In 1812 the British determined to retake America and the United States was forced into a second war with England. On August 24, 1814 British forces fought their way into Washington, D.C. with the intent of totally destroying the new capital of the United States. By evening the capital was swarming with redcoats. The main buildings of the U.S. government were in flames, setablaze by British torches. The British then moved on to the President’s House. The soldiers left the house in shambles. As the triumphant force departed, the elegant home was put to the torch. The next day, other buildings suffered the same fate. The British reveled in the degradation of the American capital.
Their glee was destined to be short lived, however, by the powerful hand of nature. By early afternoon, the sky above the devastated city darkened. Sud¬denly, the area was struck by a freakish hurricane. Lightning flashed again and again through the black sky. The fury of the wind and rain beat at the British soldiers forcing them to seek shelter. A couple of hours later, the hurri¬cane was followed by a tornado. The black funnel shrieked through Washing¬ton with deadly force. The howling wind flung debris everywhere. Cannons brought by the invading force were lifted off the ground while soldiers threw themselves face down in the mud to avoid being carried away. It was as if a stratospheric ocean had been ripped open, the skies poured water for over two hours. The downpour put out most of the fires set by the British, devastated their columns, and forced them to return to their ships, many of which were badly damaged by the storm. The actual occupation of Washington lasted only 26 hours.
Many claimed that God himself had put out those fires, crippled the British forces, and preserved the nation.
After burning Washington, D.C., the British set their sights on Fort McHen¬ry in Baltimore, Md. At 7 a.m. on the morning of September 13, the British bombardment began. The bombardment continued for 25 hours. The Brit¬ish fired 1,500 bombshells that weighed as much as 220 pounds and carried lighted fuses that would supposedly cause it to explode when it reached its target. But they weren’t very dependable and often blew up in mid air. From small boats the British fired rockets that traced wobbly arcs of red flame across the sky. That evening the bombardment stopped, but at about 1:00 AM on the 14th the British fleet resumed their bombardment.
During the bombardment an amateur American poet named Francis Scott Key watched the battle from a British warship in Baltimore harbor where he had gone to negotiate the release of an American doctor who had been captured by the British. At dawn on the 14th he saw the American flag still proudly flying over the fort and was inspired to jot down a short poem on the back of an envelope. He entitled his poem, “Defense of Ft. McHenry.” His brother-in-law had a few copies printed which were circulated around Baltimore. On September 20, it was printed in the Baltimore Patriot newspaper, then picked up by other newspapers from New Hampshire to Georgia. The lyrics were set to music, and in October a Baltimore actor sang Key’s new song in a public performance, calling it “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Ameri¬cans are very familiar with the first verse of Key’s poem:
O’say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed, at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming!
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night, that our flag was still there;
Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
However, few if any can recite the last verse which proclaims:
Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand,
Between their loved homes, and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land.
Praise the Power that made, and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just,
And this be out 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.
The war ended on January 8, 1815 with the British army being soundly defeated in the Battle of New Orleans by the army under General Andrew Jackson of Tennessee assisted by a pirate named Jean Lafitte. One hundred and seventeen years later, on March 3, 1931 Key’s song was adopted as the national anthem of the United States of America.
The roots of Christianity were deeply imbedded in the soil of America. Key’s words “In God is our trust,” reduced to “In God we Trust,” became our national motto, and are engraved on all of our currency. America had stood the test and justified the faith of the pilgrims who listened to John Winthrop’s sermon in 1620. America was indeed the “shining city set upon a hill.”
In 1831, a young Frenchman by the name of Alexis Tocqueville and a friend toured the United States. Later he is credited with writing these prophetic words concerning what he had learned in America.
“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her com¬modious
harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there. I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her fertile fields and boundless forest, and it was not there. I sought for the great¬ness and genius of
America in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her public school system and her institu¬tions of learning, and it was not there. I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her democratic congress and her match¬less constitution, and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteous¬ness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
The War of 1812 faded into history, but there loomed on the horizon yet one last war to be fought on American soil. It would be the gravest test of unity our nation would ever undergo. It was the Civil War that erupted in 1861. Slavery, as an institution, had existed from the dawn of written history. It was a given that the inhabitants of a conquered nation would become slaves of the victors. Thus, it was only natural that slavery would be practiced in America just as it was practiced the world over.
However, slavery, as an institution, was opposed to everything America stood for. America could never fully become the “shining city on a hill” until “Land of the free” applied to every citizen, black and white. Southern states consid¬ered slavery an economic necessity while the northern states saw it as an un¬speakable evil. It was impossible that these opinions would ever be reconciled short of civil war. That war erupted on April 12, 1861 when a U.S. warship fired on Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina.
620,000 Americans would die in battle over the next four years. One of the bloodiest battles was fought at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania July 1 thru 3, 1863. On November 18, 1863, Abraham Lincoln, one of our greatest presidents, visited the battlefield and gave one of the shortest speeches of any politician in history. Yet, his words have echoed through the ages.
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are en¬gaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any na¬tion, so conceived
and so dedicated, can long endure… we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves within the rebellious states are, and henceforward shall be, free.” This presidential proclamation was later to include all slaves and was embedded in the Constitution as the thir¬teenth amendment. What is extremely important is that it be understood and remembered, that America did not create the institution of slavery; America abolished it!
To be continued…..
This is the fifth of several installments. It comes from a pamphlet entitled “Once Upon a Time There was A Land Called America.” The entire pamphlet can be read at www.alandcalledamerica.com.