The Distant Sound of War
The rumblings of sectionalism were heard even as the Articles were morphing into the Constitution, but by 1824 Francis Scott Key sensed the irresistible divisions which were undermining the foundation of the American experiment in government. Key, then imprisoned on a British ship near Fort McHenry, surely never envisioned that his own grandson, Francis Key Howard, would be imprisoned by the fanatical Republicans of Lincoln, at the same place in where he penned the Star Spangled Banner (see below).
Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Post Office Box 328
Wilmington, NC 28402
The Distant Sound of War:
"Key hastily surveyed the political situation in the Nation. Since the election of John Quincy Adams in 1824, party spirit had been blazing with intensity. President Adams named Henry Clay for Secretary of State; and immediately there arose the cry of a corrupt bargain between Adams and Clay. Key’s Virginia friend, John Randolph of Roanoke, added fuel to the flame. In the Senate this sepulchral figure denounced the friendship of the Puritan President and "Harry of the West" as a dangerous conspiracy. "I was defeated," shrieked Senator Randolph, "horse, foot and dragoon—cut up and clean broke down by the coalition of Blifil and Black George—by the combination, unheard of till then, of the Puritan with the blackleg."
All during the year 1826 the opposing political parties were strengthening their organizations. The followers of Adams and Clay united under the banner of the National Republicans. They stood for a protective tariff and internal improvements by the National Government. It was at this time that many of the Federalists in Maryland joined the anti-Administration forces. Before long Roger Brooke Taney, who had been a Federalist for a quarter of a century, was to become an ardent follower of Andrew Jackson and one of the leading Democrats in Maryland.
The sensitive soul of Francis Scott Key was disturbed. He could hear the call to arms; he could hear the tramp of the armies of the North and the South; he could hear the reverberations of the guns that were to shake the foundations of the Nation. He spoke now as a prophet:
"We have lived to witness the operation of the political institutions founded by our fathers. Maryland is a member of the American confederacy, united with the other independent States in one general government. It is…her concern that the General Government be wisely administered, and with just regard for her peculiar interests. Her duty to the Union requires this; her own preservation demands it. There is a great common interest among these States—a bond of Union, strong enough, we all hope to endure the occasional conflicts of subordinate local interests . But there are and ever will be these interests, and they will necessarily produce collision and competition. It is essential to her (Maryland), and to every member of the Union, that the agitations excited by these collisions should be kept from endangering the foundations upon which the fabric of our free institutions has been reared…..It is no reproach to the wisdom of those who framed our Constitution that they have left it exposed to danger from the separate interests and powers of the States. These local interests are powerful excitements to the States to prepare and enrich their public men with the highest possible endowments…"
"If Providence shall preserve us from these dangers, and will give perpetuity to our institutions, Maryland will continue to see an increasing necessity…for calling forth and cultivating all her resources. And if this hopes fails us, if the Union is dissolved, in the distractions and dangers that will follow, she will….still more require the highest aid that the wisdom of her sons can afford, to guide her through that night of darkness."
As an illustration of the rivalry between the States, Key alluded to the foremost issue—the question of internal improvements. (Key) refrained from giving his own opinion on the political aspects of internal improvements He evaded the issue by saying that the most needed improvement was the improvement of the intellect.
The people," he explained, "were to form a General Government of limited and defined powers, intended to secure the common interest—the States to be independent republics, in all other respects having exclusive power in whatsoever concerned their separate interests." Thereupon Key urged that the…States be protected from Federal usurpation…."As the tendency of power is ever encroaching, the General Government may become a vast consolidated dominion, with immense resources and unlimited patronage, dangerous to the power of the States and the rights of the people."
(Francis Scott Key, His Life and Times, Edward S. Delaplaine, Biography Press, 1937, pp. 266-306
Francis Key Howard Imprisoned 1861:
"The grandson of the author of the Star Spangled Banner, Francis Key Howard, editor of The Exchange Newspaper of Baltimore, had been arrested on the morning of the 13th of September 1861, about 1 o’clock, by the order of General (Nathaniel P.) Banks, and taken to Fort McHenry. He says (Fourteen Months in American Bastille, page 9): "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. F.S. 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 Real Lincoln, L.C. Minor, Everett Waddey Company, 1928, (Sprinkle Publications 1992, pp. 148-149)