Ten Little-Known Facts about Francis Scott Key (#6–10)
By Marc Leepson
- Key was a close confidant of President Andrew Jackson and a member of his Kitchen Cabinet. Informal meetings often took place in Key’s expansive house on M Street (then known as Bridge Street) in Georgetown.
- Key served for eight years as U.S. Attorney, appointed by Jackson, in Washington, D.C. During that time he tried several important cases. That included prosecuting the first person who attempted to assassinate a U.S. President, Richard Lawrence, who tried to shoot Andrew Jackson on the Capitol steps on January 30, 1835. When Key realized Lawrence was mentally ill, he agreed with the defense—against Jackson’s wishes—that the man was insane and not responsible for his actions. The jury found Lawrence not guilty by reason of insanity and he spent the rest of his life in mental institutions.
- U.S. Attorney Key zealously prosecuted Reuben Crandall, a young doctor, for possessing abolitionist tracts, and a young enslaved man, Arthur Bowen, for attempted murder, two actions action that led to the first race riot in Washington, D.C., in August of 1835.
- Key had a long, close friendship with John Randolph of Roanoke (1773-1833), the mercurial, brilliant, and controversial Virginia congressman. The flamboyant Randolph, who never married, was an unlikely friend of the staid father of eleven. The two men met often when Randolph was in Washington and carried on an extensive correspondence when he wasn’t. Randolph named Key an executor of his estate.
- In 1823, Frank Key, who had been a trustee of the Maryland General Theological Seminary since 1820, joined with several other pious Episcopalians—including Rev. William Meade—to start a seminary in Alexandria, Virginia, to prepare men for the priesthood. The Protestant Episcopal Theological Seminary—today known as the Virginia Theological Seminary—opened its doors that year with two instructors and fourteen students. Key was a strong supporter of the Seminary until his death in 1843.
Journalist and historian Marc Leepson is the author of eight books. His most recent is What So Proudly We Hailed: Francis Scott Key a Life, which was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2014. It was the first biography of Key from a major publisher since 1937. His website is www.marcleepson.com
Click here to support Star Spangled Music Foundation by purchasing Marc’s book!