cover image What So Proudly We Hailed: Francis Scott Key: A Life

What So Proudly We Hailed: Francis Scott Key: A Life

Marc Leepson. Palgrave Macmillan, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-1-137-27828-9

The man recalled only as the author of “The Star-Spangled Banner” here receives his first biography in over 75 years. It turns out, however, that Key was more than a mediocre poet and lyricist. He was broadly involved in much of the nation’s public life until his death in 1843. A noted Washington lawyer, founder of the American Colonization Society, partisan of Andrew Jackson, defender of Sam Houston, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, and defender of slaves, he counted himself among the nation’s best-known civic figures of his time. He also knew most of the others in and around the nation’s capital. This workmanlike study lays out the lesser-known facts of Key’s life but what is mostly an un-nuanced factual account stumbles in two areas. Leepson, an experienced writer about Lafayette, Monticello, and even the American Flag, falls short of bringing Key and his era alive. But then Key himself didn’t leave much of the kind of evidence that would allow Leepson to paint a truly rich portrait. The result is a book that effectively lays out the life and career of a worthy and notable figure without adding much to our historical understanding. (June)