Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Is The Star Spangled Banner Racist ?


 And where is that band who so vauntingly swore, That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion A home and a Country should leave us no more? Their blood has wash'd out their foul footstep's pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

This is the third stanza of the Star Spangled Banner. It can interpreted as racist today but keep in mind the song was written in 1814. I could have more respect for Colin Kaepernick if his protest of the National Anthem was based on this third stanza. However I feel certain that like most Americans, Kaepernick was not aware of the existence of this third stanza when he began his protest. To understand the background of these words we must delve a little into the history of the War of 1812 and the life of Francis Scott Key. The War of 1812, like the Mexican War, the Spanish American War, WW1, and Vietnam was unnecessary. It could have been avoided but the War Hawks were itching for another chance at acquiring Canada for the United States. We had attempted this during the American Revolution and came close, but no cigar.. Many Americans were also upset over the British Orders In Council of 1807. which commenced commercial warfare on neutral nations like the United States. The British implemented this action os a result of it's long war with Napoleon. British ships were stopping American ships on the high seas, boarding them, and removing American sailors who they believed to be deserters from the British Navy. Part of the greatness of George Washington was that he encouraged American's to avoid a war for at least a generation. This was to give our country time to survive it's infancy. It would be 29 years from the end of the revolution to the beginning of the War of 1812. Washington in his wisdom guided us away from the chaotic French into a political and cultural alignment with the more similar and stable English. The Jay Treaty would help to accomplish this, much to the chagrin of the pro French Anti-Federalists such as Thomas Jefferson. America had established a Navy centered around six formidable frigates the USS United States, the USS Constellation, the USS Constitution, the USS Chesapeake, the USS Congress, and the USS President. Fort McHenry had been built to protect the port of Baltimore and it would be the forerunner of other masonry forts such as Fort Monroe, Fort Pulaski, Ft. Sumter, Ft. Pickens and Ft. Barrancas. However America would still depend too heavily on state militias and would possess a small regular army when the War of 1812 began. Although England did not respect America, or see us as an equal, they did not want to go to war with the US. They rescinded the Orders In Council two days before the United States declared war on June 16, 1812 in an attempt to avoid war. London learned of our Declaration of War on July 29th and President Madison learned that England rescinded the Orders In Council on August 12th. However Madison did not rescind the war declaration because he wasn't sure how the English had reacted to it. So America entered into a war that was unnecessary and it was only by the grace of God, and Andrew Jackson, that we weren't defeated. At best the war was a draw. Our attempt to conquer Canada was a disaster led by incompetent American officers. There were some inspiring naval victories on the high seas and Lake Erie. The British would embarrass us by capturing Washington DC and burning the White House, along with other government buildings. We would be able to save some face by successfully defending Ft. McHenry and Baltimore. William Henry Harrison would defeat and kill Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames. Andrew Jackson would destroy the Creek Nation at the battle of Horseshoe Bend, and ravage Britain's best troops at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. In spite of the fact that the Treaty of Ghent, ending the the war, had been signed on December 24th 1814.

  The third stanza of the Star Spangled Banner was written because the British were encouraging American slaves and free men of color to join their army and navy. Many slaves did  but others like Charles Ball wanted to defend his country and decided to join the American Navy.  Britain however was careful not to inspire a slave rebellion in the US because it had colonies in the West Indies that were worked by their own slaves. Francis Scott Key had an ambivalent view of slavery. He was a slave owner himself but he freed seven of his slaves in the 1830's. Key spoke out against the cruelties of slavery and as a lawyer represented slaves in court for free to obtain their freedom. He also represented masters who were seeking their runaway slaves as property. Key was an administrator of the will of John Randolph whose wishes were to free all of his slaves upon his death. Randolph owned over 400 slaves. Key along with the other administrators, fought to enforce the will and provide land for the freed slaves to live on. He worked so diligently on behalf of slaves the author of a newspaper editorial wrote the following.   "So actively hostile was he to the peculiar institution that he was called 'The Nigger Lawyer' .... because he often volunteered to defend the downtrodden sons and daughters of Africa. Mr. Key convinced me that slavery was wrong—radically wrong". Francis Scott Key was a founding member of the American Colonization Society. On the other hand Key was an opponent of the abolitionist movement itself and fought hard against it. This attitude was not uncommon in the antebellum days. In one trial of an abolitionist Key said the following in his closing arguments. "Are you willing, gentlemen, to abandon your country, to permit it to be taken from you, and occupied by the abolitionist, according to whose taste it is to associate and amalgamate with the negro? Or, gentlemen, on the other hand, are there laws in this community to defend you from the immediate abolitionist, who would open upon you the floodgates of such extensive wickedness and mischief?" Key was typical of ant-slavery men of his day. To be anti-slavery did not mean you were an abolitionist. Anti-slavery men did not believe in racial equality. On the other hand being an abolitionist did not mean that you believed in racial equality either. Anti-slavery advocates made up the majority of those opposed to slavery. Lincoln was an anti-slavery man and was for colonization. Abolitionists on the other hand were so opposed to slavery on a moral basis that they were even willing to sacrifice the country in exchange for freedom of the slave. America has had an ambivalent history. It was established with slavery intact. However America has had an amazing capacity to evolve and change. The National Anthem was written at a time when America was far from perfect. Thank God we don't sing the third verse today. The fact that we don't represents how far we have come. The first verse should inspire all Americans of every ethnicity. We are still the land of the free and the home of the brave. 



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