Although relatively unknown today, Alexander Contee Hanson, Jr. was a highly controversial figure during the War of 1812, and packed a lot of living in a brief lifespan of 33 years.
Born in Annapolis, Maryland on February 27, 1786, he came from an important family in Maryland, his grandfather, John Hanson, having played a prominent role in the Revolution. Graduating from Saint John’s College in Annapolis in 1802, he embarked upon a career as an attorney. An extreme partisan Federalist, he published the Federal Republican newspaper in Baltimore. His attacks on the Madison Administration and the war against Great Britain sparked a series of riots by outraged Republicans in Baltimore in June-August 1812.
On June 22, a mob in Baltimore destroyed the offices of the paper. On July 28, a mob attacked the building to which Hanson had relocated the paper. Hanson and his armed allies fired from the building into the mob, killing two of the rioters. On July 29 Hanson and his friends surrendered to the militia. That evening the jail was stormed by the Baltimore mob, and Hanson was beaten and left for dead. A similar fate was meted out to his friend Henry Lee III who suffered such severe injuries that he never recovered and died in 1818 in the West Indies where had gone to recuperate. Better known to history as Light Horse Harry Lee, this forgotten incident in American history deprived a young Robert E. Lee of his father, with what impact on American history we can only guess.
Nothing deterred from his beating, Hanson relocated to Georgetown and published his paper without further molestation. As the unpopularity of the War increased, so did the political fortunes of Hanson who served from 1813-1816 in Congress for the Third District of Maryland. He was elected as a Federalist US Senator from Maryland in 1816 and served in the Senate until his untimely death on April 23, 1819. From victim of mob violence to US Senator in four years was quite a feat. Hanson might have made a large impact on the country if he had lived the Biblical three score and ten, but such was not to be.