There's A Surgeon In The Cabinet - A James McHenry Story

There's A Surgeon In The Cabinet - A James McHenry Story

James McHenry's story is similar to many of the men who found their way into George Washington's Cabinet.

McHenry served as an aide to many of the top Generals during the American Revolution and then preformed well enough in state politics to be sent to the Constitutional Convention.  He was then tapped by the President during his second term selections for Cabinet.


James McHenry

James McHenry was a studious boy.  He was sent by his family from Scotland to find a new place to live.  Within a year, the 17 year old’s family followed him, and they settled in Maryland.

James resumed his studies, learning medicine from the great Dr. Benjamin Rush.  McHenry became a surgeon just as the American Revolution broke out.


Constitutional Convention

James served in the Revolutionary War as a surgeon, briefly being taken prisoner in 1776.  After his parole, McHenry became a secretary to George Washington.  He followed this with two years as an aide de camp to the Marquis de Lafayette.

McHenry resigned from the Continental Army to accept election to the Maryland State Senate. He participated in his local government for the majority of the next fifteen years.

During this time, James was sent to represent his State in the Continental Congress.  By 1787 he was chosen as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.

McHenry skipped most of the Convention, only showing up for the last month and playing a small part in the debates.  He did, however, write a diary which (because the Convention was secret) has become extremely valuable to those of us studying the Founding.


Secretary of War

After signing the United States Constitution, McHenry returned to Maryland and supported the new government at the State Ratifying Convention.

As the years passed, most of the members of Washington's first Cabinet came and went.  In his second term, the President asked McHenry to become Secretary of War.

James accepted this position and held it well into the administration of John Adams.  McHenry left the Adams White House (along with his friend Secretary of State Timothy Pickering) because they believed the President was making poor decisions.  They were supporters of Alexander Hamilton and convinced him to publish an article which was extremely critical of Adams.  This essay was in many ways the reason Thomas Jefferson beat Adams in the next election.



After his stint in Washington DC, McHenry retired from public life.

He was still alive when, during the War of 1812 Fort McHenry (which was named after him) was attacked by the British.  The victory that day inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner.  The irony in this is, as one of the few Federalists left, McHenry was not a supporter off that war.


If you have read this far, hopefully you enjoyed the article.  Great!  If you have not yet subscribed to our email list, please do so now to receive a new Founder every day.  

If you would like to learn more about James McHenry, 'Forgotten Federalist' is the only modern biography available on him so I'm recommending it by default.  (Although there are a few from way back when you can find also.)  Pick up a copy through the link below and you will make your purchase through Amazon, our affiliate.  

James Wilkinson - America's Favorite Double Agent

James Wilkinson - America's Favorite Double Agent

Samuel Osgood Is Appointed First Postmaster General

Samuel Osgood Is Appointed First Postmaster General