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Why Do We Stand for the National Anthem?

“The Star-Spangled Banner” is one of the most famously written national anthems in the world. In the United States today, it still holds prominent meaning and tradition when it’s sung before every NFL game before the iconic military jet “flyover.” 

 

Even if you live in America and have sung this rendition before, you might be wondering why you stand during its playing.

 

Find out the answer to that question below!

 

 

History of “The Star-Spangled Banner”

If you’re reading this as an American citizen, you’re supposed to know the lyrics to our country’s national anthem. However, you might be curious about how this rendition came to be.

 

During the War of 1812, on the morning of September 13, 1814, British naval ships began firing upon Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor. This harbor was a heavily protected and last line of defense for the city of Baltimore.

 

Due to the recent capture of Washington, D.C. by The Redcoats a month earlier than this day, Baltimore city was viewed as the last line of defense. It would be devastating news for the Americans to lose two coastal cities to the British.

 

In the harbor at the same time were two Americans: British Prisoner Exchange Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner and a Georgetown lawyer by the name of Francis Scott Key.

 

These two men had traveled into the Baltimore harbor with plans to meet with the British Vice Admiral George Cockburn and discuss the possible release of an American doctor. This specific doctor had refused to give British troops food and water when they stumbled across his house and was scheduled to be executed at a later date.

 

After completing these discussions, the two men were stranded in the harbor due to their presumed allegiance to the American forces and their knowledge of The Crown’s plans to attack the city of Baltimore in the very near future.

 

 

Francis Scott Key’s Inspiration

With vast numbers of American troops retreating to Baltimore at the time, the British decided to attack Fort McHenry. They launched mortars and rockets for nearly a full day and night. It was said that there was a cloud of smoke illuminating the entire harbor with the rocket’s glare.

 

The British tried sending land troops to attack the fort after being blocked from advancing via the harbor because of the blockade of sunken ships. After the American troops fended off these advances, General Lewis Armistead raised a massive United States flag in the early morning. 

 

This action symbolized the persistence of the American people and inspired the lyrics of the song we know today as Scott Key witnessed the event in real-time.

 

Prior to The War of 1812, the American flag did not hold the same symbolism it does today. Its appearance over Fort McHenry inspired the people of the United States, and it became an icon for national pride and unity.

 

Scott Key originally constructed what he saw as a poem titled “Defence of Fort M’Henry,” which became published in The Baltimore Patriot later that week.

 

However, his brother-in-law turned the poem into music and published it under the title we know today. President Woodrow Wilson officially adopted “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the de facto song of the nation in 1916.

 

 

What Does the National Anthem Mean To Americans?

Although it took a little while to gain significant traction, Francis Scott Key’s anthem received immense popularity following the Civil War. Americans now viewed the song as a frontline symbol of national unity.

 

Today, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the Statue of Liberty, and the American flag are all some of the greatest symbols of American patriotism.

 

Although the song resonates differently depending on the person, it is a great reminder to keep on hoping. For some, we like to recall that rainy morning in September of 1814 and feel proud to be from a country that never gives up. 

 

The American flag that Francis Scott Key saw over two hundred years ago has changed over the years, but the sentiment remains the same. 

 

The American ideology is built upon the individual liberties and freedoms that its citizens live by and create laws upon. The national anthem is one of the main proponents that signifies this way of life and embodies it into a poem. Americans can sing this piece with joy, promoting freedom forever.

 

When we see a beautiful American flag made here in the USA, we are struck with vibrant colors representing a tapestry of advancements and achievements that make our country unique. 

 

 

Why Do Americans Stand During the National Anthem?

American citizens have stood for the flag since the day Congress declared it to be the flag of the United States over two hundred years ago.

 

Today, there is still a preferred protocol for any time in which “The Star-Spangled Banner” is sung and/or whether the American flag is being honored. These guidelines are highlighted in 36 USC 301.

 

The first rule of thumb is to stop what you are doing and face the flag. Next, put your right hand over your heart and stand in silence for the remainder of the rendition. If you happen to be in motion at the beginning of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” stop what you are doing and follow the same rule.

 

Another established rule is that when another country’s national anthem is played at a similar venue as the United States anthem, the foreign one must always precede the latter. This is similar to how U.S. state flags are generally to be flown at a lower height than our national Old Glory. 

 

In short terms, Americans stand for the anthem as a sign of respect. It is seen as honorable to stand at your tallest point and give attention to the symbol of American unity and freedom that our country represents.

 

 

Freedom of Choice

Technically speaking, every American has the freedom to do whatever they’d like during the rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” — it is a free country, after all.

 

The choice on whether or not it is mandatory or enforceable to make people stand for the Flag Salute or other display of national price has and continues to be heavily contested. It was the subject of the landmark court case, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943).

 

Ultimately, people can refuse to stand or salute through the protections offered by the 1st Amendment (freedom of speech and freedom of religion, etc.). 

 

However, evoking this right is not usually looked upon favorably by a majority of Americans. It’s often seen as disrespectful to those who have risked their lives to protect the American people’s liberties and freedom.

 

Beyond Constitutional freedoms and military patriotism, “The Star-Spangled Banner” stands for the moral truths of the United States of America: justice, perseverance, and courage.

 

Not only do Americans possess the ability to determine who rules their country, but they also have a distinct judicial process that considers every defendant innocent until proven guilty, no matter what the circumstances are.

 

Overall, it’s seen as a common courtesy to pay respect towards the nation that offers people the individual rights they can’t receive anywhere else across the globe.

 

 

Where We Stand Going Forward

Now that you have a brief history lesson on how “The Star-Spangled Banner” came to fruition, you know more about why Americans honor the flag and the national anthem.

 

These are symbols of freedom and individual liberties that are not uniform across the rest of the globe. Standing for the national anthem is viewed as a means of respect; not only are you honoring the loss of military personnel who committed the ultimate sacrifice by dying for the United States, you’re also commemorating the construction of the country as well.

 

The United States is one of the most prosperous economies in the entire world. The USA has a rich history of honoring the unity and personal freedoms they’ve created for themselves and other nations throughout time. 

 

In America, people have the freedom to be whoever they want to be, judged only on the content of their character and not by any predetermined family history or racial background.

 

“The Star-Spangled Banner” embodies this ideology each time it’s sung at national events and sporting games, and people stand because they are proud of where they live. 

 

SOURCES:

The Star-Spangled Banner | History

National Symbols, Stories & Icons | National Park Service

The Story Behind the Star Spangled Banner | Smithsonian Magazine

How the Air Force Pulled Off the First-Ever Super Bowl Flyover with All 3 Bombers | Miliatary.com 

36 US Code § 301 - National anthem | US Code | US Law | Cornell Legal Information Institute

West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette | The First Amendment Encyclopedia