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succeeding political controversy, were never before thus ended; nor did ever a people so promptly obey the laws alike of reason, race, and nature, from which, as from some magic fountain, the American Republic sprang. Nothing in romance, or in poetry, surpasses the wondrous story of this Republic. Why Washington, the Virginia planter, and why Franklin, the Pennsylvania printer? Another might have been chosen to lead the Continental armies; a brilliant and distinguished soldier; but, as we now know, not only a corrupt adventurer, but a traitor, who preceded Arnold, and who, had he been commander of the forces at Valley Forge, would have betrayed his adopted country for the coronet which Washington despised. In many ways was Franklin an experiment, and, as his familiars might have thought, a dangerous experiment, to be appointed the representative of the colonies in London and in Paris, for, as they knew, and as we now know, he was a stalwart, self-indulgent man, apparently little given either to prudence or to courtliness. What was it that singled out these two men from all others and designated them to be the Chiefs of the Military and Diplomatic establishments set up by the provincial gentlemen, whose Declaration of Independence was not merely to establish a new nation, but to create a new world? It was as clearly the inspiration of the Almighty as, a century later, was the faith of Lincoln in Grant, whom he had never seen and had reason to distrust. It was as clearly the inspiration of the Almighty as that, in every turn of fortune, God has stood by the Republic; not less in the strange vicissitudes of the Wars of the Revolution and of 1812, than in those of the War of Sections; in the raising up of Paul Jones and Perry, of Preble and Hull, when, discouraged upon the land, the sea was to send God's people messages of victory, and in the striking down of Albert Sidney Johnston and Stonewall Jackson, when they were sweeping all before them. Inscrutable are the ways of Providence to man. Philosophers may argue as they will, and rationalism may draw its conclusions; but the mysterious power unexplained by either has, from the beginning of time, ruled the destinies of men. Back of these forces of life and thought there is yet another force equally inspired of God and equally essential
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to the exaltation of man, a force without which the world does not move except downward, the force of the imagination which idealizes the deeds of men and translates their meaning into words. It may be concluded that Washington at Monmouth and Franklin at Versailles were not thinking a great deal of what the world was like to say. But there are beings so constituted that they cannot act, they can only think, and these are the Homers who relate in heroic measure, the Shakespeares who sing in strains of heavenly music. Among the progeny of these was Francis Scott Key.
The son of a revolutionary soldier, he was born the 9th of August, 1780, not far away from the spot where we are now assembled, and died in Baltimore the 11th of January, 1843. His life of nearly sixty-three years was an unbroken idyl of tranquil happiness; amid congenial scenes; among kindred people; blessed by wedded love and many children, and accompanied by the successful pursuit of the learned profession he had chosen for himself. Goldsmith's sketch of the village preacher may not be inaptly quoted to describe his unambitious and unobtrusive career:—
“Remote from towns he ran his godly race,
Yet it was reserved for this constant and modest gentleman to leave behind him a priceless legacy to his countrymen and to identify his name for all time with his country's flag.
The “Star-Spangled Banner” owed very little to chance. It was the emanation of a patriotic fervor as sincere and natural as it was simple and noble. It sprang from one of those glorious inspirations which, coming to an author unbidden, seizes at once upon the hearts and minds of men. The occasion seemed to have been created for the very purpose. The man and the hour were met, and the song came; and truly was song never yet born amid such scenes. We explore the pages of folk-lore, we read the story of popular music, in vain, to find the like. Even the authorship of the English national anthem is in dispute. The “Marseillaise” did indeed owe its being to
the passions of war and burst forth in profuse strains of
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that Dr. Beanes should be released; but, as an advance upon Baltimore was about to be made, it was required that the party of Americans should remain under guard on board their own vessel until these operations were concluded. Thus it was that, the night of the 14th of September, 1814, Key witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry, which his song was to render illustrious. He did not quit the deck the long night through. With his single companion, the flag-officer, he watched every shell from the moment it was fired until it fell, “listening with breathless interest to hear if an explosion followed.” Whilst the cannonading continued they needed no further assurance that their countrymen had not capitulated. “But,” I quote the words of Chief Justice Taney, repeating the account given him by Key immediately after, “it suddenly ceased some time before day; and, as they had no communication with any of the enemy's ships, they did not know whether the fort had surrendered, or the attack upon it had been abandoned. They paced the deck the residue of the night in painful suspense, watching with intense anxiety for the return of day, and looking every few minutes at their watches to see how long they must wait for it; and, as soon as it dawned and before it was light enough to see objects at a distance, their glasses were turned to the fort, uncertain whether they should see there the Stars and Stripes or the flag of the enemy.” Blessed vigill that its prayers were not in vain; glorious vigil ! that it gave us the “Star-Spangled Banner”! During the night the conception of the poem began to form itself in Key's mind. With the early glow of the morning, when the long agony of suspense had been turned into the rapture of exultation, his feeling found expression in completed lines of verse, which he wrote upon the back of a letter he happened to have in his possession. He finished the piece on the boat that carried him ashore and wrote out a clear copy that same evening at his hotel in Baltimore. Next day he read this to his friend and kinsman, Judge Nicholson, who was so pleased with it that he carried it to the office of. the “Baltimore American,” where it was put in type by a young apprentice, Samuel Sands by name, and thence issued as a broadside. Within an hour after it was circulating all over the city, hailed with delight by the excited people. Published in the succeeding issue of the “American,” and elsewhere reprinted, it went straight to the popular heart. It was quickly seized for musical adaptation. First sung in a tavern adjoining the Holliday Street Theater in Baltimore, by Charles Durang, an actor, whose brother, Ferdinand Durang, had set it to an old air, its production on the stage of that theater was the occasion of spontaneous and unbounded enthusiasm. Wherever it was heard its effect was electrical, and thenceforward it was universally accepted as the National anthem. The poem tells its own story, and never a truer, for every word comes direct from a great heroic soul, powderstained and dipped, as it were, in sacred blood.
“O say, can you see by the dawn's early light
The two that walked the deck of the cartel boat had waited long. They had counted the hours as they watched the course of the battle. But a deeper anxiety yet is to possess them. The firing has ceased. Ominous silence | Whilst cannon roared they knew that the fort held out. Whilst the sky was lit by messengers of death they could see the National colors flying above it.
“. the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.”
But there comes an end at last to waiting and watching; and as the first rays of the sun shoot above the horizon and gild the Eastern shore, behold the sight that gladdens their eyes as it—
44 catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream”—
for there, over the battlements of McHenry, the Stars and Stripes float defiant on the breeze, whilst all around evidences multiply that the attack has failed, that the Americans have successfully resisted it, and that the Brit