The War of 1812 primarily involved the United States and Great Britain. Britain had not readily accepted its defeat by the Colonial army. Britain did things to aggravate the new nation.
The aggravations included impressment of ten thousand American merchant seamen into the Royal Navy, trade restrictions, and the launching of minor invasions on U.S. shores. Britain also wanted to prevent the expansion by the United States westward.
The United States declared war on September 12, 1814. A war of importance and significance to the new nation. Britain considered the war an extension of the Napoleonic wars going on in Europe. Once again, Britain failed to take seriously America’s interests.
Britain won the first two major battles of the War. The second being the Battle of Washington. Britain burned Washington, including what today would be described as the White House.
Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane was the British leader during the first two victories.
Following his Washington victory, Cochrane wanted to do battle next in Rhode Island. His judgment was overridden by higher authority. He was told to take Baltimore.
The Battle of Baltimore began with the bombardment of Fort McHenry. The bombardment was ineffectual. Cochrane was reluctant to get his fleet and men too close to the Fort. He feared the Fort’s return fire would gravely damage his fleet and men.
Cochrane kept his ships quite a distance away. Cochrane used his bomb vessels and rocket ships to attack the Fort. Both long range guns. Both highly inaccurate at the distance.
A large American flag flew over Fort McHenry. It was still flying after a night long bombardment.
Cochrane’s soldiers consisted of British professional soldiers and Corps of Colonial Marines.
The Colonial Marines were made up of two groups. One a company, the other a battalion. They were black American slaves. Escaped slaves. Some 20,000. They had joined the British forces based upon Britain’s promise of freedom. Freedom in return for fighting their former masters, the
The Colonial Marines had assisted in the burning of Washington.
Britain lost the War of 1812. Britain honored its promise however. Following the War, the former slaves and their families were relocated to Halifax and Trinidad.
Francis Scott Key was a prominent Washington attorney. Well respected. A consummate Washington insider. An important player in the early days of the United States. A competent lawyer. Argued more than one hundred cases before the United States Supreme Court. Served for a time as U.S. Attorney for the District of Washington, D.C.
Key was opposed to the War of 1812. Considered it “abominable”, as well as a “lump of wickedness.”
The evening that Cochrane was bombing Fort McHenry long distance, Key was on one of the British vessels.
A client had been taken prisoner by the British. He was on board seeking his release. The release was granted. On one condition. Key and his client had to remain aboard the entire evening till the bombardment had been completed.
Key remained awake all night. Observed the bombs and rockets being fired on Fort McHenry. With the dawn, his heart was gladdened. The American flag still flew.
While still on the British vessel, Key wrote a poem in recognition of the event. A poem of pride in the American flag still waving. He titled it the “Defence of Fort McHenry.”
Note, a poem. Not yet set to music.
London had many men’s clubs in those days and the years before. One was The Anacreontic Society. Amateur musicians.
One of its members was John Stafford Smith. Some forty years earlier in 1773, Smith had written an official song for the Society. The song was titled The Anacreontic Song.
The music of The Anacreontic Song was applied to Key’s poem. The musical version renamed the Star Spangled Banner.
The Star Spangled Banner first consisted of four stanzas. A fifth was added some time later.
The United States Navy began officially using the Star Spangled Banner in 1889. The only governmental department to do so at the time.
President Woodrow Wilson decreed it should be used officially as a national anthem in 1916. However, Wilson had two lines removed from the third stanza which he thought might be considered objectionable by the British. In 1916, the U.S. and Britain were close allies. Britain was already in World War I.
The two lines were reinstated in 1931 when Congress passed a resolution signed by President Herbert Hoover declaring the Star Spangled Banner the United States National Anthem.
Baseball got into the act in 1918. During the seventh inning stretch of game one of the World Series, the Star Spangled Banner was played.
Patriotism hit its peak during World War II. The Star Spangled Banner was played before every game. It still is to this day.
The first stanza is generally the only one played. The others rarely heard. Key’s experiences on the ship that night evident in the words he wrote: …..by the dawn’s early light…..bombs bursting in air…..rockets red glare.
Two lines in the third stanza that Wilson thought objectionable in 1916 have returned to the forefront in recent weeks.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave
Key regarded the British professional soldiers as mercenaries. He described them in the two lines as “hirelings.” Without question, Key considered the British soldiers scoundrels. He was upset with the havoc and destruction the British had brought to the Chesapeake area.
Key looked upon the escaped black slaves making up the Corps of Colonial Marines as traitors. Slave or not, the United States was their country. Key feared more slaves would escape and join the British ranks. He was concerned such would spark a national slave insurrection.
An interesting observation by a man who considered slavery a moral wrong. His position apparently was country first.
Which brings me to the motivation for this column. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sitting and kneeling while the Star Spangled Banner was being played.
In a nation where burning the American flag is Constitutionally protected free speech, sitting or kneeling while the Star Spangled Banner is played is significantly less offensive.
Kaepernick had something to say. He had a right to say it by his actions. Especially as an African-American. He was speaking out. Protesting racial injustice, minority oppression and police brutality.
I sometimes think we have not come very far from pre-Civil War days. Nor from the anti-black happenings in our country in the 1950s and 1960s.
I have written and spoken about the police shooting of blacks the past two years. My message was…..Beware! What goes around, comes around. You can only tread on a people for so long before they retaliate.
That time has come this past year with the killing of police by blacks.
I tolerate neither.
Without any question however, Kaepernick has the right to protest in his fashion. He kills no one. He did not yell or scream. He made a silent showing of protest. Legal and proper.
Too many Americans have condemned him. Wrong. Condemn that which caused him to make his statement by sitting and kneeling.
I read somewhere this past week that the “home of the brave” is not necessarily the “land of the free.” Think about it.
Our country is mired in discrimination. It is part of the national fabric. It will remain such till there are few if any persons of white color remaining. With the increasing number of colored making up our society, the day will come sometime in this century where discrimination will have disappeared. Via intermarriage of the races. It is inevitable.