Saturday, June 21, 2014

What so Proudly We Hailed: A Biography

By Nina Kendall

     Summer in the United States is a time of patriotic splendor.  Fireworks, flag displays, and celebrations of important Americans entice people to bask in communal festivities. I treasure memories of the National Fiddle Contest, Flag Day parades, and concerts ending with fireworks.  Summer fun can be extended with a great history book.  This year you can combine your summer celebration with a new book about early America.

     America in the early 19th century was a country of contradictions.  Francis Scott Key led a life that epitomizes those contradictions. Marc Leepson has written a new biography about Key.  In What So Proudly We Hailed, Leepson shares the life of Francis Scott Key who is best known for writing the “The Star Spangled Banner.”  Mr. Key is an American icon whose life is largely unknown. An active citizen, Key was involved in local, regional, and national issues. A lawyer by trade, Key also pursued his interest in religion, public education, and colonization.  

     Leepson makes his research clear in his revelation of the life of Francis Scott Key.  While recounting the events surrounding the writing of the account of the events surrounding the writing of “The Star Spangled Banner”, we learn that Key did not write of the events directly. Leepson’s writing is based on a letter written by Roger B. Taney and the John Skinner’s memories. Both works were written decades after the War of 1812. Key himself only made one public reference to the poem despite delivering numerous public speeches on a variety of topics.

     Key struggles with the issues of the time. He has concerns about how the future of the country will be affected by the resolution of questions surrounding slavery. At times Key defends slaves who sue for their freedom.  Yet, he also works for people who seek the return of slaves. He is troubled by the struggle to create the Missouri Compromise and a huge supporter of the American Colonization Society. Marc Leepson presents these actions to the reader without judgment so that they can draw their own conclusions.

     What So Proudly We Hailed, Francis Scott Key, A Life paints a clear picture of the life of a man who represents the challenges of early America. This is a good book for tying all the pieces of early 19th century America together. Key was a public figure in a period of growth and debate in American history.   Key, the son of a wealthy planter, has well connected relatives and influential friends.  Yet he still strives to be faithful to his religion, improve his community, and influence the future of his country. 

     Connect your summer fun with the enjoyment of early American history. Pick up a book and make a connection with the past.

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