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Old Drinking Song, Lyrics From 1814, a National Anthem in 1931

05/03/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

On March 3, 1931, The Star Spangled Banner, with words written in 1814 and set to an old drinking song, became the national anthem.

It was September 13, 1814, American was at war with England for the second time since 1776. Francis Scott Key was an attorney attempting to negotiate the return of a civilian prisoner held by the British who had just burned Washington DC and had set their sights on Baltimore. As the British attacked the city, Key watched the naval bombardment from a ship in Baltimore's harbor. In the morning, he could see that the Stars and Stripes still flew over Fort McHenry.

But here's what they didn't tell you:

Yes, Washington, D.C. was burned in 1814, including the President's Home which would later get a fresh coat of paint and be called the "White House." But Washington was torched in retaliation for the burning of York--now Toronto--in Canada earlier in the war.

Key wrote words. But the music comes from an old English drinking song. Good thing it wasn't 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.

The Star Spangled Banner did not become the national anthem until 1916 when President Wilson declared it by Executive Order. But that didn't really count. In 1931, it became the National Anthem by Congressional resolution signed by President Herbert Hoover.

Now, here are couple of footnotes to the Francis Scott Key story--his son, Philip Barton Key, was a District attorney in Washington. DC. He was shot and killed by Congressman Daniel Sickles. Sickles was acquitted with the first use of the defense of temporary insanity in 1859. And went on to serve as a Civil War general--and not a very good one.
And speaking of the Civil War, Key's grandson was later imprisoned in Fort McHenry along wit Baltimore's Mayor and other pro-Confederate sympathizers.

Here are some places to learn more about Fort McHenry, Key and the Flag that inspired the National Anthem.
http://www.nps.gov/archive/fomc/home.htm

The images and music in this video are courtesy of the Smithsonian Museum of American History: http://americanhistory.si.ed/starspangledbanner/

This version of the anthem is on 19th century instruments:
http://americanhistory.si.edu/starspangledbanner/mp3/song.ssb.dsl.mp3