The Star-Spangled Banner You Didn’t Hear During the World Series

President Herbert Hoover finally made it official in 1931, when “The Star-Spangled Banner” was officially declared our national anthem.  It’s as patriotic an anthem as it is difficult to sing, but we only sing the first verse at public events. I have to admit that I never paid much attention to the other three verses until I read Alan Taylor’s new book, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832.

The third verse speaks directly to the British policy of liberating slaves in the Chesapeake region of Maryland and Virginia and their recruitment into the army.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The “land of the free and the home of the brave” takes on a whole new meaning after reading this verse. I suspect that you will never hear our anthem quite the same way.

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7 comments… add one
  • Interesting. We do have some skeletons in our closet. One that truely disturbs me is Wounded Knee. However, we cannot let our past hold us back from what we need to do. An old saying here in Texas is that you cannot stop a good man doing the right thing that just keeps on coming. Some Ranger uttered that about bringing law into lawless towns.

    Just keep doing what’s right!

    Sam Vanderburg
    Gun Barrel City, TX

    • Kevin Levin Nov 4, 2013

      Let me be clear, this post is not meant to point out our “skeletons” but to simply point out an aspect of a song that is rarely acknowledged.

  • James Kabala Nov 3, 2013

    Hmm – the verse is difficult to parse, but I think the “slave[s]” are supposed to be the same group as the “hireling[s]” (a traditional insult toward professional soldiers serving for money as opposed to militia serving for patriotism) – in other words, slaves of British tyranny, not actual slaves. It seems like a case of unconscious irony rather than openly gloating over recaptured slaves. But I could be wrong.

    • Johan May 11, 2015

      You are wrong. The verse is saying those slaves will be running away in fear or dead in the grave. The American anthem would NOT imply that America has no chance and Americans will all run away or die. Basically it’s a proud anthem saying “we’re going to kill all those hirelings (mercenaries) and slaves” It is referring to the fact that in the Revolution and the War of 1812, many American slaves escaped to join the British army who gave them freedom. If the British won either war, slavery would have been abolished (as a practical matter, they needed a large loyalist population and freed slaves generally remained loyalist their entire lives).

      You have to understand most American colonists both in the American Revolution and 1812 viewed the British Army as made up of mostly “hirelings”, specifically German Hessians, and runaway fugitive slaves who joined the British who gave them freedom. The Royal Ethiopian Regiment mockingly adopted the motto “Liberty to Slaves” in 1776, and Patrick Henry called for “Independency” in June 1776 because of Lord Dunmore freeing the black slaves and arming them and the mocking insult motto put on their jackets (our Romulus and Remus style “Founding Fathers” worshiped Lady Liberty, the pagan Goddess Libertas). Within days, his fellow Virginian slaveowner Thomas Jefferson began writing and finished the Declaration of Independence in June 1776 (published July 4th), and Jefferson wrote a few lines trying to blame slavery on the British King (like “we don’t want to have slaves, you made us do it!”) but the Continental Congress forced Jefferson to delete those lines because they didn’t want to appear to be against slavery. Think about that for a minute. These hypocrites yelling for “liberty”, basically censored any lines that might be seen as being even the slightest against slavery, from our DECLARATION of Independence which said “all men are created equal”… except those darn slaves and native injun savages! Such was the American colonist of the time.

    • Brian Lewis Aug 29, 2016

      I find it interesting that you just made up something that was not the intention of the verse regarding slaves. It was because black people were slaves and the British promised their freedom if they fought against their oppressors. I say the Star Spangled banner get tossed in the trash where it belongs.

  • Michael Edwards May 30, 2016

    I think James Kabala is correct. Unless Mr Key referred to your interpretation as the meaning of his song, I find it difficult to think he was gloating over literal killed slaves. Hirelings and slaves sound like terms an early American would use for British invaders.

    • Johan May 30, 2016

      Just because you “find it difficult” to believe doesn’t make it so. Francis Scott Key was strongly pro-slavery.

      If Francis Scott Key had known the civil war that was coming, and if he had known his own grandson would be imprisoned in that VERY SAME Fort McHenry “where our flag was still there”, for being a reporter who spoke out against the suspension of the Constitution in Baltimore (Lincoln declared martial law, suspended Habeas Corpus, etc.). If Francis Scott Key had known the future, he would not have written the “Star Spangled Banner” and likely would of joined forces with the British.

      How ironic history is…

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