James McHenry, Forgotten Federalist

Overview


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 ...
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Overview


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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Karen E. Robbins’s James McHenry, Forgotten Federalist is a welcome addition to the literature on the Revolution and early American republic, rescuing a misunderstood patriot from undeserved obscurity. Her fresh and fair-minded account of McHenry’s career as John Adams’s secretary of war is a particularly notable contribution to our understanding of these critically important years.”—Peter S. Onuf, author of Jefferson’s Empire: The Language of American Nationhood

"Karen Robbins opens a window into the world of the American founding, turning our attentions from the men we celebrate in our national monuments to a man who represents the struggles and complexities of revolution and nation-building. Robbins gives James McHenry due recognition for his role in creating an American nation."—Craig Thompson Friend, Kentucke's Frontiers

"This fine new biography of James McHenry offers a multidimensioned portrait of an overlooked founding father. Karen Robbins shows how this self-made northern Irish immigrant rose to prominence through service in the American Revolution and the early days of the new Republic. She also illuminates McHenry’s private life, including his poetry, his family relations, and his dealings with his slaves. With these overlapping perspectives, Robbins engages successfully in both old-style grand-scale history and the microhistory that has proved so fruitful for cultural and social historians over the past forty years. This book will intrigue and inform general and specialized readers alike."—T. Stephen Whitman, author of The Price of Freedom: Slavery and Manumission in Baltimore and Early National Maryland

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Product Details

Meet the Author


Karen E. Robbins is an associate professor of history at Saint Bonaventure University. She received her PhD from Columbia University and is the recipient of two grants from the New York Council for the Humanities to commemorate the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
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