by Bernard R. DeRemer
The War of 1812 pitted the U.S., among the newest and weakest nations on earth, against mighty Great Britain-for the second time in a generation.
During the summer of 1814, the cause was not going well. The British had humiliated American forces in Canada, then captured Washington, D.C., burning the White House (as it is now known) and forcing the federal government to flee ignominiously. It was the lowest point in the history of the young republic.
Now the powerful British fleet was ravaging Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore was one of three vital American ports; its fall would greatly cripple the U.S.
On Sept. 13, Francis Scott Key, a young Baltimore lawyer, was on a mission of mercy, seeking the release of William Beanes, a Baltimore physician and British prisoner. While Key was held on board an enemy ship, awaiting a reply, the British bombarded Ft. McHenry all night.
During those agonizing hours, Key watched the "bombs bursting in air" and prayed, "Please, God, it has been Thy grace that has made our country strong. Preserve Thy handiwork and help us to stand as free men."
Next day, through the lingering morning mist and battle smoke, Key was thrilled to discover that the American flag still proudly flew over the beleaguered fort! According to one version, under the powerful inspiration of that scene, he dashed off his immortal "The Star-Spangled Banner" on the back of a letter.
The rousing number, first published in the Baltimore American Sept. 21, took that city "by storm," yet did not actually catch on nationally until about the time of the Civil War. And not until 1931 did Congress finally get around to proclaiming it our official national anthem. The rest, as they say, is history.
Key, born in Maryland in 1779, grew up in a godly home where the influence of his grandmother, among others, profoundly influenced him. She taught him formal prayers, took him to church, and employed a private tutor. It was recorded that he read to her from the Bible by the hour.
After graduating from St. John's College, he was torn between the ministry and law, but finally chose the latter. This choice led, years later, to the occasion for his memorable composition.
Key first practiced law in Frederick, Md. He was criticized because he even argued cases for slaves. With his warm sympathy for and understanding of that troubled race, he could not do otherwise.
Then he became a successful U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., where he moved in the best circles. His brother-in-law, Roger B. Taney, was chief justice of the United States.
This devout Christian twice daily led prayer and Bible study for his family. For many years he was a lay reader in St. John's (Episcopal) Church, Georgetown, Washington, D.C.
In 1824, he helped found the American Sunday School Union (now the American Missionary Fellowship), which was mightily used to establish Sunday schools and evangelize children throughout the nation. He served as vice president some 18 years.
All his life he tithed his income for religious and benevolent purposes. Even on his deathbed, he instructed his wife how to disburse his remaining tithe money.
Key wrote letters to his family to be read along with his will after his homegoing in 1843. He reminded his children of great spiritual truths, and urged them to consider the claims of Christ, pointing out, "Remember that you do not possess yourselves. Christ has bought you and His precious blood was your price."
Today the U.S. flag flies 24 hours a day over his monument and grave at Frederick, Md.
Francis Scott Key was a loyal, outstanding patriot, but his first allegiance was to the Kingdom of God.