Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)
“For the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Without the brave we could not remain the land of the free – sometimes that gets lost on all the hotdogs and fireworks. But if we reflect on the words of our National Anthem, we hear of a song that tells the tale of freedom worth dying for – with a Texas side note.
During the second American Revolution—the War of 1812—the British invaded the United States. During 1814 the British captured Washington, DC, burned the Capitol, the White House and most of the city.
The English then set sail for nearby Baltimore and were determined to take the city. But Fort McHenry was blocking and protecting Baltimore harbor. Francis Scott Key, a lawyer, had boldly gone on board a British ship to seek the release of a captured U.S. citizen. The Royal Navy held both Key and his client and refused to release them until after the British naval attack of the fort was completed. During the night the British bombarded the fort with hundreds of shells and rockets.
The flag flying over Ft. McHenry was 30 by 40 feet. The commander of the Fort commissioned a flag to be made that was so large that "the British have no trouble seeing it from a distance." At the dawn’s early light the American defenders still held the fort, refused to surrender and our flag was still there. Francis Scott Key, upon seeing the flag, wrote our national anthem that will be sung this July 4th throughout the plains and the prairies of America.
What many don’t know is that before Francis Scott Key penned the most famous song in our country’s history, he was well known for his talents in the courtroom and for representing a man who would become the commander of the Texas Army, the first president of the Republic of Texas, a U.S. Senator and the governor of the state of Texas.
Before Sam Houston made his way to Texas he served as a congressman from Tennessee and two terms as that state’s governor. After his governorship, Houston spent time in Washington advocating on behalf of the Cherokee Indians and denouncing corruption in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In 1882 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 Independence Avenue and saw Stanbery walking down the street. A confrontation occurred between the two men over Stanbery’s statement. Stanbery pulled a pistol, put it to the chest of Houston, pulled the trigger, but the pistol misfired. Fate saved Houston’s life, but jeopardized Stanbery’s. Houston then thrashed and viciously beat Congressman Stanbery with his hickory walking cane.
The U.S. Congress ordered the arrest of Sam Houston charging him with assault and demeaning a member of Congress. Houston was tried before both houses of Congress in a joint session with the Supreme Court as the judges. The trial lasted a month. Houston and Key spent days in boisterous oratory stating their position—that Houston was defending his honor; Stanbery was the aggressor; and anyway, Stanbery deserved the severe caning.
Key did an admirable job in the defense Houston, but after the trial was over, he was found guilty, reprimanded and ordered to pay a $5000.00 fine. Houston refused to pay the fine, and rather than face more problems with Congress, left Washington that same year and much to our benefit, began a new potential career—in Texas.
Francis Scott Key will go down in history for being the author of our national anthem, and not the man for defending Sam Houston, but as Texans we know the part he played in getting General Sam to Texas as fast as he could. And the rest as they say is Texas history.
And that’s just the way it is.