FRANCIS SCOTT KEY
Sunday School Leader
Proverbs 22:6 (KJV), “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
Nearly everyone knows that Francis Scott Key (August 1, 1779 – January 11, 1843) wrote America 's National Anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner." During the War of 1812, Key was sent as a U.S. diplomat aboard a British enemy vessel to arrange a prisoner release. While the British agreed to release the prisoner, they did not permit Key and his companions to return to shore immediately because the British attack on Baltimore was just beginning. As the sun was setting and throughout the night, Key anxiously watched the bombardment of Fort McHenry, one of Baltimore's key defenses. As bombs exploded continuously over the Fort, Key waited anxiously for dawn. Would the city fall? Overcome with joy at the dawn's early light, Key saw that the American flag was still flying over Fort McHenry and penned the words that became our official National Anthem in 1931.
Although Key enjoyed writing poetry, by profession he was an attorney who argued many cases before the United States Supreme Court. One of his first big cases was as the defense attorney for Aaron Burr, who had been arrested for treason. Even though other attorneys had turned the case down, Key believed that everyone deserved a fair trial. He often helped people who could not afford to pay for his services and represented many slaves who were seeking their freedom.
One of the best-kept secrets about Francis Scott Key is the central role he played in establishing the Sunday school movement in America. Key taught a large Sunday school class and was one of the founders of the American Sunday School Union in 1824. In 1830, he presided at the great Sunday school meeting in Washington, D.C. that approved the Mississippi Valley Enterprise, one of the most aggressive Sunday school programs ever launched. The goal of the Enterprise was to form a Sunday school in every town in the Mississippi Valley within two years, an area with 1,300,000 square miles and a population of four million souls. Using 80 to 100 missionaries per year, the project ultimately took 50 years to complete and cost over $2 million dollars, but 61,299 Sunday schools were organized with 407,242 teachers, 2,650,784 pupils and over a million books placed in Sunday school libraries.
One newspaper called the meeting Key headed the most important meeting ever held in the United States. Key got his friend Daniel Webster involved in the Sunday school project. Seven United States Senators and House members also addressed the assembly when the Enterprise project was launched. The Clerk of the House of Representatives served as the project's secretary.
In recognition of the leadership Francis Scott Key gave to the fledgling Sunday school movement, he was enshrined in the Sunday School Hall of Fame. Key played a prominent role in the spiritual direction of the Sunday school movement and enlisted the aid of many members of Congress, as well as several Supreme Court Justices and American diplomats. All of these early American leaders believed the establishment of Christian Sunday schools was an important goal for America.