Happy 4th of July: A Story Francis Scott Key and Sam Houston

As America celebrates the 238th anniversary of our Independence this July 4th, I wanted to share a story with you all about Francis Scott Key and Sam Houston, two very important men to not only our country, but our great state of Texas.

Francis Scott Key is best known for being the author of our National Anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner.'' During the second American revolution, the War of 1812, the British reinvaded the United States, captured Washington, DC, burned the Capitol, the White House and most of this city.

Francis Scott Key

The English Fleet then set sail for nearby Baltimore and were determined to take the city, but Fort McHenry was blocking and protecting Baltimore Harbor. Key, a lawyer, had boldly gone on board a British ship to seek release of a captured United States citizen. The Royal Navy held both Key and his client and refused to release either until after the British naval attack on the fort was completed. During the night, the British bombarded the fort with hundreds of shells and rockets, but at "dawn's early light,'' the outnumbered American defenders still held the fort, refusing to surrender, and a massive 30 foot by 40 foot American flag still flew defiantly over Fort McHenry. The unsuccessful British sailed away for good. Francis Scott Key, upon seeing the flag, wrote our national anthem that is sung on the 4th of July throughout the prairies and plains of America.

The Star-Spangled Banner Flag that flew over Ft. McHenry

But, Key also has a Texas connection. Before Sam Houston made his way to Texas, he served with Andrew Jackson in the Indian wars and was elected United States Congressman for Tennessee for two terms and served as Governor of Tennessee.

After his governorship, Houston spent time in Washington, DC, during the 1830s advocating on behalf of the Cherokee Indians and denouncing the corruption in the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

In 1832, Congressman William Stanbery from Ohio made slanderous accusations about Houston and the Cherokees on the floor of Congress. One morning, Houston was leaving a boarding house on Pennsylvania Avenue and saw Stanbery walking down the street. A confrontation occurred between the two men over Stanbery's statement. A street brawl resulted. Sam Houston thrashed and viciously beat Congressman Stanbery with his hickory walking cane for Stanbery's derogatory remarks on this House floor.

Stanbery then pulled a pistol and put it to the chest of Houston, but the pistol misfired. Houston, now really mad, continued the trashing of Stanbery. Fate saved Sam Houston's life.

The United States Congress ordered the arrest of Sam Houston, charging him with assault and demeaning a Member of Congress. Houston was tried before Congress. The trial lasted a month.

Houston spent one full day on this House floor in boisterous oratory stating his positions, that he was defending his honor; Stanbery was the aggressor; and anyway, Stanbery deserved the severe caning.

General Sam Houston

So what does Francis Scott Key have to do with any of this? Francis Scott Key was Sam Houston's defense lawyer. He did an admirable job in the defense of this later Texas hero, but after the trial was over, Houston was found guilty, publically reprimanded and ordered to pay a $500 fine. Houston refused to pay the fine and, rather than face more problems with Congress, left Washington that same year and began a new life and political career in—Texas.

After defeating Dictator Santa Anna on the marshy plains of San Jacinto, Houston became the first president of the Republic of Texas.

After Texas was admitted to the United States in 1845, he was a United States Senator and then Governor of the State. Houston is the only person to serve as Governor and Member of Congress from two different States.

Sam Houston's troubles with the legislative bodies continued, however. When Texas voted to leave the Union in 1861, the Governor, Houston, refused to take the oath to support the Confederacy. So the Texas legislature removed General Sam from the office of Governor. Too bad. Maybe if Francis Scott Key had been Sam Houston's lawyer before the Texas legislature, the outcome might have been different.

And the rest, they say, is Texas history.

And that’s just the way it is.



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