Campus Blog

On the ‘forgotten’ fourth verse of the national anthem

July 1st, 2013 | Dr. Larry Toll

A link to a viral video featuring a former U.S. Marine singing the “forgotten” verse of the The Star-Spangled Banner was recently emailed to me. With nearly 100,000 views online, you may have seen the video, too.

As Americans participate in upcoming Independence Day activities, many will sing the familiar first stanza of Francis Scott Key’s 1814 lyrics, which we know as the National Anthem. But few are familiar with the fourth stanza, which is a part of the official lyrics, as adopted by President Herbert Hoover in 1931. The stirring lines read as follows:

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
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!

It is appropriate to remember the context of the poem when it was written. A British flotilla had attempted to capture Baltimore in 1814, bombarding Fort McHenry throughout the night, and Key was moved by the sight of the U.S. flag still waving over the fort.

The word conquer, in a 19th Century context, did not mean an act of imperialism, but rather to ‘conquer a peace’ (a common phrase of the time), that is to keep fighting until victory is achieved, even against overwhelming odds. That certainly was the situation in the Chesapeake invasion in the late summer of 1814. The national capital was captured and burned (in retalliation for the American burning of York in Canada). The American militia had been driven back, and the British were invading the Chesapeake with their veteran troops which had just campaigned against Napoleon.

This is also true of believers as we must conquer our own sinful desires, and the temptations that are all around us; we must keep on fighting against overwhelming odds, trusting God to help us in the fight.

The poem that Key wrote that morning as he saw the flag over Fort McHenry reflects that sense of resisting an invader, of defending homes, family and freedom. It is also interesting to note Key’s reflection on the idea that the nation had been established by God, and that they were putting their trust in God. We can see the national motto, “In God We Trust,” clearly in this poem.

It is true that the tune to which the poem was set was a drinking song, but the same can also be said of some old hymns. Isn’t it fascinating how God can redeem music as well as people?

Want more? Read Evangel professor brings history to life at 150th anniversary ceremony for Battle of Springfield.

Dr. Larry Toll

When Dr. Larry Toll is not in an Evangel University classroom teaching history, he is out in the community living it. As a living history enthusiast, he is involved in Civil War reenacting and leading tours at living history encampments around the region. Students often have the opportunity to join him.

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