"What so proudly we hailed"
The story of "The Star Spangled Banner"
How an opponent of the War of 1812 came to write our national anthem in the middle of it
Francis Scott Key was probably the last person modern Americans would figure to write the poem that would become the national anthem, during the War of 1812.
He was a prominent Washington attorney, originally from Maryland and a slave owner who, strongly opposed the war, calling it "abominable." He was not alone. Congress passed the declaration of war by the narrowest margin before or since.
His reservations seemed well-founded. Two weeks before, British troops had attacked and burned the the Executive Mansion, the Capitol (that housed the Suprme Court and Library of Congress at the time) and other buildings.
Key only found himself on the British flagship in Baltimore harbor because he was seeking the release of 65-year old Dr. William Beanes, arrested for resisting when British troops tried to ransack his home -- a hanging offense.
Key was there with John Skinner, an American officer under a flag of truce approved by President Madison, carrying letters from British officers that the doctor had treated. Because of this, the British commanders decided release the Dr. Beanes.
However, the three knew British plans, so they were held until the attack on Baltimore was under way.
That's how Francis Scott Key got a ringside seat for the bombardment and, overcome with pride when the flag was still flying the next day, wrote those immortal words on September 14, 1814.
Text based on "Francis Scott Key" by Norman Gelb, Smithsonian Magazine, Sept. 2004 https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/francis-scott-key-the-reluctant-patriot-180937178/ Click on image to open the window at the Library of Congress