The Star Spangled Banner is typically considered in relation to the immediate story of its composition – that during the War of 1812, while in full view of battle, Francis Scott Key found the inspiration to write a truly and enduringly patriotic anthem. However, it’s less well understood that Key’s moment of patriotic inspiration occurred within a particular political context and that its composition built on a long legacy of Federalist musical thought and action. This article connects Key and The Star Spangled Banner to an older Federalist conception of music in politics and in so doing contributes to an ‘elite turn’ in our understanding of early American political culture. Through a distinctively historical approach to the examination of music and politics it is found that Federalism may bear more responsibility for the rise of popular American political culture than commonly thought. Influenced by contemporaneous English debates, Federalists justified their own top-down approach to popular patriotic music by appealing to music’s capacity to moderate the temperament, to instill support in the nation’s leaders, and to soothe rather than inflame factional differences. The composition of The Star Spangled Banner, in effect, represented a culmination of Federalist efforts to use music as part of a political strategy to ensure their elite values were reflected in national culture.