National Anthem: Star Spangled Banner – Meaning of “hireling and slave”

This is put up again because misunderstanding of the National Anthem is reported almost daily until today. Fake news continues. Let’s do some analysis.

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;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

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 washed out their foul footsteps’ 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.

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes 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!


The lyrics were written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key about the Battle of Baltimore fought against the Brits’ Royal Navy in 1812. The Brits just wouldn’t let it go, and had to engage again, and so lost again, almost thirty years after the end of the Revolutionary War. The Royal Navy would enlist mercenaries, the “hirelings” mentioned in the third verse, and enslave Prisoners of War to fight for them as well, the “slaves” mentioned in the third verse.

Why do I insist on this having nothing whatsoever even remotely to do with black African slaves when Key himself was a slave owner who lived long before the American Civil War? Because of the purpose of the song and what it is describing, that is, a particular night of battle in the harbor of Baltimore against the Royal Navy in which hirelings and slaves were employed in the battle by the Royal Navy, surely other Brits or POW American military.

Even if a tiny percentage of these hirelings and slaves happened to be black Africans, possibly most recently from the United States, the mentions of those hirelings and slaves wouldn’t refer to any previous status of slavery, but only to the slavery imposed by the Royal Navy on any POWs. To win this battle in Baltimore, there would be no interest in going to, say, Mississippi, and killing hirelings and slaves. To hold that to be the meaning of the words is simply ridiculous.


Filed under Brat Lies Matter, Military, Patriotism, Politics

9 responses to “National Anthem: Star Spangled Banner – Meaning of “hireling and slave”

  1. Nan

    They’d probably riot and loot the Smithsonian if they realized that the particular flag discussed above has been restored and is on display.

  2. pelerin

    I found the background to the US National Anthem particularly interesting and had no idea that it was written after a Battle with the British! In 1960 my father was given the task of compiling a book on National Anthems of the World giving each one a musical notation which could be played by the average band.

    I note that there are only three verses to the US anthem in this British published book and the one that is missing is the one which contains the phrase ‘no refuge could save…’ It cannot be due to lack of space as there is plenty of room underneath for the extra verse.

    Incidentally the words of the anthem of Chad were written by a Priest by the name of Father Gidrol S.J. ‘and students of St Paul’s school’ and the music was written by another Priest a Father Villard A.J. A newspaper review at the time my father’s book was published mentions that the anthem of Chad is the only one where ‘you will find the only really humane emotion of the whole lot’ as ‘most are pompous rubbish!’

  3. pelerin

    PS I wondered what A.J. stood for but having looked it up I presume it was a misprint for S.J. like the author of the words.

  4. pelerin

    On searching further I see that the two Priests responsible for the Chad National Anthem (composed in 1960) were indeed both Jesuits. I also have a copy of the eleventh edition in which they are referred to as Louis Gidrol and Paul Villard – the title of Father having vanished. I wonder why?

  5. Nan

    Father, while all our flags are that flag, I spoke of the one in the Smithsonian, the one that saw battle. I saw it while restoration was in process, which was a wondrous sight.

    Binomial, They’d be livid, and a bit confused, to learn that the flag maker’s daughter, nieces and 13 year old African American indentured servant worked on the flag.

    Initially there was no chattel slavery here but only indentured servitude both for those who put themselves in service to come here and those who were sold into slavery, thus the girl was in service for a term.

  6. Dawn

    Don’t forget, a Black man fought with George Washington, and was killed. His name is Crispus Attacks. Yet General Washington still enslaved Black
    people, after receiving his freedom from the British. How contradictory, of a leader was is?

    • Father George David Byers

      I’m a patriot. If your father has problems, solve them. Don’t make it worse.

    • David

      He was an imperfect human, just like the rest of us. Save your pompous judgment of the hearts of others for the person in the mirror.

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