On August 6, 1834 Francis Scott Key returned to his hometown of Frederick, Maryland in company with his former law partner fifty-seven year old Roger Brooke Taney. They had come to partake in a celebratory dinner on the Frederick Courthouse lawn. At one point Judge Taney stood up during dinner and introduced Key, who needed no introduction as the author of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
In a brief speech, Key for the only known moment in his life after the War of 1812 expressed his feelings and how he came to be inspired to write the nation’s song so celebrated on the “Defence of Fort McHenry.”
Herein are the words taken from Francis Scott Key: Life and Times by Edward S. Delaplaine published in 1937.
“You have been pleased to declare your approbation of my song. Praise to a poet could not be otherwise than acceptable; but it is peculiarly gratifying to me, to know that, in obeying the impulse of my own feelings, I have awakened yours. The song, I know, came from the heart, and if it has made its way to the hearts of men, whose devotion to their country and the great cause of freedom I know so well, I could not pretend to be insensible to such a compliment.
You have recalled to my recollection the circumstances under which I was impelled to this effort. I saw the flag of my country waving over a city – the strength and pride of my native State – a city devoted to plunder and desolution by its assailants. I witnessed the preparation for its assaults, and I saw the array of its enemies as they advanced to the attack. I heard the sound of battle; the noise of the conflict fell upon mylistening ear, and told me that “the brave and the free” had met the invaders. Then did I remember that Maryland had called her sons to the defense of that flag and that they were the sons of sires who had left their crimson footprints on the snows of the North and poured out of the blood of patriots like water on the sands of the South. Then did I remember that there were gathered around that banner, among its defenders, men who had heard and answerred the call of their country – from these mountain sides, from this beautiful valley, and from this fair city of my native Country; and though I walked upon a deck surrounded by a hostile fleet, detained as a prisoner, yet was my step firm, and my heart strong, as these recollections came upon me.
Through the clouds of war, the stars of that banner still shone in my view, and I saw the discomforted host of its assailants driven back in ignominy to their ships. Then, in that hour of deliverance and joyful triumph, my heart spoke; and “Does not such a country, and such defenders if their country, deserve a song?” was its question.
With it came an inspiration not to be resisted; and even though it had been a hanging matter to make a song, I must have written it. Let the praise, then, if any be due, be given. not to me, who only did what I could not help doing; not to the writer, but to the inspirers of the song!”
…I again thank you for the honor you have done me; but I can only take the share of it. I was but the instrument in executing what you have been so pleased to praise; it was dictated and inspired by the gallantry and patriotism of the sons of Maryland. The honor is due, not to me who made the song, but to the heroism of those who made me make it…
Source: Francis Scott Key: Life and Times by Edward S. Delaplaine (New York: Biography Press, 1937), 378-380. Mr. Delaplaine’s archival source of Key’s remarks remains a mystery.