Our family wanted to do more this year to celebrate Independence Day, so we put up additional flags and painted red, white, and blue on a heart-shaped flag. Judging from the increased American flags in our area, other families had the same thought. A nearby patriotic display gave us the idea for our new yard sign — “land of the free, because of the brave.”
We saw the same patriotic expression as we traveled from Virginia to Pennsylvania for the July 4th weekend and especially at a crowded Gettysburg fireworks store where customers pushed overflowing carts. The farther we drove, the more numerous the American flags. I thought of the War of 1812 and the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write what would become the National Anthem.
Although Britain had provoked hostilities against the United States, the War of 1812 had not been popular. Congress’ vote declaring war still represents the closest ever taken in our country’s history. Massachusetts passed a resolution resisting the war and actually pursued a secret peace agreement with Britain. New England debated whether to secede.
During the War of 1812, America kept losing battles. Morale sunk after the British burned the White House, Capitol, Treasury, and War Department. Smithsonian Magazine summed up this David versus Goliath war: the “fledgling” United States, “strapped for cash, plagued by domestic discord, and militarily weak,” was up against “mighty” Great Britain. Only 36 years after declaring independence on that first July 4th in 1776, our Nation’s future looked bleak.
After burning Washington, DC, and invading Alexandria, Virginia, the British set their sights on Baltimore. But, first they had to get past Fort McHenry.
They bombarded Fort McHenry with almost 1500 shells, cannonballs, and rockets — one falling each minute during the 25-hour onslaught. Francis Scott Key, fearing the worst, said it felt like a “sheet of fire and brimstone” as “the heavens…were a seething sea of flame” and “red glare.” Key believed it inevitable the British would take the fort; he waited in despair assuming he would see the Union Jack flag at sunrise.
But, at “dawn’s early light,” he saw the American flag flying atop Fort McHenry. Inspired, Key jotted down the song as the British retreated. Now, with a better understanding of what led to Key’s patriotic inspiration, let’s read the first stanza of our National Anthem:
“O say can you see, by the dawnʼs early light,
What so proudly we hailʼd at the twilightʼs last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
Oʼer the ramparts we watchʼd were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocketʼs red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
Oʼer the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
Key added the words “in God is our trust” to the fourth stanza, because he rightly attributed the surprise victory to God’s “merciful deliverance.” That same Godly anchor offers us hope today as we see the bombardment against faith and long-held American values. Rather than succumbing to numbing fear, we must reorient, for “in God is our trust.”
The story behind our National Anthem shows how the Lord cast His net of providential protection over America. The British should have taken Fort McHenry, resulting in a different future for America. The British, the world, and far too many Americans believed it a forgone conclusion that the powerful British Empire would steamroll through its former colony.
But, as “man plans his way…the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9), and Almighty God did just that during the night as Francis Scott Key watched. Fort McHenry survived both the 25-hour bombardment and 1500 rockets. Only 1,000 Americans held the fort while pushing 5,000 British troops to retreat. Inexplicably, British bombs “bursting in air” exploded short of target. Britain’s astonishing tactical loss strategically changed the war’s course.
How was this possible? The U.S. had heavily fortified Fort McHenry, and God’s providential hand intervened. These lessons apply for us today. We must fortify ourselves and families from the evil one’s attacks, for he “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone [and a country] to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) We find fortification and strength in God’s Word. These verses sustained God’s people before and will sustain us today.
“Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord…do not be afraid…the Lord will be with you.” (2 Chronicles 20:17)
“No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed.” (Isaiah 54:17)
“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)
During that 25-hour pivotal day at Fort McHenry, Francis Scott Key, and many other Americans prayed for God’s protection and intervention. More than 200 years later, we benefit from the prayers of those Americans.
America stands at another precipice; it’s our turn to pray for God’s providential protection. In the words of St. Padre Pio, “Prayer is the best weapon we possess, the key that opens the heart of God.”
In the midst of July 4th celebrations, cookouts, and fireworks, may we start a new tradition that continues all year long. Each time we see Old Glory, let’s pray for our Nation and her citizens, that many put their hope, faith, and trust in Almighty God.
Hilary F. Collins lives in northern Virginia where she and her family attend a Catholic Church in the Arlington Diocese. She is a homeschooling mom. Along with her husband, they strive to instill Godly knowledge and faithful fortitude in their child.