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!
Recognize that poem? Actually, it’s not a piece of poetry. As a plebe (or “freshman”) at West Point, this stanza from a very familiar song was something my classmates and I were required to memorize. Nearly thirty years later, I am still able to pull this verse from my memory banks, something my two young boys find amazing.
Okay, I’ll let the cat out of the bag. This is the fourth verse of our Star Spangled Banner….often referred to as the “forgotten fourth” because rarely are any verses beyond the first ever mentioned, much less sung in public.
I find it relevant to mention it today, as we turn the page from another political season. As the story goes, Francis Scott Key, the author of our national anthem, was attempting to negotiate the release of a couple Americas who had been taken prisoner by the British. He witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry in September, 1814, thinking specifically that the flag that stood tall over the fort would be replaced by the British’s Union Jack once the bombardment had ceased in the morning. Instead, however, Key was surprised to see the American flag still flying in the morning, and was inspired to write the song, which included four verses.
Each of the four verses has specific purpose. The fourth verse is about pride and patriotism. Key uses emotional words such as “blest”, “triumph”, “conquer”, and “peace” to convey his emotion. Key was also a very religious man and the words further reflect his belief that God was on the side of the Americans. He talks about the country fighting a just cause. And finally, the words “in God is our trust” combine the concepts of religion and patriotism, which later become the official motto of the United State, “In God we trust”.
So what does all this mean today. Arguably, our nation remains very much polarized and a divided country. It’s probably safe to say that half of the country woke up, saw the election results and is upset and angry today. Patriotism is often rampant during election seasons, and this year was no different. Patriotism will soon fade and we’re left with fighting about partisan issues. Our national anthem can, however, serve as somewhat of a guidepost if we focus on two lines from this forgotten verse. First, let us praise the power that has made and preserved us a nation. We have been through tough times before, but God has seen our blessed country through them. Praise of this power refers to our past. Secondly, there’s the line that says “in God is our trust”. We may not have all the answers, but we can trust that God will protect us. This second example refers to our future.
Home of the brave. We’re all in this together