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About the television series

F.S. Key: After the Song

Release Date: July 4, 2017
Rating: PG-13

Year    :   July 4, 2017
By    :   Maryland Public Television & American Photoplay
Slogan    :   Understanding the past is the key to our future.
Genre    :   Documentary, History, Political, Current Events
Time    :   3 x 56:46 / 169 min. total
Budget    :   $350 000
Age    :   16+

A contemporary and compelling look at slavery through an ambitious docudrama series for national public television. F.S. Key After the Song continues the story of Francis Scott Key’s life and times after his writing of a song that would become the national anthem in 1814. It takes a fresh approach to a period in our history that has been long overlooked. The three part series will be a window into antebellum society and the attitudes and behavior of Americans on slavery that lead to Civil War and in some ways still exist to this day.

Part-One of F.S. Key After the Song is sub-titled: “The Era of Good Feelings” The first hour starts a heartbeat after the battle of Baltimore and we are introduced to Andrew Jackson, who’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815, secured the end of the War of 1812 and Jackson’s own destiny. Jackson would first become aware of Frank through his song that he has printed and distributed to his troops for their morale. Francis Scott Key begins to feel his power of celebrity and uses that power in a variety of pious activities that also help to build his own career and shape his paradoxical character. We explore Key’s frightening, life changing experience at the hands of a brilliant surgeon of his day. The issues of slavery are ever looming during the period and are troubling to pious natured Frank Key and even to his ultra-constitutionalist lifelong friend, legislator John Randolph who explains the issues with us. Frank and his brother-in-law Roger Taney begin to help slaves and others connected to slavery with the ever-mounting legal issues. But Frank’s 8-year-old son accidentally drowns and he becomes inconsolable and desperate. Against his character he joins a group of rambunctious literary merrymakers in Baltimore called the Delphain Club and fellow club member, Edgar Allen Poe discusses and reads an oddly erotic poem which Frank wrote for them. The rising star of Andrew Jackson magnetized Frank and John Randolph and radically affects both their lives forever. Exploring the initial confrontation between candidates John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson reveals the emergence of the Democratic Party and the importance of the newly arrived immigrants to the process.

Part-Two of F.S. Key after the Song is titled: “Might Versus Right” Opening with John Randolph, now in the Senate, who slyly begins to exploit his distaste for the Adams administration and directly attacks Henry Clay, now Secretary of State, on the Senate floor in the first ever filibuster. It leads to the famous duel between the two men that ends peacefully. Frank had become quite conspicuous as a leader of the colonization movement and he assists in the famous Antelope slave ship case before the Supreme Court in 1825, probably his finest hour against slavery. But by 1828 Andrew Jackson is overwhelmingly elected president in one of the dirtiest campaigns ever. Key seemingly working for all sides becomes involved in the scandalous presidential imbroglio known as the Petticoat Affair that consumes the first two years of the Jackson administration and leads to the dissolution of his cabinet. Then in 1831, as William Lloyd Garrison begins to print and distribute his abolitionist newspapers, an annular solar eclipse was seen in Virginia by a black slave named Nat Turner who interpreted this as a signal to begin a bloody slave rebellion. This essentially marked the beginning of the end of slavery but the resulting fear of slave revolts would later greatly influence Francis Scott Key and take him to the dark side. Jackson became impressed with Frank and championed him as lead defense council of staunch Jacksonian Sam Houston in 1832. Frank had now finally become part of Jackson’s inner circle, his kitchen cabinet. Randolph becomes suspicious of Jackson’s growing effect on Frank and his strong central government leanings but he himself takes a Presidential appointment as ambassador to Russia where he grows increasingly ill and becomes an opium addict due to pain from old afflictions. When he soon returns home he is furious with Jackson’s anti-nullification policies. Although he is weak, sickly and now a drug addict, he participates in the Virginia constitutional convention but illness finally takes its toll and Randolph dies dramatically in 1833 with only a minor reconciliation with Francis Scott Key who is devastated by his death. Randolph had freed his 383 slaves in his will and Frank was to be the executor.

Part-Three of F.S. Key after the Song is titled: “Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely” Frank had his great fame and was now gaining great power. As Jackson enters his 2nd term he appoints Frank Chief Prosecutor for Washington, DC. Frank breaks his own self-imposed rules of entering politics, and becomes wildly motivated to prove himself and make his mark, but now without his confidant and conscious, John Randolph. Jackson called on Key to help negotiate the peace in Georgia in a Creek Indian dispute resembling Israel and the Palestinians. Roger Taney is forced to resign his cabinet post over politics and at a picnic honoring Taney; Frank speaks publicly for the first time about his writing of the Star-Spangled Banner and witnessing of the Battle of Baltimore. When John Marshall dies in a stagecoach accident in Philadelphia, Frank once again helps convince a reluctant Roger Taney to take the Chief Justice position at the Supreme Court. On August 8, 1835 a young slave, Arthur Bowen, is arrested, for carrying an axe into his owner’s quarters. The event quickly escalates and becomes known as The Snow Riots. Arthur Snow is an innocent free black man in Washington owns a popular restaurant, which is descended upon and burned down. Key discovers that Arthur Bowen was influenced by Abolitionist literature brought to Washington by Reuben Crandall, a botanist from Peekskill, New York. Key charges him with sedition and seeks a conviction firmly believing that his circulation of abolitionist material was the real cause of the Snow Riots, not the act of the slave Arthur Bowen. Key’s relentless prosecution of Bowen and Crandall speaks to a country at the tipping point. The issue of slaves as property owned by Southern landowners is justified both religiously and morally by a common belief that African American’s were an inferior order and not as advanced as whites. This main excuse for slavery is sadly also engrained in Key’s psyche and creates a blind spot as with most other well-intentioned people of the time. So Frank is committed to ending slavery but not to abolition so the defense attorneys use Keys own anti-slavery speeches, made at colonization society meetings, against his arguments. The jury in under an hour, and much to Key’s disbelief, finds Reuben Crandall innocent and sets him free. Frank never personally accepts the defeat and wildly turns his attention back to Arthur Bowen pushing for his hanging. This comes from the fears of Key and white society that slaves were ready to rise up and attack them at will. But Bowen’s owner, Anna Thornton, was a powerful member of the Washington elite who also had the president’s ear. It takes another untimely death, of another of Franks’ son’s in the summer of 1836 to settle the Bowen situation. Daniel had just returned from a tour of duty with the Navy. Like Arthur Bowen, Daniel Key was 19 years old and a world of trouble to his elders. He quarreled with a fellow sailor and challenged him to a duel that resulted in young Daniel being shot dead. When his body was brought back to the Key home, visitors reported a scene of utter emotional desolation. Three days after the duel, Andrew Jackson pardons and frees Arthur Bowen, with no comment from Francis Scott Key. His public political career is essentially over. He remains in his position as Chief Prosecutor throughout the Van Buren administration but feels disgraced and forsaken by the public for the rest of his life but later his song goes on to immortality, and his brother-in-law and his Dred Scott decision goes on to infamy.

Production of F.S. Key After the Song began in January 2015 and will continue through 2016 with the premiere broadcast targeted for July 2017. We have funded the program thus far through grants from the Delaplaine Foundation of Frederick, Maryland and some other philanthropic donations. However we are seeking additional corporate and philanthropic underwriting of $150,000 to complete and distribute the program. You can donate yourself specifically and directly to this project right now and help this project reach it’s full potential by clicking the button below. Your name will be listed as a donor on the film and website. MPT is a state agency and it’s Foundation is a 501c3 corporation so donations are tax deductible as allowed by law. All donations must be disclosed in the film credits and website.

Want to see some of F.S. Key and the Song that Built America ?

This film was created in 2014 for the 200th anniversary of Francis Scott Key's writing of the song that became our National Anthem. It aired on 86% of public television stations nationally. But Francis Scott Key's life only began at the end of this story.