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The Humanity of Francis Scott Key

Thursday, February 17, 2005; Page A24

In his Feb. 6 Magazine article about the events of August 1835 in Washington, Jefferson Morley called Francis Scott Key "a leading citizen of the city," "an able and honest man" and "a founding father of the American spirit." He also found fault with Key's role as a law-and-order district attorney during the trial of 18-year-old slave Arthur Bowen, whose death sentence was to be reversed by President Andrew Jackson. Key also tried suspected abolitionist Reuben Crandall, and Key's own anti-slavery arguments were used against him by the defense.

But to view Key, author of our national anthem, as a white supremacist misses the point of historical context. The insights of a longer perspective -- more than 170 years -- surprise few students of history. Further, Key also gave legal counsel to those seeking emancipation.

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Having led an upstanding life of public service, Francis Scott Key remains a hometown and national hero whose enlarged humanity should earn our compassion.

We live in a city centered around the daily life and timeless dreams of America. Francis Scott Key Park faces M Street, less than a block from the site of Key's Georgetown home, where he lived with his large family when he penned "The Star-Spangled Banner" in September 1814. History is all around us: we just have to scratch the surface to learn more about ourselves.


Executive Director

The Francis Scott Key Foundation


Jefferson Morley provided ammunition to support the position that we need a new national anthem because the lyricist of "The Star-Spangled Banner" was a racist and did not truly believe in the "land of the free."

Mr. Morley's piece said that Francis Scott Key, today considered an American icon, had an unsavory role in Washington's first race riot in 1835 and was "a determined foe of freedom of speech and a smug advocate of white supremacy." He did not mention that Key also was a slaveholder.

Our national anthem should ring true for all Americans, and it should be written by someone who truly believes or believed in the American creed.



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