As the national anthem of the United States of America, “The Star-Spangled Banner” is often cherished with patriotic sentiment by American citizens. Often while heard, the iconic description of the resilient American flag in the lyrics and grandiose nature of the music seem to be inherently representative of American culture. Interestingly, however, the American national anthem was constructed with the incorporation of a variety of different sources.
The first component of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that was formulated were the lyrics. During the War of 1812, the British attacked an American military fort in Baltimore called Fort McHenry. During this battle, an American by the name of Scott Francis Key was aboard a British naval ship to negotiate the release of an American being held as a prisoner of war. Upon witnessing the battle, he was inspired to write a poem titled “Defense of Fort McHenry,” in which he described his experience as a witness of the battle. It is the first stanza of his poem that comprises the iconic lyrics of the American national anthem.
Eventually, a music publisher by the name of Thomas Carr published his poem in the form of a song. Ironically, the poem that celebrates the valor of an American fort against a British assault was set to the melody of a British song. The melody that Thomas Carr set to Scott Francis Key’s poem was incorporated from “The Anacreontic Song.” The “Anacreontic Song” was associated with the Anacreontic society, which was a British social club that consisted of amateur musicians in London. Furthermore, this social club song was composed by a British musician named John Stafford Smith.
Despite the compositional completion of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” it was not officially declared the national anthem of the United States of America until 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson. However, the irony surrounding the historical and compositional nature of the American national anthem in relation to the British is not a unique case. In another similar case, the American song “My Country, Tis of Thee” is sung to the melody of “God Save the Queen,” which is the British national anthem. The complicated origins of the national anthem of the United States of America demonstrates that ironic cosmopolitan elements have constructed a symbol of patriotism.