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James McHenry, Forgotten Federalist

James McHenry, Forgotten Federalist

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    James McHenry, Forgotten Federalist
    Book Description:

    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 his time.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4631-1
    Subjects: Law, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    JAMES MCHENRY’S LIFE unfolds in stories. Writ large, the tale is of a man who tried to live his life honorably and make a difference. But this bigger narrative emerges from smaller ones that reveal important American—and human—themes.

    Initially, McHenry was a young immigrant looking for opportunity. He was ambitious for a new and better life, and in this sense he was a man on the make. But McHenry was after more than just a comfortable living; he wanted to rise in status, to become a gentleman, and to live by the gentleman’s code of honor. It certainly...


    • ONE “Of a Persevering Temper”
      (pp. 9-15)
      James McHenry

      IT WAS TIME FOR a change. In 1771 James McHenry faced a situation shaped both by domestic events and by history itself. McHenry certainly hoped that his health would improve with rest in a more wholesome setting. James was young, born in Ballymena (near Belfast), County Antrim, probably on November 16, 1753, and so was only sixteen, about to turn seventeen. His family insisted that he had worn himself out, studying too long and sleeping too little, leaving his body weak and in need of recuperation. It could not have helped that his only sister Anna had died that year...

    • TWO “The Commencement of Our Independence”
      (pp. 16-23)
      Benjamin Rush

      RETURNING TO PHILADELPHIA in 1772, McHenry apprenticed himself to Dr. Benjamin Rush. McHenry’s work with him proved vital, as Rush was in the process of making a name for himself as a doctor and patriot. Although little written by McHenry during this period survives, enough is known about Rush, their shared religion, and Philadelphia that much can be reconstructed. They were both young. McHenry turned nineteen that year, but Rush was only twenty-six and had set up his medical practice a mere three years earlier; before that, he had been acquiring his own medical education. For five and a half...

    • THREE “The Events of War Are Uncontroulable”
      (pp. 24-37)
      James McHenry

      SURVEYING THE TENTED FIELDS of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1775, McHenry saw the rudiments of what was still a young army. In fact, its commander-in-chief, General George Washington, had only recently been elected by Congress to the position and had arrived on July 2, so he was merely beginning to make his imprint.¹ The Continental Hospital was even newer than the army. “Continental Hospital” did not refer to a medical building but instead was a term Congress used for what one might call a “medical corps.” It functioned as a pyramid presided over by a director-general, with four...

    • FOUR “I Gave Up Soft Beds”
      (pp. 38-52)
      James McHenry

      MCHENRY BEGAN HIS SERVICE to Washington with a sense of optimism. After all, he admired the general, almost everyone did, and now he could contribute to the war in a martial rather than medical capacity.

      When McHenry joined Washington’s staff he found that the Virginian had surrounded himself with the most talented young men available, for he sorely needed letter writers, couriers, and, during battle, quick military assistance. He referred to these young men as his “Family,” and engaged them because Congress had authorized two categories of assistance. On the one hand, the general had been permitted an unlimited number...

    • FIVE “Sorcery and Majic”
      (pp. 53-68)
      James McHenry

      MCHENRY TOOK THE JOB as aide to Lafayette, but he also started to agitate for military rank. By the middle of 1780 he enlisted his friend Hamilton, who wrote glowingly of McHenry to James Duane, an influential member of Congress from New York. “You know him to be a man of Sense and merit,” Hamilton noted. “A more intimate acquaintance with him makes me hold him as such in an eminent degree. He has now no military existence properly speaking—no rank.” But Hamilton had one to suggest.“For my own part were I to decide for him considering his length...


    • SIX “Transition from the Military to the Civil Line”
      (pp. 71-82)
      George Washington

      MARYLAND’S CAPITAL, ANNAPOLIS, was small and charming. Its little harbor edged the city and goods lined the wharves. Brick and cobblestone streets radiated out and up the hill, past decorative clapboard houses. At the top of the rise stood the imposing yet graceful white capitol. From the building one could see the entire town and far away into the distance. It felt important.

      Senator McHenry surely felt important, too, as Maryland faced serious political problems. Washington, for one, was “convinced your transition from the Military to the Civil Line will be attended with good consequences.” As a new member of...

    • SEVEN “A Delicate Task”
      (pp. 83-98)
      James McHenry

      MCHENRY ARRIVED AT PENNSYLVANIA’S State House (now known as Independence Hall) on June 11, 1783.¹ It must have gratified him to enter the red brick building with its imposing white steeple. He had been here before, known delegates, and as a military physician had even applied to Congress for men and supplies. Here the Declaration of Independence had been approved and signed. Now he joined the ranks of those who belonged to this history.

      As he sat at the Maryland delegation’s small table, McHenry could survey the other men. He saw James Madison of Virginia, old friend Alexander Hamilton of...

    • EIGHT “For the General Good”
      (pp. 99-116)
      James McHenry

      ALTHOUGH MCHENRY HAD RETIRED from government, its lure remained. Politics was work, it separated him from his family (and his brother, for one, complained), it lacked real financial reward—but he kept coming back for more. He enjoyed the fray too much, and he was fortunate that he had money enough to pursue his calling.

      In September 1786 a recently organized Baltimore group known as the “Association of Tradesmen and Manufacturers” sponsored McHenry for the assembly as their candidate. He appealed to the group on a number of issues, among them state-sponsored religion. Mechanics had come to fear that the...

    • NINE “A Friendship Independent of Brotherhood”
      (pp. 117-126)
      James McHenry

      FEDERALISTS HAD TO CONTROL the new form of government to launch it on as strong a foundation as possible. Yes, the Constitution had been ratified by the requisite nine states, but Federalists now needed to incorporate everyone who might assist in starting the new national government, and some former opponents now joined. Of course, both the current Federalists and their opponents understood the importance of Maryland’s fall 1788 elections. According to the Constitution, the populace chose representatives, but the legislature chose senators, and Federalists knew that the outcome would greatly determine the partisan cast of the new federal government.¹ Federalists...

    • TEN “Not Wholly Lost to Ambition”
      (pp. 127-142)
      James McHenry

      BY JANUARY 1791, however, signs of recovery slowly appeared. McHenry pulled himself out of his grief long enough to write Hamilton an apology for his “long silence, but I can assure you I have never forgot you.” McHenry also sent Washington a gift of asparagus. Otherwise he continued to assist the administration by scouting out eligible and qualified Federalists for government positions. But he insisted that at this point (although in reality he was waffling) he wished nothing for himself. “I would remain where I am. My mind in the loss of a brother has received a severe shock.”¹


    • ELEVEN “I Am Scarce Mistress of My Conduct”
      (pp. 143-154)
      Peggy McHenry

      MCHENRY COULD NOT HESITATE; the secretary of war position had been vacant for some time and he was needed in Philadelphia, the nation’s capital, immediately. So he mounted the fastest horse available and braved February’s chills despite an already serious cold, promising to return and manage the family’s move.¹ But McHenry soon realized the work was far too demanding to return to Baltimore for his family.

      Peggy was thus left to manage all the details of the family’s move to the north, and she was not pleased. This scenario did not fit her—or the early republic’s general understanding of...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)

    • TWELVE “A Prudent, Firm, Frugal Officer”
      (pp. 157-173)
      Hugh Williamson

      WHILE PEGGY DEALT WITH her predicament, James was sworn in immediately and discovered that political tensions in the capital were more extreme than he could have anticipated. Anxiety over foreign affairs infected both the administration and Congress. The war between England and France helped to sunder the new country’s early unity, widening the fissure dividing the Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans. Washington had hoped to negotiate separate peace treaties with each country, keeping the United States out of war with either, but the terms of Jay’s treaty with England were now disseminated, and the fury over it had only increased. Many...

    • THIRTEEN “Are We Forever to Be Overawed and Directed by Party Passions?”
      (pp. 174-189)
      John Adams

      THE TRANSITION FROM Washington to John Adams was difficult even in Adams’s earliest days. Certainly, Adams himself was part of the problem. Of average height and given the nickname “his rotundity” due to his middle-aged girth, he was brilliant and capable of great and honest introspection. But he could also be suspicious, jealous, stubborn, irascible, and often kept important thoughts to himself. This last quality proved questionable with regard to his cabinet, for Adams had chosen to keep Washington’s men rather than imply any criticism of the former president’s choices: McHenry as secretary of war, Pickering as secretary of state,...

    • FOURTEEN “Mitigated Hostilities”
      (pp. 190-197)
      James McHenry

      ON MARCH 4, 1798, even as McHenry learned about the success of his western policy, news of the xyz Affair arrived from the Envoys Extraordinary to France.¹ A coup d’état the previous fall had led to the appointment of a new foreign minister, Talleyrand, who thought he could retaliate against Federalists for the Jay Treaty without serious repercussions. He planned to humiliate and discredit the Adams administration without doing anything serious enough to result in war. The Frenchman remained easy in these expectations partially because he overestimated the Republican ability to thwart the Federalists. So Talleyrand met unofficially with the...

    • FIFTEEN “I Must Be Allowed to Chuse”
      (pp. 198-216)
      George Washington

      MCHENRY’S JULY TRIP to see George Washington at his home in Virginia should have been a pleasure. But travel was never really comfortable for him, and he could not stay long enough to enjoy the distractions of Mount Vernon and its owner. Boarding the mail stage on the morning of the eighth of July, he would not arrive at Washington’s plantation until the evening of the eleventh. The trip was long, hot, and dusty, but the matter was too important to trust to the unreliable mail system. McHenry was to ask Washington to command the armies being raised.

      It was...

    • SIXTEEN “Referred to the General Officers”
      (pp. 217-225)
      James McHenry

      MCHENRY HAD TO DO something. The relative ranks of the generals may have been solved, but damage had been done to his reputation, more than he even knew. Frustrated, he desperately wanted the work to pick up speed. Everything moved too slowly, he knew that he was blamed, and he was surrounded by a group of men who wanted to direct him. Moreover, McHenry’s subordinates did not always perform. Although McHenry had ordered his superintendent of military stores, Samuel Hodgdon, to send Washington a detail on August 25, he still did not have such a list in November. McHenry excused...

    • SEVENTEEN “A Paltry Insurrection”
      (pp. 226-232)
      Oliver Wolcott

      WITH MUCH DECIDED about the army at last, McHenry immediately reported the results of the General Conference to Adams, who in turn referred the account to Congress. Specific bills now had to be drafted for Congress to consider, a task that McHenry readily delegated to General Hamilton, and time was of the essence since the legislature’s session would be short. When the New Yorker’s bills arrived, however, the most important and intriguing involved the army. Dissatisfied with the size of the New Army of 1798, the Provisional Army of 10,000, and the Volunteer Corps that had been created at the...

    • EIGHTEEN “I Have Always . . . Considered You as a Man of Understanding and of the Strictest Integrity”
      (pp. 233-246)
      John Adams

      FRESH FROM HIS VICTORY over the Fries Rebellion, McHenry again faced new difficulties. Supplies for the New Army were frequently unavailable or incomplete. Uniforms exposed the problem first. Tench Francis, the purveyor of public supplies, had a predictably difficult time locating sufficient material and manufacturers for the task. Even though Francis had 900 people sewing uniforms, nothing would be available until the end of April. Because the generals had planned so specifically about the uniforms, down to differing regimental buttons, no single generic uniform could be dispersed with discriminative insignia applied later. McHenry should have seen this problem and corrected...


    • NINETEEN “To Retire to the Shades of Tranquility”
      (pp. 249-254)
      James McHenry

      THE RETURN HOME must have been bittersweet. How much to tell, what face to put upon the matter of his resignation? Now, especially, the injustice must have assaulted McHenry’s feelings. He had tried throughout his adult life to serve his country with honor, but in the end had been sacrificed and disgraced. McHenry understood the politics, but he was wounded. He was strong, it was true, but he would not play a leadership role in party affairs again.

      When McHenry resigned he intended also to leave public affairs, so that when Federalists held partisan meetings as early as mid-May, McHenry...

    • TWENTY “At the Twilight’s Last Gleaming”
      (pp. 255-274)
      Francis Scott Key

      IN 1805 JAMES and his son Daniel decided to hold a weekly “family” entertainment, at which all of the nuclear family were expected to play their parts. Everyone was to contribute a written piece, in any form—letter, essay, poetry, lecture, or short story. Collectively, these pieces were addressed both to the other family members and to their descendants, with the intention, they said, of helping them create their own happy families.¹ Once these papers were bound, they called this year-long project their “Domestic Bagatelles.” These bagatelles provide a rare glimpse into early nineteenth-century family life.

      “Bagatelles” possessed a privileged...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 275-310)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 311-326)
  11. Index
    (pp. 327-333)