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Character Sketches

Character Sketches
Chapter 12: The Second War for Independence and the Upsurge of Nationalism, 1812 - 1824

Francis Scott Key (1779 - 1843)

Key was the author of The Star-Spangled Banner during the War of 1812.

The scion of a well-off Maryland family, he was an influential young Washington attorney at the time of the war. Having been sent aboard a British ship to negotiate the release of an American doctor captured during the British attack on Washington, Key spent the night there when the ship began bombarding Fort McHenry. The following morning he was thrilled to see the American flag.

He wrote the poem rapidly on an envelope. A few days later it was printed in the Baltimore American and was soon being sung in taverns and theaters in Baltimore and elsewhere in the country to the tune of the English drinking song To Anacreon in Heaven. Key may have had the tune in mind when he composed the poem.

He wrote only a few other light verses in his life. He later became the U.S. district attorney for the District of Columbia and carried out negotiations with southwestern Indians.

Quote:Oh, thus be it ever, when free men shall stand

Between their loved homes, and the wars desolation

Blessed with victry and peace, may the heaven-rescued land

Praise the power that hath made and preserved us a nation.

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just

And this be our motto, In God is our trust.

And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave

Oer the land of the free and the home of the brave.

(Last verse of The Star-Spangled Banner, 1814)

REFERENCE: George Suejda, History of the Star-Spangled Banner from 1814 to the Present (1969).

James Monroe (1758 - 1831)

Monroe was the last of the Virginia dynasty of presidents who presided over the Era of Good Feelings.

He owed much of his political rise to Jefferson and in 1788 purchased a new plantation in order to live closer to Monticello.

Although not present at the Constitutional Convention, Monroe was a delegate to the Virginia ratifying convention, where he opposed the Constitution. He was thus the only Anti-Federalist elected president.

As minister to France in 1794, Monroe was sharply criticized for his excessively friendly remarks to the Revolutionary National Convention. He maneuvered for the presidency as early as 1809 but backed down when Madison became the clear favorite.

He was diligent, persevering, efficient, but rather unimaginative and colorless, especially compared with the other Virginia presidents.

Quote: The Missouri question absorbs, by its importance, and the excitement it has produced, every other.I have never known a question so menacing to the tranquillity and even the continuance of our Union as the present one. All other subjects have given way to it and appear to be almost forgotten. (Letter to Jefferson, 1820)

REFERENCE: Harry Ammon, James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity (1971).

John C. Calhoun (1782 - 1850)

Calhoun was Monroes secretary of war, senatorial spokesman for the South, and a brilliant political theorist and defender of slavery.

He was among Clays young war hawks who advocated the War of 1812 and an ardent nationalist in the years following the war. After seeking the presidency in 1824, he settled for the vice presidency under Adams and then under Jackson.

His extended feud with Jackson began when Jackson learned that Calhoun had opposed Jacksons invasion of Florida in cabinet discussions. It reached fever pitch when Calhouns socially conscious wife snubbed Peggy Eaton, forcing Calhouns resignation from the vice presidency.

Once he became a purely sectional figure, Calhoun spent much time writing political theory, including his doctrine of the concurrent majority. He also proposed the creation of a dual presidency, with a northern president and a southern president each having mutual veto power.

He died shortly after his last speech was read for him in the Senate during the debate over the Compromise of 1850. His last words were, The South, the poor South.

Quote: Our fate as a people is bound up in the question of preserving slavery. If we yield, we will be extirpated; but if we successfully resist we will be the greatest and most flourishing people of modern time. It is the best substratum of population in the world; and one on which great and flourishing commonwealths may be most easily and safely reared. (Speech, 1838)

REFERENCE: John Niven, John C. Calhoun and the Price of Union (1988).

John Marshall (1755 - 1835)

Marshall was the chief justice who originated judicial review and established the Supreme Court as an influential branch of government.

Born in a log cabin on the frontier, he was taught primarily by his father. He fought in many Revolutionary battles and served at Valley Forge, remarking that the Revolution made him confirmed in the habit of considering America as my country and Congress as my government.

Although he moved in aristocratic Federalist circles in Washington, Marshall was the most democratic of men. He liked to drink whiskey in taverns with ordinary country people, do his own marketing, and play quoits and horseshoes with farmers. When not in his judicial robes, he wore dirty, shabby clothes, and even his casual cousin Jefferson considered his appearance unkempt.

Quote: There, Brother Story, thats the law. Now you find the precedents. (Comment to Justice Joseph Story, c. 1820)

REFERENCE: Leonard Baker, John Marshall: A Life in Law (1974).

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