The political and moral views of the man who wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Francis Scott Key (1779-1843) was an influential lawyer, serving for eight years as a district attorney. As historian Leepson (Lafayette: Lessons in Leadership from the Idealist General, 2011, etc.) portrays him, Key was devoutly religious, politically conservative and ardently patriotic. He opposed the American invasion of Canada that began the War of 1812, calling the war “a lump of wickedness,” but by September 1814, after witnessing bombs bursting, rockets hissing and cannonballs rumbling when the British attacked Baltimore, his patriotism overwhelmed him. Seeing the American flag flying after the British retreated, he penned the verses that became the nation’s anthem. Days later, the poem was published in a Baltimore newspaper, indicating that it was to be sung “to the tune of ‘To Anacreon in Heaven,’ ” a popular English song well known in America. Key was also involved directly in the crucial issue of his time: slavery. A slaveholder himself, he defended in court both slaves seeking their freedom and owners refusing to release their human property. He was a founder and proselytizing member of the American Colonization Society, whose mission was to encourage emancipated slaves to settle in Africa. Key resented the abolitionist movement, believing that freed slaves posed a threat of unrest, and would foment rebellion against slaveholders. Besides his tireless work for the ACS, Key founded the American Bible Society and served as its vice president, and he was a supporter of the American Tract Society, which published and distributed Christian literature aimed to convert nonbelievers. Although Key was a “tepid Federalist who loathed partisan politics,” he became an avid proponent of Andrew Jackson, sympathetic to his campaign against government corruption and his desire to limit federal intrusion into states’ affairs.
A concise, well-researched biography of a self-righteous, opinionated man who embodied the convictions and contradictions of his tumultuous times.