War of 1812: "The Star-Spangled Banner"

Cropped view of an engraving recolored in light greyscale tones shows General Jackson on a horse with American soldiers fighting the British in the background.

Francis Scott Key, a lawyer from Baltimore, Maryland, waited aboard a British warship, detained during his negotiation for a civilian doctor’s release. After witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry, Key anxiously looked for a sign that the American fort had withstood the British attack. When he saw the American flag still raised above the fort, he wrote notes for a future poem about this event. Later, he finished the poem “Defence of Fort M’Henry.” On September 20, 1814, the Baltimore Patriot published “Defence of Fort M’Henry.” Francis Scott Key’s brother-in-law set the poem to music, and the combined poem and music were published under the name “The Star-Spangled Banner.” 

After it was published, “The Star-Spangled Banner” became one of the many patriotic songs sung throughout the country. After 1889, it accompanied the flag raisings by the Navy. President Woodrow Wilson adopted the song as a de facto “national anthem” in 1916 but did not codify this ruling. Despite many objections, in 1929, “House Resolution 14” was presented to Congress to name “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the official national anthem to the United States. It was officially adopted by law on March 3, 1931. 

The following transcription of "The Defence of Fort M'Henry" (The Star-Spangled Banner) contains the original spelling and punctuation from Key's manuscript which is preserved by the Maryland Historical Society.


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 bomb 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. 

Support Outdoor Classrooms at Seven Key Battlefields

We're launching interpretation of African American history at 7 key battlefields, located in 5 states, spanning 3 wars.

Related Battles

Maryland | September 13, 1814
Result: United States Victory
Estimated Casualties
United States
United Kingdom