Why Stand for Our National Anthem and Our Flag? Ask Our Fort McHenry Veterans

Psalm 56:11 “In God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

Kathleen Kendrick, curator for the Star-Spangled Banner preservation project, says “You’re looking at the very same flag that Francis Scott Key saw on that September morning in 1814. The Star-Spangled Banner is more than an artifact—it’s a national symbol. It evokes powerful emotions and ideas about what it means to be an American.” In 2008, the National Museum of American History completed the 8-year project of restoring the same 39 ft – by – 42 ft flag that flew over Fort McHenry that night at the Battle of Baltimore.

Almost 120 years later (1931), Congress made the Star Spangled Banner America’s national anthem. Here we are, another 86 years later, and 10 weeks into a national controversy. Many NFL players continue to refuse to stand during the playing of the national anthem. While it appears their protest is to highlight their view that America as a nation needs to atone for its continuing culture of racism (with specific indictment of our police force), none of these players are protesting their blessings of living as American citizens.

I’d guess they all realize the incredible freedoms America has afforded them. But most don’t realize that while the anthem is being played, and the flag is being hoisted, they stand to honor the veterans of Fort McHenry at the Battle of Baltimore, whose victory they credited to God’s sovereign protection. The national anthem embodies the heart and soul of being an American, where a lawyer wrote down verses to describe God’s miraculous preservation of a nation that by all accounts should have been wiped out.

When the War of 1812 broke out, Francis Scott Key, like President Madison, publicly relied on protection from Jesus Christ to secure their victory against insurmountable odds. To understand what America faced after the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), let’s go back to when America’s national existence was in peril.

Americans thought we were free from England. But in 1812, as England fought France, England captured American ships at sea and forced 10,000 sailors to fight with them. America then declared war on England. Within 2 years, on August 24, 1814, British troops captured Washington, D.C. They burned the Capital to the ground, with President Madison narrowly escaping. They then turned to Fort McHenry, a strategic spot at the mouth of Baltimore Harbor, which would allow the British fleet to land on American shores.

Back in July 1813, Major George Armistead, commander of Fort McHenry, ordered a massive American flag be made to fly over the fort, because he knew they’d be coming, and he wanted them to see their resolve to defend their freedom: “We are ready at Fort McHenry to defend Baltimore against invading by the enemy… it is my desire to have a flag so large that the British will have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance.” The flag was hoisted on August 19,1813. The British began bombing the fort on September 13th.

But they had a major problem. The British warships had cannons that could hit them from 2 miles away. The fort’s cannons only reached 1.5 miles. For 25 hours, the British pounded the defenseless fort. As a prisoner on one of their boats, an American lawyer named Francis Scott Key watched the relentless shelling of Fort McHenry. Key was a very successful lawyer in Washington, DC. As the head of a thriving law practice, he argued over 100 cases before the US Supreme Court. As a devoted follower of Jesus Christ, his passion was establishing Sunday School programs in American churches. Not only did he teach a Sunday School class at his church, he also served as Vice President of the American Sunday School Union, which established these schools in thousands of churches across America.

As he watched, Key wrote down what captured the events of that evening, in what was to become our national anthem. All through the night, under British bombardment, the American Flag never fell. And in the morning, it was still there. The British never took the fort. How did the flag make it through 25 hours of bombing? Every time the mast was hit, and the flag was in danger of falling, Americans rushed out in the line of fire and held the mast up to keep the flag flying. Why did Americans risk their lives for the sake of the flag? As Key penned in the second stanza of the anthem, it was a firm conviction that God Almighty was with them: “Oh thus be it ever, When freemen shall stand, Between their loved homes, And the war’s desolation,…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.”

Key was echoing our verse from Psalm 56 – it is in God we trust. As we stand for the anthem, and place our hands over your hearts, we thank all our veterans – especially those at Fort McHenry. But most of all, we give thanks to our God, who continues to give us “the land of the free, the home of the brave.”

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