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Francis Key Howard (1826 - 1872) was the grandson of Francis Scott Key and Revolutionary War colonel John Eager Howard. Howard was the editor of the Baltimore Exchange, a Baltimore newspaper sympathetic to the Southern cause. He was arrested on September 13, 1861 by U.S. major general Nathaniel Prentice Banks on the direct orders of general George B. McClellan enforcing the policy of President Abraham Lincoln. The basis for his arrest was for writing a critical editorial in his newspaper of Lincoln's suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, and the fact that the Lincoln administration had declared martial law in Baltimore and imprisoned without due process, George William Brown the mayor of Baltimore, Congressman Henry May, the police commissioners of Baltimore and the entire city council.[1] Howard was initially confined to Ft. McHenry, the same fort his grandfather Francis Scott Key saw withstand a British bombardment during the War of 1812, which inspired him to write The Star Spangled Banner, which would become the national anthem of the United States of America. He was then transferred first to Fort Lafayette in Lower New York Bay off the coast of Brooklyn, then Fort Warren in Boston.

He wrote a book on his experiences as a political prisoner completed in December of 1862 and published in 1863 titled Fourteen Months in the American Bastiles.[2][3] Howard commented on his imprisonment;

"When I looked out in the morning, I could not help being struck by an odd and not pleasant coincidence. On that day forty-seven years before my grandfather, Mr. Francis Scott Key, then prisoner on a British ship, had witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry. When on the following morning the hostile fleet drew off, defeated, he wrote the song so long popular throughout the country, the Star Spangled Banner. As I stood upon the very scene of that conflict, I could not but contrast my position with his, forty-seven years before. The flag which he had then so proudly hailed, I saw waving at the same place over the victims of as vulgar and brutal a despotism as modern times have witnessed."


Maryland was considered one of the five border states at the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War. On April 27, 1861 Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus in Maryland partially as a response to the Baltimore riot of 1861, and in portions of midwestern states such as southern Indiana.

The first person to be arrested after this order was issued was Lieutenant John Merryman of the newly formed (1861) Baltimore County Horse Guards, a unit composed of southern sympathizers. Merryman was accused of treason for destroying bridges and telegraph wires to prevent Union troops from marching through Baltimore to reinforce Washington D.C..

Lincoln's action was challenged in court and overturned by the U.S. Circuit Court in Maryland (led by Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney who was incidentally married to Anne Phoebe Charlton Key, Francis Scott Key's sister) in Ex Parte Merryman, 17 F. Cas. 144 (C.C.D. Md. 1861). Lincoln citing the actions of prior U.S. President Andrew Jackson chose to ignore the ruling. It was for criticizing Lincoln's actions in the editorial section of the Baltimore Exchange that Howard was arrested


  1. ^ Lincoln on Democracy By Mario Matthew Cuomo, Abraham Lincoln, Harold Holzer, G. S. Boritt p. 217 Publisher: Fordham University Press; Revised edition (September 1, 2004) Language: English ISBN 0-8232-2345-0
  2. ^ Marshall, John A., American Bastille: A history of the illegal arrests and imprisonment of American citizens during the late Civil War (Civil liberties in American history) ISBN 1-4179-3078-0
  3. ^ American Bastille (Civil liberties in American history) by John A. Marshall Publisher: Da Capo Press Inc; 4th edition (November 30, 1970) Language: English ISBN 0-306-71963-0 ISBN 978-0-306-71963-9


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