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James McHenry: Wikis


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James McHenry

In office
January 27, 1796 – May 13, 1800
President George Washington (1796-1797)
John Adams (1797-1800)
Preceded by Timothy Pickering
Succeeded by Samuel Dexter

Born November 16, 1753
Ballymena, Ulster, Northern Ireland
Died May 3, 1816 (aged 62)
Baltimore, Maryland
Political party [federalist]
Spouse(s) [Peggy Caldwell]
Profession [Doctor but then gave it up for politics]
Military service
Service/branch Continental Army
Battles/wars American Revolutionary War

James McHenry (November 16, 1753 – May 3, 1816) was an early American statesman. McHenry was a signer of the United States Constitution from Maryland and the namesake of Fort McHenry, the bombardment of which inspired the American national anthem "The Star-Spangled Banner". He was also a delegate to the Continental Congress from Maryland, and the third United States Secretary of War from January 27, 1796 to May 13, 1800, under Presidents George Washington and John Adams.


Early life

McHenry was born into a Scots-Irish family in Ballymena, County Antrim, Ireland in 1753. He attended classical education at Dublin, where he became ill from excessive studying. In 1771 his family sent him at 17 to America to recuperate were he lived with a backer in Philadelphia. He was also a writer of poetry. McHenry immigrated to Philadelphia in 1771 where he became a physician, learning under Benjamin Rush. He also ran a Baltimore import-export business with his brother.

Military career

As a skilled and dedicated surgeon during the Revolutionary War, he impressed George Washington, who made him an aide shortly before the Battle of Monmouth in 1778. He served bravely and loyally under Washington for two years and retired from the army in 1781.[1]

Political Office

Grave of James McHenry at Westminster Hall and Burying Ground in Baltimore

McHenry was one of three physicians (with Hugh Williamson and James McClurg) involved in crafting the constitution.[2]

Perhaps his most significant role as Secretary of War came under John Adams. Upon taking over office, Adams decided to keep the cabinet intact, since there was no precedent to follow. Three members of the cabinet—McHenry, Timothy Pickering (the Secretary of State) and Oliver Wolcott (the Secretary of the Treasury)—became a drag on the Adams administration as they listened to Adams's adversary Alexander Hamilton, more than Adams himself. The three publicly disagreed with Adams and, instead of resigning, stayed in office working against the official policy. It is unknown if Adams knew they were being disloyal.[3]

During the election of 1800, McHenry goaded Hamilton into releasing his indictment against the President, which questioned Adams's loyalty and patriotism, sparking public quarrels over the major candidates and eventually paving the way for Thomas Jefferson to be the next President.[4]

Finally in 1800, Adams replaced McHenry, though not on the grounds of incompetence, as McHenry resigned, as well as Pickering and Wolcott. Samuel Dexter became the 4th Secretary of War.

Although many liked McHenry personally, it was no secret Washington, Hamilton and Wolcott often complained of his incompetence as an administrator.[5]

External links


  1. ^ Edward G. Lengel, General George Washington: A Military Life (New York: Random House, 2007).
  2. ^ Bernard C. Steiner and James McHenry, The life and correspondence of James McHenry (Cleveland: Burrows Brothers Co., 1907).
  3. ^ Lengel, General George Washington.
  4. ^ John Patrick Diggins, John Adams (New York: Times Books, 2003).
  5. ^ Lengel, General George Washington.
Political offices
Preceded by
Timothy Pickering
United States Secretary of War
1796 – 1800
Succeeded by
Samuel Dexter


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