Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Monday, August 13, 2012

James McHenry

                    James McHenry was an early American statesman who represented Maryland as a delegate to the Continental Congress and signed the United States Constitution.  He has the honor of having Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, named after him.  (Fort McHenry was the site of a battle during the War of 1812 that inspired Francis Scott Key to write a poem that became our national anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner.")  He also served as United States Secretary of War (1796-1800) under President George Washington and President John Adams.

                    McHenry was born on November 16, 1753, into a Scots-Irish family in Balymena, County Antrim, Ireland.  He received a "classical education" at a school in Dublin before being was sent to North America at age 17 to recuperate from an illness caused by "excessive studying."  He had an older brother in the colonies but lived with a family in Philadelphia.  There he studied under the direction of Doctor Benjamin Rush and became a physician.  He became financially independent upon the death of his father in February 1782 and apparently joined his brother in a mercantile business partnership.  He married Margaret Allison "Peggy" Caldwell in 1784.  The couple had one son, John McHenry.

                    Doctor McHenry wrote some poetry, mostly love letters to his wife.  He wrote one poem specifically as a wedding gift to his friend, Alexander Hamilton, in December 1780.

                    McHenry served during the American Revolutionary War as a "skilled and dedicated surgeon."  He was appointed to be the surgeon of the Fifth Pennsylvania Battalion on August 10, 1776, and was stationed at Fort Washington in New York.  When Sir William Howe captured Fort Washington in November 1776, Doctor McHenry was taken prisoner.  While he was a prisoner, he was a witness of situations where prisoners received "very poor medical attention."  He reported what he witnessed but nothing came of his reports.  He was paroled in January 1777 and released from parole in March 1778.  He was assigned to serve at Valley Forge where he impressed General George Washington enough that he was appointed as secretary to the commander-in-chief in May 1778.  He was a participant in the Battle of Monmouth and transferred to the staff of Major-General Lafayette in August 1780.  He remained there until he retired from the army in the fall of 1781.

                    Doctor McHenry was elected to the Maryland Senate on September 17, 1781, and as a delegate to congress (by the Maryland legislature) on December 2, 1784.  He was one of three physicians (along with Hugh Williamson and James McClurg) who were delegates to the Constitutional Convention that created the new Constitution of the United States of America.  He missed many of the proceeding of the Constitutional Convention due to the illness of his brother; therefore, he played "an insubstantial part in the debates when he was present."  He did however write a "private journal that has been useful to posterity."

                    McHenry was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates on October 12, 1788, but retired two years later from public life to work in his mercantile business.  In November 15, 1791, he was again elected to the Maryland Senate and served there for five years.  After some problems in his cabinet in his second administration, George Washington appointed McHenry as Secretary of War in 1796. 

As one of his first assignments, McHenry was given the task in 1796 of transitioning Great Britain's Western military posts to American control as outlined in the Jay Treaty.  He convinced the senate committee to not reduce military forces and reorganized them into four regiments of infantry, a troop of dragoons, and a battery of artillery.  He is also credited with establishing the Department of the Navy.  President John Adams appointed McHenry as Secretary of War but asked him to resign after losing re-election in 1800.

McHenry purchased a 95-acre tract from Ridgely's Delight in 1792 and named his new property Fayetteville in honor of his friend Lafayette.  He spent his remaining years on this property.  In 1814 he suffered an attack of paralysis and was left with severe pain and complete loss of his legs.  He died two years later on May 3, 1816.

Mrs. McHenry wrote the following statement upon the death of her husband:  "Here we come to the end of a life of a courteous, high-minded, keen-spirited, Christian gentlemen.  He was not a great man, but participated in great events and great men loved him, while all men appreciated his goodness and purity of soul.  His highest titles to rememberance are that he was faithful to every duty and that he was the intimate and trusted friend of Lafayette, of Hamilton, and of Washington."

McHenry is memorialized at Independence Hall and the National Constitution Center in PhiladelphiaHenry Street in Madison, Wisconsin, is named in his honor.  Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, was named after him.

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