The days are getting shorter; schools will be in session within a couple of weeks. It must be August.
And with the end of summer comes a tinge of sadness. The days of swimming, boating, and patio parties will soon be over for another year. We wish summer could last a bit longer.
What we need is a holiday in August, even if we invent it for ourselves. Something to lift our spirits.
Perhaps we could celebrate the birthday of Francis Scott Key, born August 1, 1779. (That would place our new holiday neatly centered between Independence Day and Labor Day.)
Mr. Key would be a worthy man to honor, too, and not just because he penned The Star Spangled Banner.
Francis Scott Key was a man of faith.
From 1818 until his death in 1843, he served as vice-president of the American Bible Society. Mr. Key was also involved in the American Sunday School Union, instrumental in planting thousands of Sunday Schools in settlements throughout the Midwest.
Though only an amateur poet, he penned at least ten hymns in addition to our national anthem. Included below are the first-stanza lyrics of Lord, with Glowing Heart I’d Praise Thee. I think you’ll find these words as heart-stirring as The Star-Spangled Banner:
Lord, with glowing heart I’d praise Thee,
For the bliss Thy love bestows,
For the pardoning grace that saves me,
And the peace that from it flows:
Help, O God, my weak endeavor;
This dull soul to rapture raise:
Thou must light the flame, or never
Can my love be warmed to praise.
Francis Scott Key was a man of courage.
If you’re like me, you remember bits and pieces of the circumstances that inspired Mr. Key to write our national anthem. Sometime during the War of 1812, he was on a boat in a harbor, anxiously watching to see if the fort onshore would survive an onslaught from the British Navy. By the dawn’s early light he caught a glimpse of the American flag still flying over the ramparts, and the first lines of The Star Spangled Banner were born in his mind.
But what was Sir Francis doing in a harbor full of British ships attacking an American fort?
First, it’s important to understand the British had just completed a successful campaign against Washington, D.C., burning many buildings including the White House. Hundreds had fled for their lives, including President Madison.
After Washington, the victorious enemy approached Baltimore, the third largest city in America. Mr. Key and John Stuart Skinner (an American Prisoner Exchange Agent) had been sent to the British, to negotiate the release of prisoners. One of those prisoners was Dr. William Beanes. Dr Beanes had been captured in Washington, and was being held aboard ship in Baltimore Harbor.
Why was Mr. Key sent as a negotiator? Perhaps because, as a lawyer, he was gifted at persuasion.
But what guarantee might Francis Key and John Skinner have that they themselves would not be taken prisoners? Surely there was none. Promises can easily be broken, especially during war.
Yet the two men did board an enemy ship and talk the British into releasing Dr. Beanes. However, the battle against Fort McHenry was about to begin. The three Americans were not allowed to return to shore, but were transferred to a small boat behind the British fleet. They had no choice but to anxiously watch the bombardment of Fort McHenry, located on Baltimore Harbor. Would the Americans be forced to surrender?
Into the night the ferocious battle continued. Sixteen British war ships lobbed cannon fire and rockets into the fort from a safe distance out in the harbor. Meanwhile, American gunfire was useless. The ships were out of range.
But the dawn’s early light revealed that the American flag still waved. The fort had remained secure in spite of the onslaught. Mr. Key grabbed an envelope. On the back he wrote out the first phrases of the poem, “The Defense of Fort McHenry.” Later he added to the poem, creating four stanzas. Soon it was set to a British(!) tune, Anacreon in Heaven, and retitled, The Star-Spangled Banner.
Though the song celebrated that particular victory at Fort McHenry, Mr. Key expressed his faith in God and hope for America in the last stanza:
Oh, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and 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, when our cause it is just;
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
Did you notice that last line? Mr. Key created our nation’s motto as well as our national anthem.
He’s worthy of a holiday, don’t you think?