James McHenry

James McHenry

Infobox US Cabinet official
name = James McHenry

order = 3rd
title=United States Secretary of War
term_start = January 27, 1796
term_end = May 13, 1800
president = George Washington (1796-1797)
John Adams (1797-1800)
predecessor = Timothy Pickering
successor = Samuel Dexter
birth_date = November 16, 1753
birth_place = Ballymena, Ulster, Ireland
death_date = May 3, 1816
death_place = Baltimore, Maryland
party =
spouse =
profession =

James McHenry (November 16, 1753ndash 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 "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, Ulster, Ireland, in 1753. He enjoyed a classical education at Dublin, where 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. [Edward G. Lengel, "General George Washington: A Military Life" (New York: Random House, 2007).]

Political Office

McHenry was one of three physicians (with Hugh Williamson and James McClurg) involved in crafting the constitution. [Robert Sieczkiewicz, "A Green Country Town: Essays on Philadelphia History" (Philadelphia: American College of Physicians, 2007.]

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. [Lengel, "General George Washington".]

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. [John Patrick Diggins, "John Adams" (New York: Times Books, 2003).]

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. [Lengel, "General George Washington."]

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