In our celebration of Independence Day, we would do well to remember the legacy of Francis Scott Key. Three decades after the Revolutionary War officially ended, Key composed a poem honoring our flag and our country. The poem, entitled “The Star Spangled Banner,” was written during a British naval attack on Baltimore Harbor’s Fort McHenry in the War of 1812.
During the battle, British ships bombarded the fort for 25 hours. Although the fort was hit numerous times, many of the bombs and rockets ignited prematurely. In doing so, they gave light to the darkened sky and revealed that Fort McHenry’s flag was still flying. Inspired by the fact “that our flag was still there,” Key scribbled his poem’s four verses on the back of an envelope. The first verse is the one that is sung to honor our country. The remaining three verses have been relegated to obscurity. Yet, the last of those obscure verses has a powerful message that speaks to the heart and soul of America.
“Oh! Thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power 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.’
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”
Ironically, it was not until 1931 that the United States Congress ratified a bill making the “Star Spangled Banner” our national anthem. Twenty-five years later, in 1956, “In God We Trust” was adopted as our official motto.
*Charles Cox is a retired United Methodist minister now residing in Midland, GA.