McHenry, James, 1753–1816, American political leader, b. Ireland. He emigrated to Philadelphia in 1771 and, after studying medicine under Benjamin Rush, served as a surgeon in the Continental Army in the American Revolution. Captured by the British at Fort Washington on Harlem Heights, N.Y., he was exchanged in the spring of 1778. He was George Washington's secretary from 1778 to 1780, when he became attached to General Lafayette's staff. McHenry was (1781–86) a member of the Maryland senate, served (1783–86) as a delegate to the Confederation Congress, and attended (1787) the U.S. Constitutional Convention, where he maintained a conservative course. Later he advocated adoption of the Constitution. As secretary of war (1796–1800), he followed the political leadership of Alexander Hamilton rather than that of President John Adams. Adams finally demanded and received his resignation, and thereafter McHenry lived in retirement. Fort McHenry at Baltimore was named for him.
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