James McHenry, Forgotten Federalist

Karen E. Robbins

A long overdue chapter in the history of America's founders

Reviews

“Karen E. Robbins’s James McHenry, Forgotten Federalist is a welcome addition to the literature on the Revolution and early American republic, rescuing a misunderstood patriot from undeserved obscurity. Her fresh and fair-minded account of McHenry’s career as John Adams’s secretary of war is a particularly notable contribution to our understanding of these critically important years.”
—Peter S. Onuf, author of Jefferson’s Empire: The Language of American Nationhood

"Karen Robbins opens a window into the world of the American founding, turning our attentions from the men we celebrate in our national monuments to a man who represents the struggles and complexities of revolution and nation-building. Robbins gives James McHenry due recognition for his role in creating an American nation."
—Craig Thompson Friend, author of Kentucke's Frontiers


"This fine new biography of James McHenry offers a multidimensioned portrait of an overlooked founding father. Karen Robbins shows how this self-made northern Irish immigrant rose to prominence through service in the American Revolution and the early days of the new Republic. She also illuminates McHenry’s private life, including his poetry, his family relations, and his dealings with his slaves. With these overlapping perspectives, Robbins engages successfully in both old-style grand-scale history and the microhistory that has proved so fruitful for cultural and social historians over the past forty years. This book will intrigue and inform general and specialized readers alike."
—T. Stephen Whitman, author of The Price of Freedom: Slavery and Manumission in Baltimore and Early National Maryland

“The author admirably describes the world of Maryland politics in the eighteenth century and helps illuminate personalities behind the policies produced. . . . The book is certainly of value to anyone trying to look beyond the monumental figures of the Federalist period and examining their supporting cast.”
—Stephen Budney, Journal of American History

"To read Karen E. Robbins's skillful biography of James McHenry is to follow the course of American independence and nation building from the perspective of an active participant in the key events of the Revolutionary era: service in the army, writing and ratifying the Constitution, the thorny internal politics of the George Washington and John Adams administration, and the harrowing test of the War of 1812. . . . One of the great strengths of this biography is that it restores to the reader a sense of contingency and how the mundane, the purely personal, and the great events of an era all blend together when viewed through one man's eyes."
—Jessica Choppin Roney, Journal of Southern History

“This is an excellent political biography. More than that, it can serve as a model for anyone attempting a similar project. It is grounded in a thorough knowledge of the various McHenry manuscript collections and secondary works on Maryland and national politics of the period as well as the recent scholarship on race relations, the family, and class (in its eighteenth-century manifestation), especially the code of the gentleman.”
Journal of the Early Republic

"The last booklength biography of James McHenry appeared in 1907; a fresh look at this early American statesman has been long overdue. Karen E. Robbins, a professor of history at Saint Bonaventure University has written a penetrating biography of McHenry, which, if necessary, can stand for another century. . . . In rehabilitating the reputation of her subject, Robbins brilliantly illuminates the political intrigues of the Adams Administration. She also vividly evokes the eventful life of a worthy man."
—Daniel P. Murphy, Journal of American Culture

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Description

A Scots-Irish immigrant, James McHenry determined to make something of his life. Trained as a physician, he joined the American Revolution when war broke out. He then switched to a more military role, serving on the staffs of George Washington and Lafayette. He entered government after the war and served in the Maryland Senate and in the Continental Congress. As Maryland’s representative at the Constitutional Convention, McHenry helped to add the ex post facto clause to the Constitution and worked to increase free trade among the states.

As secretary of war, McHenry remained loyal to Washington, under whom he established a regimental framework for the army that lasted well into the nineteenth century. Upon becoming president, John Adams retained McHenry; however, Adams began to believe McHenry was in league with other Hamiltonian Federalists who wished to undermine his policies. Thus, when the military buildup for the Quasi-War with France became unpopular, Adams used it as a pretext to request McHenry’s resignation.

Yet as Karen Robbins demonstrates in the first modern biography of McHenry, Adams was mistaken; the friendship between McHenry and Hamilton that Adams feared had grown sensitive and there was a brief falling out. Moreover, McHenry had asked Hamilton to withdraw his application for second-in-command of the New Army being raised. Nonetheless, Adams’s misperception ended McHenry’s career, and he has remained an obscure historical figure ever since—until now. James McHenry, Forgotten Federalist reveals a man surrounded by important events who reflected the larger themes of his time.

Series/imprint:
Southern Legal Studies

Page count: 336 pp.
10 b&w photos
Trim size: 6 x 9

 



Hardcover
List price: $34.95
978-0-8203-4563-5
11/15/2013

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Paper
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978-0-8203-4979-4
04/01/2016

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Ebook
List price: $34.95
978-0-8203-4631-1
11/15/2013
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Karen E. Robbins is a professor of history at Saint Bonaventure University. She received her PhD from Columbia University and is the recipient of two grants from the New York Council for the Humanities to commemorate the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.