It is strange that Lubbock did not mention specifically the power of music in inspiring the soldier as he marches to the defense of his country, or in arousing the spirit of patriotism and kindling the love of country, whether in peace or war, in every bosom. “Let me make the songs of a country,” Fletcher of Saltoun has well said, “and I care not who makes its laws.”
Not to know the words and the air of the national anthem or chief patriotic songs of one’s country is considered little less than a disgrace. To know something of their authors and the occasion which inspired them, or the conditions under which they were composed, gives additional interest to the songs themselves.
Francis Scott Key, author of “The Star-spangled Banner,” one of the, if not the most, popular of our national songs, was born in Frederick County, Maryland, on August 1, 1779. He was the son of John Ross Key, an officer in the Revolutionary army.
Young Key’s early education was carried on under the direction of his father. Later he became a student in St. John’s College, from which institution he was graduated in his nineteenth year. Immediately after his graduation he began to study law under his uncle, Philip Barton Key, one of the ablest lawyers of his time. He was admitted to the bar in 1801, and commenced to practice in Fredericktown, Maryland, where he won the reputation of an eloquent advocate. After a few years’ practice in Fredericktown, he removed to Washington, where he was appointed district attorney for the District of Columbia.
Young Key was as widely known and admired as a writer of hymns and ballads as he was as a lawyer of promise. But the production of the popular national anthem which crowned him with immortality has so overshadowed the rest of his life work that we remember him only as its author.
The occasion which inspired “The Star-spangled Banner” must always be memorable in the annals of our country. The war with the British had been about two years in progress, when, in August, 1814, a British fleet arrived in the Chesapeake, and an army under General Ross landed about forty miles from the city of Washington.
The army took possession of Washington, burnt the capitol, the President’s residence, and other public buildings, and then sailed around by the sea to attack Baltimore. The fleet was to bombard Fort McHenry, while the land forces were to attack the city.
The commanding officers of the fleet and land army, Admiral Cockburn and General Ross, made their headquarters in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, at the house of Dr. William Beanes, whom they held as their prisoner.
Francis Scott Key, who was a warm friend of Dr. Beanes, went to President Madison in order to enlist his aid in securing the release of Beanes. The president furnished Key with a vessel, and instructed John L. Skinner, agent for the exchange of prisoners, to accompany him under a flag of truce to the British fleet.