzas.
This was greeted with loud groans. One man closed the door to the kitchen, where the noise of dishes and cutlery was loud and distracting. “Thanks, Herb,” I said.

“That’s all right,” he said. “It was at the request of the kitchen staff.”
I explained the background of the anthem and then sang all four stanzas.
Let me tell you, those people had never heard it before–or had never really listened. I got a standing ovation. But it was not me; it was the anthem.
More recently, while conducting a seminar, I told my students the story of the anthem and sang all four stanzas. Again there was a wild ovation and prolonged applause. And again, it was the anthem and not me.
So now let me tell you how it came to be written.

In 1812, the United States went to war with Great Britain, primarily over freedom of the seas. We were in the right. For two years, we held off the British, even though we were still a rather weak country. Great Britain was in a life and death struggle with Napoleon. In fact, just as the United States declared war, Napoleon marched off to invade Russia. If he won, as everyone expected, he would control Europe, and Great Britain would be isolated. It was no time for her to be involved in an American war.

At first, our seamen proved better than the British. After we won a battle on Lake Erie in 1813, the American commander, Oliver Hazard Perry, sent the message “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” However, the weight of the British navy beat down our ships eventually. New England, hard-hit by a tightening blockade, threatened secession.

Meanwhile, Napoleon was beaten in Russia and in 1814 was forced to abdicate. Great Britain now turned its attention to the United States, launching a three-pronged attack. The northern prong was to come down Lake Champlain toward New York and seize parts of New England. The southern prong was to go up the Mississippi, take New Orleans and paralyze the west. The central prong was to head for the mid-Atlantic states and then attack Baltimore, the greatest port south of New York. If Baltimore was taken, the nation, which still hugged the Atlantic coast, could be split in two. The fate of the United States, then, rested to a large extent on the success or failure of the central prong.

The British reached the American coast, and on August 24, 1814, took Washington, D. C. Then they moved up the Chesapeake Bay toward Baltimore. On September 12, they arrived and found 1000 men in Fort McHenry, whose guns controlled the harbor. If the British wished to take Baltimore, they would have to take the fort.

On one of the British ships was an aged physician, William Beanes, who had been arrested in Maryland and brought along as a prisoner. Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and friend of the physician, had come to the ship to negotiate his release. The British captain was willing, but the two Americans would have to wait. It was now the night of September 13, and the bombardment of Fort McHenry was about to start.

As twilight deepened, Key and Beanes saw the American flag flying over Fort McHenry. Through the night, they heard bombs bursting and saw the red glare of rockets. They knew the fort was resisting and the American flag was still flying. But toward morning the bombardment ceased, and a dread silence fell. Either Fort McHenry had surrendered and the British flag flew above it, or the bombardment had failed and the American flag still flew.

As dawn began to brighten the eastern sky, Key and Beanes stared out at the fort, trying to see which flag flew over it. He and the physician must have asked each other over and over, “Can you see the flag?”

After it was all finished, Key wrote a four stanza poem telling the events of the night. Called “The Defence of Fort M’Henry,” it was published in newspapers and swept the nation. Someone noted that the words fit an old English tune called “To Anacreon in Heaven” –a difficult melody with an uncomfortably large vocal range. For obvious reasons, Key’s work became known as “The Star Spangled Banner,” and in 1931 Congress declared it the official anthem of the United States.

Now that you know the story, here are the words. Presumably, the old doctor is speaking. This is what he asks Key:

Oh! say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
W hat 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 rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro’ the night that our flag was still there.
Oh! say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

“Ramparts,” in case you don’t know, are the protective walls or other elevations that surround a fort. The first stanza asks a question. The second gives an answer.

On the shore, dimly seen thro’ the mist 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 on the stream.
‘Tis the star-spangled banner. Oh! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

“The towering steep” is again, the ramparts. The bombardment has failed, and the British can do nothing more but sail away, their mission a failure.
In the third stanza, I feel Key allows himself to gloat over the American triumph. In the aftermath of the bombardment, Key probably was in no mood to act otherwise.

During World War II, when the British were our staunchest allies, this third stanza was not sung. However, I know it, so here it is

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 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.

The fourth stanza, a pious hope for the future, should be sung more slowly than the other three and with even deeper feeling.

Oh! 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 Pow’r that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, for our cause is just,
And this be our motto–“In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

I hope you will look at the national anthem with new eyes. Listen to it, the next time you have a chance, with new ears.
And don’t let them ever take it away.
–Isaac Asimov, March 1991

Blessings for a Happy Fourth!

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AWESOME Freebies for Learning!

June 19, 2009 at 5:09 pm (Homeschooling, School) (, , )

Do you have kids of your own or family members’ kids who are schooled at home or in the community?

Would you like to give them some terrific fun learning tools that will help them stand out from the crowd?

Sign up for Facebook and become a fan of The Old Schoolhouse to access freebies and contests such as the current “19 Ways to Say I Love TOS” contest. Each day for 19 days, check your updates for the assignment of the day. We’re already on day 5, but there are still 14 days left. At the end of the day, anyone who has participated in that day’s promotion will automatically be entered to win a 2009 Schoolhouse Planner and a 1 year digital sub to the magazine. If you search for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine on Facebook you will find their page. Or try this link.

Plus, the first 5000 2-year subscribers to this terrific magazine in hard copy win 19 very special gifts (each winner!) valued at over $400 – for real! Most are physical gifts, but they also have some really great E-Book selections that will also be included thanks to their gracious and very generous vendors. You can email or call Gena to make sure the gift basket is still available–so there’s no risk to you! 1-888-718-HOME

I really was awestruck at the magnificent learning gifts they listed. Check them out yourself: TOS-19-GiftsI especially love the Handwriting by George book, and the math game Value. Their are also fabulous dvd selections.

Come be a fan of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine on Facebook!



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Extreme Fly

June 5, 2009 at 1:28 am (Pets) (, , , , , , )

SurvivalMaster and I once had a housefly. No, not like everybody gets flies.

I mean, we had a pet housefly.


Of course, it started out as a feral fly, but we socialized it.

We lived in a studio apartment in a basement in Queens. This was somewhat extended by the large internal hallway, which contained our shower. We had pretty nice windows for a basement, to which I had added homemade cloth shades in blue. We had a little round garden table and two white wrought-iron chairs with blue swirly-patterned seats.

My husband was building speakers out of plywood, with big woofers and awesome tweeters, and boy, they sounded good! We even sold some of them. We spent most of our money on stereo equipment, records and reel-to-reel tapes. We had legendary parties. Great cold cuts and salads —

Deli Spread

— from the best German Deli in Queens —

German Deli

— plus the requisite accessories. Use your imagination. I won’t explain further; my daughter’s reading this. Forgive me, but it was in my crazy years, before Christ.

One day, SurvivalMaster and I were having a grand time in the way that hippies in the 70’s did, when we found a housefly, flying about the apartment. Full of Flower Power, we said “Awww!” (There was nothing for a fly to eat in our apartment.) So we put some jelly on a spoon and laid it on a plate. Do you know, that fly found the jelly right quick? And in a short while, we were able to pick up the spoon with jelly and housefly, and that fly got accustomed to us. He would even crawl on our hands!

Fly on Skin

A close friend of ours, HillMan, came over one day, having heard of our unusual pet. He said “That’s not a tame fly!” pointing at our pet, which was swooping around. Fly ignored his belligerent comment and landed on the tip of his finger. HillMan’s eyes popped! He believed!!!

Soon word spread to the invitees of our next studio bash. One of our other friends, PartyPooper, had heard about Fly. He ranted about sanitation and disease, and actually threatened violence against our Extreme Pet. We sadly considered the alternatives: cancelling our party, hiring an armed guard —

Armed Guard

— or letting Fly flee.

We chose the latter. So, opening the apartment door, with Fly on my finger, I bravely walked out to our small patio. Fly still clung to me; I had to toss him in the air.

I never saw him again. At least…I don’t think so. Oh no! You don’t think any of those houseflies I later chased with flyswatters could have been Fly?

Thanks to The Domestic Fringe, Extreme Pet Carnival and the American Museum of Natural History for inspiring this walk down Memory Lane. This has actually been a true story. Really.*



*Names have been changed to protect participants from embarrassment.

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