A Scots-Irish immigrant, James McHenry determined to make
something of his life. Trained as a physician, he joined the
American Revolution when war broke out. He then switched to a more
military role, serving on the staffs of George Washington and
Lafayette. He entered government after the war and served in the
Maryland Senate and in the Continental Congress. As Maryland's
representative at the Constitutional Convention, McHenry helped to
add the ex post facto clause to the Constitution and worked to
increase free trade among the states.
As secretary of war, McHenry remained loyal to Washington, under
whom he established a regimental framework for the army that lasted
well into the nineteenth century. Upon becoming president, John
Adams retained McHenry; however, Adams began to believe McHenry was
in league with other Hamiltonian Federalists who wished to
undermine his policies. Thus, when the military buildup for the
Quasi-War with France became unpopular, Adams used it as a pretext
to request McHenry's resignation.
Yet as Karen Robbins demonstrates in the first modern biography of
McHenry, Adams was mistaken; the friendship between McHenry and
Hamilton that Adams feared had grown sensitive and there was a
brief falling out. Moreover, McHenry had asked Hamilton to withdraw
his application for second-in-command of the New Army being raised.
Nonetheless, Adams's misperception ended McHenry's career, and he
has remained an obscure historical figure ever since-until now.
James McHenry, Forgotten Federalist reveals a man
surrounded by important events who reflected the larger themes of
Subjects: Law, History
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