In the early months of 1807, some French frigates had run up Chesapeake Bay to escape a British squadron. Relying on what Jefferson pleasantly termed the hospitality of the United States, these British men-of-war dropped anchor in Lynnhaven Bay, near Cape Henry, where they could watch the passage through the capes. From one of these British vessels a boat crew of common seamen made their escape to Norfolk. Just at this time the new frigate Chesapeake, which had been partially fitted out at the navy yard at Washington for service in the Mediterranean, dropped down to Hampton Roads to receive her complement of guns and provisions for a three years' cruise.
[Map: Tonnage of the United States 1807]
On June 22, the Chesapeake passed out through the capes, preceded by the Leopard, a British frigate of fifty guns. When they were well out on the high seas, the Leopard drew alongside the Chesapeake and signaled that she had a message for Commodore Barron. This message proved to be an order from Admiral Berkeley at Halifax, instructing commanders of British vessels who fell in with the Chesapeake to search her for deserters. The American commander denied that he had deserters on board and refused to allow the search. Almost immediately the Leopard approached with her gundecks cleared for action. Unaware of his danger Commodore Barron had not called his crew to quarters. The Leopard opened fire and poured three broadsides into the helpless American vessel, killing three men and wounding eighteen others. After fifteen minutes Barron hauled down his flag to spare his crew from needless sacrifice, and suffered the British commander to search the dismantled Chesapeake. Four alleged deserters were found and taken away, three of whom subsequently were proved to be American citizens. The Leopard then returned to the squadron off Cape Henry, while the Chesapeake limped back to Hampton Roads.
Had the President chosen to go to war at this moment, he would have had a united people behind him. But Thomas Jefferson was not a martial character. His proclamation ordering all armed British vessels out of American waters and suspending intercourse with them if they remained, was so moderate in tone as to seem almost pusillanimous. John Randolph called it an apology. Instead of demanding unconditional reparation for this outrage, Madison instructed Monroe to insist upon an entire abolition of impressments as "an indispensable part of the satisfaction." The astute Canning, who had become Foreign Secretary in the new Portland Ministry, took advantage of this confusion of issues to evade the demand for reparation until popular passion in the United States had subsided. It was not until November that Canning took active measures. He then sent a special commissioner to the United States in the person of George Rose.
The instructions which Rose carried with him to Washington, in January, 1808, were anything but conciliatory. As a preliminary to any negotiations, he was to demand the recall of the President's proclamation of July 2, and an explicit disavowal of Commodore Barron's conduct in encouraging desertion from His Majesty's navy. The United States was also to give assurances that it would prevent the recurrence of such causes as had provoked the display of force by Admiral Berkeley. That the Administration should have continued negotiations after the full purport of these instructions was disclosed, seems incredible; but it was not until the middle of February that Madison awoke to the fact that the United States was being invited to "make as it were an expiatory sacrifice to obtain redress." Yet another month passed before Rose was given to understand that his mission was futile. By this time public attention was engrossed in the contest for neutral rights.
Before the close of the year 1806, Napoleon was master of central Europe and in a position to deal his premeditated blow at the commercial ascendency of England. A fortnight after the terrible overthrow of Prussia at Jena, he made a triumphal entry into Berlin. From this city he issued, on November 21, the famous decree which was his answer to the British blockade of the continent. Since the British had determined to ruin neutral commerce by an illegal blockade, so the preamble read, "whoever deals on the continent in English merchandise favors that design and becomes an accomplice." All English goods henceforth were to be lawful prize in any territory held by the troops of France or her allies. The British Isles were declared to be in a state of blockade. Every American or other neutral vessel going to or coming from the British Isles, therefore, was subject to capture.
The British Ministry took up the gauntlet. An order in council of January 7, 1807, forbade neutral trade between ports under the control of France or her allies; a second order, November 11, closed to neutrals those European ports under French control "as if the same were actually blockaded," but permitted vessels which first entered a British port and paid port duties to sail to any continental port. Only one more blow seemed needed to complete the ruin of American commerce. It fell a month later, December 17, 1807, when Napoleon issued his Milan Decree. Henceforth any vessel which submitted to be searched by an English cruiser or which paid any tonnage duty to the British Government or which set sail for any British port was subject to capture and condemnation as lawful prize. Such was to be the maritime code "until England returned to the principles of international law which are also those of justice and honor."
American commerce was now, indeed, between the hammer and the anvil. The Nicholson Non-Importation Act, which had been twice suspended and which had only just gone into effect (December 14), seemed wholly inadequate to meet this situation. It had been designed as a coercive measure, to be sure, but no one knew precisely to what extent it would affect English trade. The time had come for the blow which Jefferson and his advisers had held in reserve. On December 18, the President sent to Congress a message recommending "an immediate inhibition of the departure of our vessels from the ports of the United States." The Senate responded by passing a bill (which Jefferson probably drafted) through its three stages in a single day; the House passed the measure after only two days of debate; and on December 22, the Embargo Act received the President's signature.
The temper of those who supported the embargo was reflected by Senator Adams, of Massachusetts, who was reported to have said: "The President has recommended the measure on his high responsibility. I would not consider, I would not deliberate; I would act." Yet there were members of Congress who were not prepared to accept the high authority of the President. The vote in the House of Representatives indicates that opinion was divided in Adams's own State. Boston with its environs and the interior counties were opposed to the embargo. New York was also divided, though here the commercial areas favored the measure. Maryland showed a like division of opinion. Connecticut was a unit in opposing the President's policy.
What was the measure which was accepted almost without discussion on "the high responsibility" of the President? So far as it was defended at all, it was presented as a measure for the protection of American ships, merchandise, and seamen. It forbade the departure of all ships and vessels in the ports of the United States for any foreign port, except vessels under the immediate direction of the President. Foreign armed vessels were exempted as a matter of course from the operation of this act; so also were all vessels in ballast or already loaded with goods at the time when the act was passed. Coasting vessels were to give bonds double the value of vessel and cargo to re-land their goods, wares, or merchandise in some port of the United States.
American shippers were so little appreciative of the protection offered by a benevolent Government that they evaded the embargo from the very first. Foreign trade was lucrative in just the proportion that it was hazardous. If some skippers obeyed, the profits were so much the greater for the less conscientious. Under guise of engaging in the coasting trade, many a ship's captain with the connivance of the owner landed his cargo in a foreign port. A brisk traffic also sprang up by land across the Canadian border.
[Map: House Vote on the Embargo December 21, 1807]
All pretense that the embargo was designed to protect American commerce had now to be abandoned. Jefferson did not attempt to disguise his purpose to use the embargo as a great coercive weapon against France and Great Britain. Congress passed supplementary acts and suffered the President to exercise a vast discretionary power which was strangely at variance with Republican traditions. "When you are doubtful," wrote the President with reference to coasting vessels, "consider me as voting for detention." "We find it necessary," he informed the governors of the States, "to consider every vessel as suspicious which has on board any article of domestic produce in demand at foreign markets." Governors of those States which consumed more wheat than they produced were to issue certificates to collectors of ports stating the amount desired. The collectors in turn were to authorize merchants in whom they had confidence to import the needed supplies. Nor did the President hesitate to put whole communities under the ban when individual shipowners were suspected of engaging in illicit trade. He so far forgot his horror of a standing army that he asked Congress for an addition to the regular army of six thousand men. Congress had already made an appropriation of $850,000 to build gunboats. It now appropriated a million and a quarter for fortifications and for the equipment of the militia.
Through the long summer of 1808, President Jefferson waited anxiously for the effects of coercion to appear. The reports from abroad were not encouraging. The effects of the embargo upon English economy are even now a matter of conjecture. In the opinion of Mr. Henry Adams, the embargo only fattened the shipowners and squires who devised the orders in council, and lowered the wages and moral standard of the laboring classes by cutting off temporarily the importation of foodstuffs and the raw material for British manufacturers. When Pinkney approached Canning with the proposal that England should revoke her orders upon the withdrawal of the embargo, he was told, with biting sarcasm, that "if it were possible to make any sacrifice for the repeal of the embargo without appearing to deprecate it as a measure of hostility, he [His Majesty] would gladly have facilitated its removal as a measure of inconvenient restriction upon the American people." The blow aimed at Great Britain had missed its mark.
From the first Napoleon had welcomed the embargo as a measure likely to contribute to the success of his continental system. On April 17, 1808, he issued a decree from Bayonne ordering the seizure of all American vessels in French ports. It was argued ingeniously that since they were abroad in violation of the embargo, they were not bona fide American vessels, but presumptively British, and therefore subject to capture. To accept the aid of the French Emperor in enforcing a policy which was intended to coerce his action, was humiliating to the last degree. Armstrong wrote to Madison that in his opinion the coercive force of the embargo had been overrated. "Here it is not felt, and in England ... it is forgotten."
The importance of the embargo, Jefferson never tired of repeating, was not to be measured in money. If the brutalities of war and the corruption incident to war could be avoided by this alternative, the experiment was well worth trying. Yet Jefferson himself was startled by the deliberate and systematic evasions of the law. "I did not expect," he confessed, "a crop of so sudden and rank growth of fraud and open opposition by force could have grown up in the United States." Moreover, the cost of the embargo was very great. The value of exports fell from $108,000,000 in 1807 to $22,000,000 in the following year. The national revenue from import duties was cut down by one half.
The embargo bore down with crushing weight upon New England, where nearly one third of the ships engaged in the carrying trade were owned. The shipbuilding industry languished, as well as all the industries subsidiary to commerce. Even the farmers suffered as the embargo continued. A temporary loss of their market could have been borne with some degree of equanimity, but not an indefinite loss, for imported goods now began to rise in price, adding to the general distress.
The economic distress of New England, however, cannot be measured by the volume of indignant protest. The Federalist machine never worked more effectively than when it directed this unrest and diverted it to partisan purposes. Thomas Jefferson's embargo was made to seem a vindictive assault upon New England. The Essex Junto, with Timothy Pickering as leader, spared no pains to convince the unthinking that Jefferson was the tool or the dupe of Napoleon, who was bent upon coercing the United States into war with Great Britain. The spring election of 1808 gave the measure of this reaction in Massachusetts. The Federalists regained control of both houses of the state legislature, and forced the resignation of Senator John Quincy Adams, who had broken with his party by voting for the embargo, and who had incurred the undying enmity of of the Essex Junto by defending the policy of the Administration.
In the midst of what Jefferson called "the general factiousness," following the embargo, occurred a presidential election. Jefferson was not a candidate for reelection. His fondest hope now was that he might be allowed to retire with honor to the bosom of his family. Upon whom would his mantle fall? Madison was his probable preference; and Madison had the doubtful advantage of a formal nomination by the regular congressional caucus of the party. But Monroe still considered his chances of election good; and Vice-President George Clinton also announced his candidacy. Both Monroe and Clinton represented those elements of opposition which harassed the closing months of the Administration. Contrary to expectation, the Federalists did not ally themselves with Clinton, but preferred to go down in defeat under their old leaders, Charles C. Pinckney and Rufus King. With the opposition thus divided, Madison scored an easy victory; but against him was the almost solid vote of a section. All the New England States but Vermont cast their electoral votes for the Federalist candidates.
Before the end of the year the failure of the embargo was patent to every fair-minded observer. The alternatives, war or submission, were not pleasant to contemplate. From force of habit the party in power looked to Jefferson for leadership; but since Madison's election, he had assumed the role of "unmeddling listener," not wishing to commit his successor to any policy. The abdication of Jefferson thus left the party without a leader and without a program at a most critical moment.
Under the circumstances it was easier to continue the embargo than to face the probability of war. Gallatin had already urged the need of more stringent laws for the enforcement of the embargo,—laws which he admitted were both odious and dangerous. On January 9, 1809, Congress passed the desired legislation. Thereafter coasting vessels were obliged to give bonds to six times the value of vessel and cargo before they were permitted to load. Collectors were authorized to refuse permission if in their opinion there was "an intention to violate the embargo." Only loss at sea released a shipowner from his bond. In suits at law neither capture nor any other accident could be pleaded. Collectors at the ports and on the frontiers were authorized to seize goods which were "apparently on their way toward the territory of a foreign nation." And for such seizures the collectors were not liable in courts of law. The army, the navy, and the militia were put at their disposal.
The "Force Act" was the last straw for the Federalists of Massachusetts. Town after town adopted resolutions which ran through the whole gamut of partisan abuse. The General Court of Massachusetts resolved that it would cooperate with other States in procuring such amendments to the Constitution as were necessary to obtain protection for commerce and to give to the commercial States "their fair and just consideration in the government of the Union." Governor Trumbull, of Connecticut, flatly declined to allow the militia to assist the collectors in the enforcement of the embargo, holding that the act to enforce the embargo was unconstitutional, "interfering with the state sovereignties, and subversive of the guaranteed rights, privileges, and immunities of the citizens of the United States." The legislature rallied to the support of the governor with resolutions which breathe much the same spirit as the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798.
The incessant bombardment by the New England towns was too much for Jefferson's equanimity. "I felt the foundation of the government shaken under my feet by the New England townships," he said in after years. His control over his own party was gone. Northern Republicans combined with Federalists to force the repeal of the embargo through Congress; and on March 1, 1809, with much bitterness of spirit, Jefferson signed the bill that terminated his great experiment. Instead of interdicting commerce altogether, Congress suspended intercourse with France and Great Britain after March 15 and until one or the other of the offenders repealed its obnoxious orders. Meantime, American vessels were free to pick up what trade they could with other nations.
The historical writings of Henry Adams are indispensable aids to an understanding of the foreign policy of Jefferson. On the effect of the embargo, Channing, The Jeffersonian System, takes sharp issue with Adams. There is a mass of valuable data on social history in the third volume of McMaster, History of the People of the United States. E. L. Bogart, Economic History of the United States (1913); Katherine Coman, Industrial History of the United States (1913); and C. D. Wright, Industrial Evolution of the United States (1907), are manuals containing much valuable matter. The brief introductions to the chapters in G. S. Callender, Selections from the Economic History of the United Slates (1909), are always illuminating. The foreign policy of Jefferson and Madison is extensively reviewed in A. T. Mahan, Sea Power in its Relations to the War of 1812 (2 vols., 1905).
THE APPROACH OF WAR
The Administration of James Madison began with what seemed like a diplomatic triumph. Negotiations with the new British minister, Erskine, led to a complete agreement on all the points in dispute. Full reparation was to be made for the Chesapeake affair. The offensive orders in council of 1807 were to be withdrawn on a fixed date. Thereupon, with undisguised satisfaction, the President issued a proclamation, April 21, 1809, renewing commercial intercourse with Great Britain. General rejoicing followed. Ships which had been tied up to wharves for eighteen months put to sea with crowded holds. Those Republicans who had stanchly upheld the Jeffersonian policy of peaceable coercion boldly claimed for the embargo the credit of having brought about this happy consummation. Some misgivings were excited, to be sure, by the report of a new order in council which substituted a blockade of Holland, France, and Italy for the order of November, 1807; yet weeks of smug satisfaction were enjoyed by the Administration before it was bewildered by the tidings that Canning had recalled Erskine and repudiated all his acts. Madison had to submit to "the mortifying necessity" of issuing another proclamation reviving the Non-Intercourse Act against Great Britain.
Erskine was replaced by Francis James Jackson, a typical representative of the governing class,—intolerant, overbearing, and contemptuous. He had been chosen in 1807 for the brutal destruction of the Danish fleet at Copenhagen. Pinkney described him as "completely attached to all those British principles and doctrines which sometimes give us trouble." Madison was speedily convinced that conciliation was not the keynote of this man's mission. After the first exchange of notes, he took the pen out of the hand of Robert Smith, his incompetent Secretary of State, in order to deal more effectually with the adversary. When Jackson intimated that Erskine had been disavowed for disobedience to instructions and that the Administration was somehow responsible for this misconduct, Madison warned him sharply that "such insinuations are inadmissible in the intercourse of a foreign minister with a government that understands what it owes itself"; and a few days later, after an exhibition of domineering temper on the part of Jackson, Madison informed him that no further communications would be received. Months passed, however, before Jackson was recalled; and in the mean time he made a tour through the Eastern States where he was warmly welcomed by the Federalists. No better evidence was needed to convince the Administration of the unpatriotic and pro-British attitude of Federalist New England.
The Non-Intercourse Act had brought some measure of relief to New England shipping. Trade with parts of the European continent could now be carried on by those who wished to incur the hazard. A greater volume of trade was probably carried on illicitly with England. Amelia Island, just across the Florida line, and Halifax, in Nova Scotia, became intermediate ports to which American goods went for reshipment to Europe and to which British merchandise was shipped for distribution in the United States. Notwithstanding these well-known evasions of the law, Congress would probably have been content to leave well enough alone but for the fact that the Non-Intercourse Act would expire by limitation in the spring of 1810. Some action was imperative. A bill was drawn by the Administration to meet the situation and introduced in the House by Macon; but it failed to command the support of the party and was dropped in favor of a second bill, commonly known as Macon's Bill No. 2, though he was not the author of it. This measure eventually became law, May 1, 1810. "It marked the last stage toward the admitted failure of commercial restrictions as a substitute for war," writes Mr. Adams. By repealing the Non-Intercourse Act it left commerce free once more to seek the markets of the world. In case either Great Britain or France should revoke or modify its hostile policy, the President was authorized to revive the Non-Intercourse Act against the delinquent nation.
After the Non-Intercourse Act of 1809, Napoleon had begun the "sequestration" of American vessels in European ports. Sequestration proved to be only a euphemistic expression for confiscation. On May 14, he issued from Rambouillet a decree which authorized the seizure and condemnation of all American ships in French ports. With an eye to the needs of his war chest, the Emperor calculated that by drawing in this net he would make a catch amounting to about six million dollars. As a matter of fact, this was a conservative estimate. The American consul at Paris reported the seizure of one hundred and thirty-four vessels between April, 1809, and April, 1810. The actual loss to American shipowners could not have been less than ten millions of dollars.
The news of the passage of Macon's bill suggested another stroke to the wily conqueror of Europe. On August 5, he announced to the American Minister that the decrees of Berlin and Milan were revoked and would be inoperative after November 1, "it being understood that in consequence of this declaration the English are to revoke their orders in council and renounce the new principles of blockade," and that the United States, conforming to its act of May 1, 1810, would "cause their rights to be respected by the English."
Accepting this letter at its face value, with a credulity which now seems incredible, President Madison proclaimed on November 2 that France had withdrawn its decrees, and that in consequence commercial intercourse with Great Britain would be suspended on and after February 2, 1811. Madison's haste was due to a very natural desire to coerce Great Britain into a similar renunciation, but to his chagrin, the British Ministry refused to accept the mere notification of Napoleon as evidence of the repeal of the various decrees. Even the supporters of the Administration became uneasy as months passed without any formal edict of revocation. Might not the courts adjudge that the decrees had not been repealed pro forma? The Administration was greatly perturbed in December, too, by the news that two American vessels had been sequestered at Bordeaux. After much hesitation, Congress came to the support of the President and revived the Non-Intercourse Act against Great Britain, at the same time admitting the weakness of its position by the additional provision that the courts should not entertain the question whether the French decrees were or were not revoked. On the same day, February 28, 1811, Pinkney took formal leave of the Prince Regent under circumstances which presaged, if they did not imply, a rupture of diplomatic relations. Yet the British Ministry had so little comprehension of the temper of the American people that at this very moment Wellesley was drafting instructions for the new Minister, Mr. Augustus John Foster, which bade him yield not a jot or a tittle to the alleged rights of neutrals. He was, however, to make proper reparation for the Chesapeake affair.
In these months of struggle for the rights of neutral commerce, the question of impressments had been relegated to second place in the minds of Americans. The blockade of New York by British frigates in the spring of 1811 suddenly revived the old controversy. For a year past an American squadron under the command of Commodore John Rodgers had patrolled the coast, under instructions to protect all merchantmen from molestation by armed foreign cruisers within the three-mile limit.
The British frigate Guerriere had made itself particularly offensive by its search crews and arbitrary seizures of alleged deserters. On May 16, 1811, Commodore Rodgers's flagship, the frigate President carrying forty-four guns, sighted a British sloop-of-war some fifty miles east of Cape Henry, which he believed to be the Guerriere, and wishing to make inquiries about a certain seaman who was reported to have been impressed, Rodgers sailed toward the stranger. The vessel acted in a manner which was thought suspicious, so the President gave chase. On coming within range about dusk, the American frigate was fired upon, so it was alleged in a subsequent court of inquiry. The President then opened its batteries and in less than fifteen minutes had overpowered the British corvette. To his surprise and disappointment, Rodgers then learned that his antagonist was not the Guerriere, but the Little Belt, a vessel far inferior to his own and carrying only twenty guns. When the new British Minister arrived in Washington, he found the Administration singularly indifferent to the historic Chesapeake affair. In the opinion of the American public, the President had avenged the Chesapeake.
While Congress was vacillating between non-intercourse and partial non-intercourse, in the early months of 1810, with a strong inclination toward the path of least resistance, one voice was raised for war. Henry Clay was then filling out an unexpired term in the Senate upon appointment by the Governor of Kentucky. Born in Virginia, thirty-three years before, he had sought his fortune as a young lawyer in the new communities beyond the Alleghanies. Closely identified with the aggressive spirit of his section, he voiced a growing sense of humiliation that his country should be buffeted by every British ministry. The people of Kentucky and Tennessee had little patience with half measures in defense of national rights. The petty diplomacy of closet statesmen did not appeal to the soul of the frontiersman who was accustomed to hew his way to his goal. The people of this section, imperial in its dimensions, were prepared for large tasks done in a bold way. Their ideas of the Union transcended the policies of Eastern statesmen, whose eyes saw no farther than the tops of the Alleghanies and whose ears listened all too readily to the admonitions of European chancellors. Clay spoke heatedly of the "ignominious surrender of our rights"—heritage of the heroes of the Revolution. He would have Congress exhibit the vigor of their forbears. "The conquest of Canada is in your power," he cried. "I trust I shall not be deemed presumptuous when I state that I verily believe that the militia of Kentucky alone are competent to place Montreal and Upper Canada at your feet." This was a new and unfamiliar style of oratory in the Senate of the United States.
At this moment, however, the United States seemed far more likely to acquire the Floridas than Canada. In the summer of 1810, Americans who had crossed the border and settled in and around the district of West Feliciana rose in revolt against the Spanish governor at Baton Rouge, and declared West Florida a free and independent state, appealing to the Supreme Ruler of the world for the rectitude of their intentions. What their intentions were appeared in a petition to the President for annexation to the United States. This was an opportune moment for the realization of the hopes which Madison had cherished ever since the acquisition of Louisiana. On October 27, 1810, he issued a proclamation, announcing that Governor Claiborne would take possession of West Florida to the river Perdido, in the name of the United States.
Not satisfied with this achievement, President Madison called attention in a secret message to the condition of East Florida and asked Congress for authority to take temporary possession of any part or parts of the territory. With equal secrecy Congress gave the desired authorization, and the President immediately sent two commissioners with large discretionary powers to the St. Mary's River. In March, 1812, another "revolution" took place. The Spanish governor of East Florida was forced to surrender and to permit the occupation of Amelia Island in the name of the United States. The farce was too broad, however, even for the eager Administration. The President was obliged to disavow the acts of his agents. But Amelia Island was not evacuated until May, 1813, and West Florida was never released. After much deliberation Congress annexed part of the region to the new State of Louisiana and joined the rest to the Territory of Mississippi.
In the Northwest also American pioneers were overrunning the bounds, not those fixed by international agreement, to be sure, but those marked by Indian treaties, which commanded even less respect. A society which believed that the only good Indian was a dead Indian was not likely to be over-nice in its appraisal of his property rights. The line of intercourse marked by the Treaty of Greenville in 1795 had receded somewhat as home-seekers had pushed their way up the rivers from the Ohio into the Indiana Territory; but the vast interior around the upper waters of the Wabash River was still closed to white men. Governor William Henry Harrison fully shared the irritation of the settlers that Indians should monopolize the best lands. He was therefore a willing agent of the President when in 1804 and 1805 he took advantage of the necessities of certain chieftains, whom he called "the most depraved wretches on earth," to despoil whole tribes of their lands, under the guise of treaties.
Among the better class of Indians this policy aroused the bitterest resentment. The rise of Tecumseh, son of a Shawnee warrior, and of his brother the Prophet, dates from this time. It was the aim of these remarkable individuals to prevent the further alienation of Indian lands by limiting the authority of irresponsible local chiefs and conferring it upon a congress of warriors from all allied tribes. During the year 1808, Tecumseh and the Prophet laid the foundation of a confederacy by establishing an Indian village on Tippecanoe Creek, one hundred and fifty miles above Vincennes.
In the following year (1809), Governor Harrison anticipated the formation of this Indian confederation by beginning negotiations with the same irresponsible sachems for the cession of more lands. The treaty, which was readily concluded, carried despair to the heart of every follower of Tecumseh, for it conveyed to the National Government three millions of acres of the best lands in the Indian country, extending along both banks of the Wabash for a hundred miles. An alliance with the British seemed to be the only recourse of the Indians. Only a spark was needed to start a conflagration along the whole frontier.
Although war was believed to be imminent by the people of Indiana, the winter and summer of 1811 passed without untoward events. Toward the end of October, Harrison began a forward movement into the Indian country. On the morning of November 7, his camp on the banks of the Tippecanoe was attacked. A sharp engagement followed, in which the army narrowly escaped disaster; but the troops rallied and finally succeeded in routing the Indians. In the abandoned village of the Prophet were found English arms—confirmatory evidence, it was said, of the part which the British in Canada had taken in the projects of Tecumseh and the Prophet. Occurring at a moment of tension between the United States and Great Britain, the battle of Tippecanoe may be regarded properly as "a premature outbreak of the great wars of 1812." An unforeseen consequence of this skirmish on the frontier was the rise of a new popular hero in the West.
Nationally minded men indulged high hopes of the new Congress which convened at the capital in November, 1811. The presence of some seventy new members, many of whom belonged to a younger generation, warranted the expectation that the Twelfth Congress would exhibit greater vigor than its predecessor. In organizing, the House passed over Macon, who belonged to the old school of statesmen, and chose as Speaker Henry Clay, who had exchanged his seat in the Senate for this more stirring arena. Clay's conception of the Speakership was novel. He was determined to be something more than a mere presiding officer. As a leader of his party he proposed to use his powers of office to shape legislation. His heart was set upon an aggressive policy. War had no terrors for him. He therefore named his committees with the possibility of war in mind.
There were many young men who shared Clay's impatience with the policy of peaceable coercion and its humiliating sequel. Grundy, of Tennessee, had been elected because he openly favored war. He admitted that he was "anxious not only to add the Floridas to the south, but the Canadas to the north of this Empire." John C. Calhoun, a new member from South Carolina, openly repudiated the restrictive system of the President as a mode of resistance suited neither to the genius of the people nor to the geographical character of the country. "We have had a peace like a war," he cried; "in the name of Heaven let us not have the only thing that is worse—a war like a peace!" Clay left the chair frequently to stir the House by his glowing eloquence. Whatever else might be said about these young stalwarts, no one could doubt their ardent nationalism and devotion to the Union. Even the President was moved to allude gently in his annual message to the duty of assuming "an attitude demanded by the crisis and corresponding with the national spirit and expectations."
The response of Congress was exasperatingly slow. It was January before a bill to increase the standing army by twenty-five thousand men became law. Another month passed before Congress would agree to a bill authorizing the President to raise a volunteer force of fifty thousand men. No arguments would move the House to vote an appropriation of seven and a half million dollars for a navy of twenty frigates and twelve ships-of-the-line. Even more discouraging was the reluctance of Congress to anticipate the financial drain of war by levying the internal revenue taxes which Gallatin strongly recommended, now that Congress had suffered the charter of the National Bank to expire. Without that important instrument of credit, he saw no alternative but to revive the excise which was so hateful to Republicans. In the end Congress authorized a loan of eleven million dollars, but no additional taxes.
[Map: Vote of House on the Declaration of War June 4, 1812]
From the first the war party had fixed upon Great Britain as the object of attack. In the sober light of history, France appears to be quite as much an enemy to American commerce. But so long as the Administration maintained that Napoleon had withdrawn his decrees, and that England had not, consistency required that Great Britain should be regarded as the greater offender. Reparation had been made for the Chesapeake affair, to be sure, but no guaranties had been given that the rights of neutral vessels would be respected on the high seas. Besides, the group of young Republicans led by Clay and Grundy had looked forward to the conquest of Canada on the north and of Florida on the south as the result of war. Madison was too keen a politician not to know that he could not afford to alienate this group if he wished a second term in office. On April 1, he recommended an embargo for sixty days, and two months later, on June 1, he sent his famous war message to Congress.
In reciting the grievances of the United States, the President thrust into the foreground "the continued practice of violating the American flag on the great highway of nations, and of seizing and carrying off persons sailing under it." No one could deny that these were real grievances, but they had not been pressed in recent negotiations as a possible cause of war. A second grievance was the blockade of American ports by British cruisers. "They hover over and harass our entering and departing commerce," said the President. "To the most insulting pretentions they have added the most lawless proceedings in our very harbors; and have wantonly spilt American blood within the sanctuary of our territorial jurisdiction." This grievance was also real, but not of recent date. When the President alluded to "pretended blockades" under which "our commerce has been plundered in every sea," he touched upon outrages which were still fresh in the minds of all. "Not content with these occasional expedients for laying waste our neutral trade," continued the message, "the Cabinet of Great Britain resorted, at length, to the sweeping system of blockades, under the name of Orders in Council." Finally, the President did not refrain from the plain intimation that the Indian hostilities on the frontier were due to the influence of British traders and British garrisons.
Three days later the House of Representatives passed a bill declaring war by a vote of 79 to 49. The opposition came largely from the Northeast. The representatives from Connecticut and Rhode Island were to a man against war, and they were supported by Federalists from Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware. In the Senate the vote stood 19 for war and 13 against it. "Except Pennsylvania, the entire representation of no Northern State declared itself for the war; except Kentucky, every State south of the Potomac and Ohio voted for the declaration."
While Congress was debating the alternatives of peace or war, the British Government took a step which under modern conditions would have averted hostilities. Taking advantage of a decree of Napoleon dating from 1810, which declared his edicts revoked so far as American vessels were concerned, the Ministry announced on June 23 that the British orders would be withdrawn. But just five days earlier, President Madison had proclaimed a state of war between the United States and Great Britain.
A brief account of the events which formed the prelude to the War of 1812 may be found in K. C. Babcock, The Rise of American Nationality (in The American Nation, vol. 13, 1906). The diplomatic and military antecedents of the war are set forth at greater length in A. T. Mahan, Sea Power in its Relation to the War of 1812 (2 vols., 1905). Biographies contribute much that is of interest. Carl Schurz, Henry Clay (2 vols., 1887), is one of the best. J. T. Morse, John Quincy Adams (1882), and Edmund Quincy, Life of Josiah Quincy of Massachusetts (1867), also contain interesting information. M. P. Follett, The Speaker of the House of Representatives (1896); Edward Stanwood, History of the Presidency (1898); and M. L. Hinsdale, History of the President's Cabinet (1911), touch upon important aspects of politics. The volume entitled Memoirs and Letters of Dolly Madison (1886) gives many charming glimpses of social life at the capital. The discomforts and hazards of travel in the West are described with great vivacity by Margaret Van Horn, A Journey to Ohio in 1810 (1912).
THE WAR OF 1812
When hostilities began in North America, the war establishment of the United States stood officially at 36,700 men. Actually the army consisted of ten regiments with ranks half filled, scattered in garrisons from Mackinac to Lake Champlain,—a force of less than 10,000 men, of whom 4000 were raw recruits. The staff was made up of old and incompetent officers; and from a military point of view the new appointments left much to be desired. The navy which was to contest the supremacy of the seas with the victor at Trafalgar consisted of twelve sea-going vessels and some two hundred gunboats, which were useless except for coast defense. There was bitter truth in the manifesto issued by the Federalist members of Congress when it said: "Our enemy is the greatest maritime power that has ever been on earth, and to her we offer the most tempting prizes. Our merchantmen are on every sea. Our rich cities lie along the Atlantic seaboard close to the water's edge. And to defend these from the cruisers of Great Britain we are to have an army of raw recruits yet to be raised and a navy of gunboats now stranded on the beaches and frigates that have long been rotting in the slime of the Potomac."
The worst aspect of the war was its sectional character. New England was in opposition. From the outset the activity of the National Administration was weakened by the indubitable fact that the United States, as the Federalists were never tired of repeating, began the war "as a divided people." When General Dearborn made requisition upon the governors of Massachusetts and Connecticut for militia to defend the coast, Governor Strong ignored the summons. Pressed for a reply, he finally stated to the Secretary of War that the judges of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts had advised him that the commanders-in-chief of the militia in the several States, rather than the President, had the right to determine whether any of the exigencies contemplated by the Constitution existed so as to require them to place the militia in the service of the United States. The judges also advised the governor that the militia, when in the service of the United States, could not lawfully be commanded by any federal officers below the President, but only by state officers. The general assembly of Connecticut sustained Governor Griswold in a similar attitude toward the federal authorities, holding that the war was an offensive war to which the provisions of the Constitution respecting the militia did not apply.
From the first the war-hawks had cried, "On to Canada," for their hope of conquest was undisguised. "Agrarian cupidity," declared Randolph, "not maritime right, urges the war. Ever since the report of the Committee on Foreign Relations came into the House, we have heard but one word,—like the whippoorwill, but one eternal monotonous tone,—Canada, Canada, Canada!" Military considerations, however, probably determined the campaign of 1812,—so far, indeed, as any well-considered plans were worked out. A general advance was to be made along the route by Lake Champlain to Montreal. Three expeditions were also to be sent against Sackett's Harbor, Niagara, and Malden. All were strategic points on the Lakes; but Malden was particularly important as the center of British influence among the Indians of the Northwest.
The expedition against Malden, which was entrusted to General William Hull, not only failed to accomplish its purpose, but terminated in the most humiliating reverse of the war. For reasons that have never been adequately explained, Hull laid siege to Malden instead of attacking it at once with his superior force; and when British reenforcements appeared, he not only abandoned the siege, but on August 15, surrendered Fort Detroit without firing a shot. The army, the fort, and the undisputed control of the Michigan country passed into the hands of the British. On the same day occurred the surrender of Fort Dearborn and the massacre of its garrison by the Indians.
The other military operations on the northern frontier were scarcely less inglorious. The failure of the attack upon Queenston, October 13, was due largely to the incompetence of the commanding general. Nowhere did the American troops pierce the Niagara or Lake Champlain frontier. The Duke of Wellington was well within the truth when he declared the American campaign of 1812 "beneath criticism."
The smart of these humiliating failures was only relieved by the series of stirring naval victories which began with the duel between the Constitution and the Guerriere. The frigates met on August 19, some three hundred miles off Cape Race. "In less than thirty minutes from the time we got alongside of the enemy," reported Captain Hull of the Constitution, "she was left without a spar standing, and the hull cut to pieces in such a manner as to make it difficult to keep her above water." The effect of this victory was electric. When the Constitution reached Boston Harbor, even Federalists broke into exultation. The cry in every New England home was, "Thank God for Hull's victory!" Nothing could have been better timed and more dramatic. The papers which announced the humiliating surrender of General Hull contained the news of his nephew's victory.
If the victory of the Constitution was won on unequal terms,—the Guerriere was undoubtedly inferior,—the British Admiralty could not excuse a second naval defeat on this score. On October 17, the American sloop-of-war Wasp encountered the brig Frolic convoying merchantmen six hundred miles east of Norfolk. There was little to choose between the vessels either in size or equipment, yet the marksmanship of the American gunners was so far superior that in forty-three minutes the crew of the Wasp had boarded the Frolic. Not even the subsequent capture of both vessels by a British ship-of-the-line could dim the glory of this victory. A week later the frigate United States under Captain Decatur captured the Macedonia and brought her into New London—"the only British frigate ever brought as a prize into an American port." In December the Constitution, now commanded by Captain Bainbridge, added to her laurels by overpowering the powerful frigate Java.
The effect of these disasters upon the British public was out of all proportion to the actual value of the vessels lost. Canning afterward declared that the loss of the Guerriere and the Macedonia produced a sensation scarcely to be equaled by the most violent convulsion of nature. "The sacred spell of the invincibility of the British navy was broken by those unfortunate captures."
In the midst of the war occurred a presidential election. Madison had been the unanimous choice of the congressional caucus held in May; but only eighty-three out of one hundred and thirty-three Republicans had attended, and the discontent of New York Republicans was well known. The nomination of De Witt Clinton by the New York legislative caucus opened wide the breach in the party. In September a convention of Federalists repeated the error of 1804 and indorsed Clinton's nomination, naming as his partner Jared Ingersoll, of Pennsylvania. Elbridge Gerry, of Massachusetts, was finally nominated for Vice-President by the Republicans. The alternatives presented to the people seemed to be Madison and continued war ineffectively conducted, or Clinton and still more humiliating peace. New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and all the New England States but Vermont, preferred Clinton. The South and West supported Madison; but without the vote of Pennsylvania Madison would have been defeated.
To retrieve Hull's disaster, General William Henry Harrison, the hero of Tippecanoe, was placed in command of the Western army in the fall of 1812; but a succession of mishaps overtook his expedition into the Northwest. He not only failed to reach Detroit, but lost most of his available troops by disease, desertion, and the onset of British detachments from Fort Malden.
It was now clear that the control of the Lakes was indispensable for a successful invasion of Canada. At the close of the year 1812, there was not a war-vessel flying the American flag on Lake Erie. To create a fleet was the task set for Oliver Hazard Perry, a young naval officer, who was sent from Newport to Presqu' Isle. Of the needful supplies only timber was abundant; the rest had to be brought overland from Philadelphia by way of Pittsburg. Surmounting all obstacles, nevertheless, the energetic Perry finally got together a flotilla of vessels which was quite equal to the British squadron. The two fleets met in battle off Sandusky on September 10, 1813. The American boat Lawrence, Perry's flagship, was obliged to strike her colors, but Perry boarded another vessel of his fleet and succeeded in turning defeat into a brilliant victory. "We have met the enemy and they are ours," was his triumphant dispatch to General Harrison.
The way was now open to the invasion of Canada. Under the protection of Perry's fleet, Harrison was able to transport his army to the Canadian shore below Fort Malden. The British troops were already in full retreat. On October 5, 1813, the American army overtook them and in a short but decisive battle on the river Thames revenged the loss of Detroit. Among the dead on the British side was found the body of Tecumseh. In point of numbers, the battle of the Thames is insignificant; but it has an important place in the annals of the war because it destroyed the British military power in the Northwest and recovered control of the Michigan Territory.
No such success attended the movement of American troops on the Niagara and St. Lawrence frontier. The control of Lake Ontario was in doubt throughout the year 1813. The military operations, first under Dearborn, and then under Wilkinson and Hampton, were indecisive. Indeed, the events of the year served only one good purpose: they revealed the incompetence of the older generals and the ability of the younger officers.
The loss of the Chesapeake in a duel with the Shannon, on June 1, 1813, outside of Boston Harbor, left the United States with an available sea-going navy of just two frigates and a few small sloops. All the other frigates were shut up in various ports by the British blockade, which extended from Cape Cod to Florida. The burden of offense during the rest of the war fell upon privateers. During the war more than five hundred fitted out in American ports. In the year 1813 they took over three hundred prizes, while the frigates took but seventy-nine. While British cruisers were blockading the coast of the United States, these craft, with their beautiful lines and wonderful spread of canvas, carried consternation to all British shippers in the English Channel and in the Irish Sea. They "seize prizes in sight of those that should afford protection," complained the London Times, "and if pursued put on their sea-wings and laugh at the clumsy English pursuers." No exploits of the regular navy contributed so much to dispose the British governing class to peace as the depredations of these privateers.
In the remote Southwest, the war assumed a different character. There the enemy on the border was not Great Britain but Spain. The people of the Carolinas and Georgia fully expected to acquire the Floridas while the North was wresting Canada from British control. Had President Madison been given his way, this wish would have been gratified; but Congress refused to countenance the seizure of East Florida, and in May, 1813, Madison very reluctantly ordered the troops to evacuate Amelia Island. No scruples deterred Congress from authorizing the occupation of West Florida. In the spring of 1813, General Wilkinson forced the surrender of the only Spanish fort on Mobile Bay and took possession of the country as far as the Perdido—"the only permanent gain of territory made during the war."
During the first year of the war the younger warriors of the Western Creeks, in what is now Alabama, had been incited to hostilities by Tecumseh, and in the following spring began depredations which culminated in the capture of Fort Mims and the massacre of its inhabitants on August 30, 1813. The horrors of an Indian war brought every able-bodied settler in the adjoining States to arms. Before the end of the year seven thousand whites had invaded the Indian territory and had killed about one fifth of the Creek warriors. The hero of the war was General Andrew Jackson, who at the head of an army of Tennessee militiamen won a decisive battle at Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa River. On August 9, 1814, he forced the chieftains who had not fled across the Florida border to sign a treaty of capitulation at Fort Jackson and to cede nearly two thirds of their lands in southern Georgia and in what afterward became central Alabama. This phase of the war opened up a vast territory to settlement and made the military reputation of Andrew Jackson.
Operations on the Niagara frontier were resumed by the American troops in 1814; but they were now directed by one of the new major-generals, Jacob Brown, who infused a new spirit into his soldiers. On July 5, General Winfield Scott's brigade won a signal victory at Chippewa. Three weeks later, on July 25, the entire army fought a desperate battle at Lundy's Lane, which lasted from sunset to midnight. The Americans claimed a victory, but the losses were about even and the British remained in possession of the field. At the close of the year, despite the valiant fighting of Brown's army, the situation on the Niagara had not changed materially. The invasion of Canada and a peace dictated from Quebec seemed as remote as ever.
The British plans for the campaign of 1814 called for "a diversion on the coasts of the United States, in favor of the army employed in the defense of Upper and Lower Canada." For the first time since the opening of hostilities, British military authorities could concentrate their attention on the war in North America. The defeat of Napoleon on the plains of Leipzig had thrown his shattered columns back upon France. Thither the allied armies had followed him and forced his capitulation. With the end of European wars in sight, Wellington could release his veteran troops for service in America. In early summer eleven thousand seasoned troops were sent to Canada. Four thousand more were dispatched under Major-General Ross, of the Peninsular army, to cooperate with the navy under Admiral Cochrane on the shores of Chesapeake Bay. Later in the year Major-General Pakenham, also a veteran of the Peninsular campaign, was sent with ten thousand troops to seize the mouth of the Mississippi and to force the capitulation of the West by closing the ports on the Gulf.
Those whose memories went back thirty-seven years may well have recalled Burgoyne's expedition, for it was by the old Lake Champlain route that Sir George Prevost began his invasion of New York in September, 1814. His objective was Plattsburg, where an American army of not more than two thousand men was stationed. Accompanying his army, to insure its line of communication with Canada, was a fleet consisting of a frigate, a brig, and a dozen smaller vessels. To this fleet, Captain Thomas Macdonough could oppose only a corvette and a dozen small craft. The fleets met in a battle for the control of the lake on September 11. The resourcefulness of the young American officer saved the day. By winding his corvette, the Saratoga, about, so as to bring her unused guns to bear just when the fight seemed lost, he forced the formidable Confiance to strike her colors. The surrender of the smaller British boats followed. The battle of Plattsburg was decisive of the invasion. Fearing greater disasters if he pressed on without the control of the waterway at his rear, Prevost at once ordered a retreat.
The expedition directed toward Chesapeake Bay was well under way before Prevost's ill-starred invasion began. On August 19, General Ross landed his forces on the banks of Patuxent River, within striking distance of Washington. Marching leisurely across country toward the capital, the British finally met at Bladensburg a motley array of some seven thousand Americans, hastily summoned from the countryside. What followed is not easily described. Some show of resistance was made by the marines from the American gunboats in the Patuxent; but for the most part the Americans were seized with a panic and fled in wild disorder. The President and his Cabinet took to the Virginia woods, leaving the enemy to wreak their vengeance on the government buildings. Having fired the Capitol, the White House, and other edifices, the British forces returned to their fleet and reembarked. The historian can take no pleasure in dwelling upon details which are discreditable to all concerned; for if the British committed acts of vandalism, the Americans had provoked retaliation when they burned the parliament houses at York in the campaign of 1813.
An attack upon Baltimore which might have resulted in further outrages was frustrated by the measures of defense which the government of the city had already wisely undertaken. After a skirmish in which General Ross was killed, and an ineffective bombardment of the harbor defenses, the British withdrew.
A visitor to the national capital after its capture described the President as "miserably shattered and woe-begone," and heart-broken at the defection of New England. To prosecute the war, money and men were needed; but both were wanting. The Administration hoped, but hoped in vain, that the victories at Chippewa, Lundy's Lane, and Plattsburg would stimulate enlistments; but recruits were not likely to be lured by promises which every one knew the Government could not redeem. It became clearer every day that unless Congress was disposed to adopt Monroe's plan of conscription, the National Government would have to put its dependence upon state armies. In September, after Castine and the eastern part of Maine to the Penobscot had been occupied by the British, Governor Strong consented to call out the militia of Massachusetts, but he was careful to place the troops under the command of state officers. At the same time he made inquiry of the Secretary of War whether the expenses of the militia would be assumed by the National Government. Monroe replied rather sharply that so long as Massachusetts refused to put her troops under the command of national officers, she need not expect the United States to maintain them. The Governor of Connecticut had already withdrawn the militia of that State from national service. At the moment when Prevost was beginning his invasion, the Governor of Vermont declined to call out the state militia because he doubted his authority to order the militia out of the State. The Union seemed on the point of disintegrating into its original elements.
The anxieties of the Administration were further increased by the action of the Massachusetts General Court, which called a convention of those States "the affinity of whose interests is closest," with the avowed purpose of devising some mode of common defense and of securing a convention of delegates from all the States to revise the National Constitution. In spite of vigorous opposition, delegates were chosen, to meet on December 15 with "such as may be chosen by any or all of the other New England States." The legislatures of Connecticut and Rhode Island responded promptly; but the legislature of Vermont unanimously declined the invitation, and New Hampshire failed to reply. The movement seemed all the more ominous after the fall elections, which resulted in the choice of thirty-nine Federalist Congressmen from New England and of only two Republicans. In the preceding Congress there had been thirty Federalists and eleven Republicans.
That members of the Essex Junto would gladly have seized this opportunity to remake the Federal Union by excluding the Western States appears clearly enough in the correspondence of men like Timothy Pickering. A new Union of the "good old thirteen States" on terms set by New England was believed to be well within the bounds of possibility. Radical newspapers referred with enthusiasm to the erection of a new federal edifice. Little wonder that the harassed President was obsessed with the idea that New England was on the verge of secession.
From the first, however, this movement in New England was kept well in hand by men like Harrison Gray Otis, who always insisted that the object of a convention was to defend New England against the common enemy and to prevent radical action under the stress of popular excitement. If this be true, it was unfortunate, to say the least, that these patriots chose just this moment, when the Federal Government was about to succumb to the common enemy, to propose alterations in the Constitution; and it was equally unfortunate for the reputations of all concerned that they should have held their deliberations in secret, giving an air of conspiracy to their proceedings. The official journal of the Convention at Hartford was not published until 1823. When the Convention adjourned on January 5, 1815, all that the general public was permitted to know of its deliberations was contained in its famous report.
The Convention was at no little pains to reassure a waiting world that it did not contemplate or countenance secession. It was not yet ready to concede that the defects in the Constitution were incurable nor that multiplied abuses justified a severance of the Union, "especially in a time of war." "If the Union be destined to dissolution, ... it should, if possible, be the work of peaceable times, and deliberate consent." But these philosophical considerations did not deter the author of the report from a vicious and partisan attack upon "the multiplied abuses of bad administrations."
President Madison must have read this document with mingled feelings, for the Convention held, almost in the words of his Resolutions of 1798, that the infractions of the Constitution were so "deliberate, dangerous, and palpable" as to put the liberties of the people in jeopardy and to make it the duty of a State "to interpose its authority for their protection." The legislatures of the several States were recommended to adopt measures for protecting their citizens against all unconstitutional acts of Congress which should subject the militia or other citizens to forcible drafts, conscriptions, or impressments. They were also urged to apply to the Federal Government for consent to some arrangement whereby the States, separately or in concert, could undertake their own defense and retain a reasonable proportion of the national taxes for the purpose. Finally, seven amendments to the Constitution were proposed, to prevent a recurrence of the grievances from which the New England States suffered. Four of these proposed amendments put limitations upon Congress: a two-thirds vote of both houses was to be required to admit a new State, to interdict commerce, to lay an embargo, and to declare war. In future, representation and direct taxes were to be apportioned according to the respective numbers of free persons. Naturalized citizens were to be excluded from all federal civil offices; and finally—a blow at the Virginia dynasty—"the same person shall not be elected President of the United States a second time; nor shall the President be elected from the same State two terms in succession."
The General Court of Massachusetts acted promptly. Three commissioners were dispatched at once to Washington, to work out an amicable arrangement for the defense of the State. On February 3, 1815, the "three ambassadors," as they styled themselves, set out for the capital. Ten days later, en route, they learned that General Andrew Jackson had decisively repulsed an attack of the British upon New Orleans on January 8. On reaching Washington the commissioners were met with the news that a treaty of peace had been signed at Ghent. Their cause had met with the most unlucky fate which can befall any cause in the United States: it had become ridiculous. The tension of war-times relaxed in a roar of laughter at their expense.
Early in the year 1813, Russia had endeavored to mediate between her ally and the United States. President Madison had at once, and as it appeared somewhat precipitately, sent Albert Gallatin and James A. Bayard as peace commissioners to St. Petersburg; but Great Britain declined the Czar's good offices. The American envoys, however, remained in Europe. When, then, in October, the British Ministry intimated that it was prepared to begin direct negotiations, President Madison created a new commission by sending John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and Jonathan Russell to join Gallatin and Bayard. In the last week in June, the commissioners repaired to Ghent, which had been chosen as the place of meeting. Thither the British negotiators followed them in leisurely fashion. The first joint conference was not held until August 8, 1814.
The task of the American commissioners was one of very great difficulty. Confronted by the unexpected demand that the revision of the Canadian boundary, the fisheries, and the establishment of an Indian state in the Northwest should be included in the pourparler, they could only reply that they had been instructed to discuss only matters of maritime law—impressments, blockades, and neutral rights. There seemed so little likelihood of agreement that the American commissioners prepared to leave Ghent. But the British Ministry abated its extreme demands and continued the negotiations. At the same time new instructions from Washington advised the American representatives that they might drop the subject of impressments if they found it an insuperable obstacle in the way of peace.
The insistence of the British agents upon the principle of uti possidetis—the state of possession at the close of the war—again threatened to break off negotiations, for the Americans resolutely insisted on the status quo ante bellum, a restoration of all places taken during the war. It was at this juncture that tidings arrived of the British repulse at Plattsburg. For a week the British Ministry debated the feasibility of renewing the war; but the complications at the Congress of Vienna, the "prodigious expense" of continued war, the change in public opinion, and the emphatic conviction of Wellington that the Ministry had "no right from the state of the war to demand any cession of territory"—these and many lesser considerations disposed the Cabinet to ask the American envoys to prepare a draft of a treaty.
Strong differences of opinion developed among the Americans when they set to work upon their preliminary draft. As the representative of Western interests, Clay set himself obstinately against any further recognition of the British right—secured by the treaty of 1783—of free navigation of the Mississippi. Adams was equally determined not to sacrifice the correlative right to the Labrador and Newfoundland fisheries, which his father had secured in the Treaty of Paris. Gallatin, the peacemaker, was in favor of offering to renew both privileges; and he finally succeeded in winning Clay's reluctant assent to this plan. But when the British commissioners objected, both sides agreed to omit all reference to these vexing questions.
The treaty which was signed on December 24, 1814, is remarkable for its omissions. The reader will scan it in vain for any allusion to impressments, blockades, and neutral rights. It is equally silent as to the control of the Lakes, Indian territories, the fisheries, and the navigation of the Mississippi. It was "simply a cessation of hostilities, leaving every claim on either side open for future settlement." Clay probably reflected the disappointment of Republicans when he pronounced it "a damned bad treaty." Nevertheless, it brought what was most desired by the exhausted Administration—peace. Moreover, the treaty must be viewed in the light of events in Europe. The overthrow of the Napoleonic Empire and the exile of Bonaparte gave promise of a return to normal conditions so far as maritime rights were concerned. The victories of American seamen in the war were after all better guaranties of neutral rights than any declarations on parchment.
Besides the larger histories, which contain abundant information about the war, mention should be made of B. J. Lossing's Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812 (1868), written by one who visited most of the battlefields of the war. A well-balanced account of the military operations is contained in K. C. Babcock's The Rise of American Nationality (in The American Nation, vol. XIII, 1906). Theodore Roosevelt, The Naval War of 1812 (various editions); E. S. Maclay, History of the United States Navy from 1775 to 1901 (3 vols., 1901-02), and History of American Privateers (1899); J. R. Spears, History of Our Navy (4 vols., 1897); and C. O. Paullin, Commodore John Rodgers (1910), give the history of the maritime war. The most comprehensive study of the naval operations of the war is the work by Admiral Mahan already cited. The part of Jackson in the war is set forth in many biographies. The most picturesque is James Parton, Life of Andrew Jackson (3 vols., 1860); the most recent is J. S. Bassett, Life of Andrew Jackson (2 vols., 1911). S. E. Morison, Life and Letters of Harrison Gray Otis (2 vols., 1913), gives a fresh account of the disaffection in New England and of the Hartford Convention. The peace negotiations at Ghent are set forth circumstantially by Henry Adams in his History of the United States (9 vols., 1889-91).
THE RESULTS OF THE WAR
In a message to Congress transmitting the treaty of peace, President Madison congratulated the country on the termination of a war "waged with a success which is the natural result of the wisdom of the legislative councils, of the patriotism of the people, of the public spirit of the militia, and of the valor of the military and naval forces of the country." The verdict of history does not sustain this paean of victory. "The record, upon the whole," declares Admiral Mahan, "is one of gloom, disaster, and governmental incompetence, resulting from lack of national preparation, due to the obstinate and blind prepossessions of the Government, and, in part, of the people." Public opinion indorsed the President's estimate of the late struggle.
As a matter of fact, the people of the United States had seen little of the disasters and ravages of war. All the important battles took place on the borders. The great mass of the people were undisturbed in their vocations. There was hardly a day during the war when a farmer could not till his acres in tranquillity. Not an important city save Washington was taken during the war. Nor was the loss of life large in proportion to population. All told, the killed and wounded did not exceed five thousand men. Napoleon lost nearly two hundred thousand French soldiers in his disastrous Russian campaign.
American character appeared at its best and at its worst in these three years of war. Even the British press could not gainsay the resourcefulness and intelligence of the American soldier and sailor, though the phrase "Yankee smartness" conveyed also the unpleasant imputation of trickiness and moral laxity. Wherever conditions permitted a fair test, the superiority of the American gunner was incontestable. The greater losses of the British whenever the armies met on even terms proved the superior marksmanship of the American militiaman. The adaptation of the fast-sailing schooner to privateering was further evidence of an alert intellect which was quick to adapt means to ends. This quality, to be sure, has been bred in every frontier folk by the very necessities of existence, but it appeared in marked strength in the American of this time. While the shipbuilders of New England were laying the keels of these privateers, Robert Fulton was perfecting his steamboat on the Delaware and Hudson rivers. In the year before the war, the first steamboat appeared on the Ohio, and before the end of the war fourteen were plying on Western waters, and opening up a new era in the American colonization of the continent.
This instinctive adaptation of means to ends was less successful in the realm of American politics. No celerity could compensate for want of prevision on the part of the authorities at Washington. The lesson of the war was not lost upon James Madison, at least. "Experience has taught us," said he in a message to Congress,—and the words amounted to a confession of error,—"that neither the pacific dispositions of the American people nor the pacific character of their political institutions, can altogether exempt them from that strife which appears, beyond the ordinary lot of nations, to be incident to the actual period of the world; and the same faithful monitor demonstrates that a certain degree of preparation for war is not only indispensable to avert disaster in the onset, but affords also the best security for the continuance of peace."
The indirect effects of war were more widely felt. The blockade affected adversely all the extractive industries upon which the vast majority of the people in all the States depended. Only New England escaped unscathed—and the circumstance was not creditable to the section. In the latter months of 1814 ruin stared the Southern planter in the face. The lifting of the blockade wrought a transformation. Planters in the Old Dominion, who could find no market for their tobacco and wheat on February 13, sold their produce on February 14 at prices which made them rich again. Flour which had found almost no purchasers at seven and a half dollars a barrel sold readily at ten. Imported commodities fell in price correspondingly. Ships put to sea at once laden with the accumulated produce of two long years. The export trade, which had fallen to less than $7,000,000, leaped to $46,000,000 between March and October. Fully two thirds of this wealth accrued to the Southern planters who raised the three great staples, tobacco, cotton, and rice. The people of the Middle States shared only moderately in this prosperity. The value of the wheat and corn which the farmers of Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey raised for export did not much exceed that of tobacco alone.
The return of peace brought relief also to the shipping industry of New England. Vessels which the embargo and the restrictive policy and the hazards of war had kept in port now put to sea again. But the European conditions which had created such immense profits for the Yankee skipper in 1805, 1806, and 1807 had passed away. Foreign ships now bid for the carrying trade of the Atlantic, and their competition cut down freight rates to a point which caused melancholy forebodings in the homes of Boston and Salem shipowners.
The long period of commercial restriction followed by three years of war caused a dislocation of industry in New England. Capital which had been invested in shipping now sought larger returns in the manufacture of those commodities hitherto supplied by British factories. When the embargo was laid, only fifteen cotton mills were in operation, representing a capital of about $500,000. Two years later, capital to the amount of $4,000,000 had been invested in factories which employed nearly 4000 hands. At the close of the war, $40,000,000 were invested in cotton mills which consumed 27,000,000 pounds of raw cotton and gave employment to 100,000 men and women. Hitherto much of the weaving had been done on hand looms in the farmhouses of New England: only the spinning had been done by machinery. In 1814, Francis Lowell introduced the power loom into his mill at Waltham, Massachusetts, and brought the various processes of cotton manufacturing under one roof. The foundation of the New England factory system was thus laid before the end of the war. In the following decade the famous factory towns on the Merrimac came into existence. The metamorphosis of the section had begun.
The woolen industry received a great impetus in this same period of artificial stimulation, but it failed to expand with the same rapidity, owing to the scarcity and cost of the finer grades of wool. Nevertheless, in the year 1816, about $12,000,000 were invested in the manufacture of woolen fabrics. Like the cotton industry, this owed its development to the policy of Presidents from Virginia. It is one of the ironies of history that Jefferson and Madison should have unwittingly sacrificed Southern planters to build up industries in the North, and that New Englanders should have excoriated those worthies for policies which became the source of New England prosperity.
To these new industries peace spelled disaster. English manufacturers seized the opportunity to unload the goods which they had been piling up in their warehouses for years. Importations which had amounted to $13,000,000 in 1813 rose to the staggering sum of $147,000,000 in 1816. Not even import duties stemmed the tide, for as Lord Brougham stated in Parliament, "It was well worth while to incur a loss upon the first exportation, in order, by a glut, to stifle in the cradle those rising manufactures in the United States which the war had forced into existence, contrary to the natural course of things."
In October, 1815, the cotton manufacturers of Rhode Island sent a memorial to Congress, stating that their one hundred and forty factories were threatened with destruction by this cut-throat competition. Such complaints seemed unduly apprehensive; yet before the year closed, most of the textile mills had shut down. The distress of New England was no longer feigned. Caught in a process of transition from shipping to manufacturing, capital could neither advance nor retreat. It was a legitimate case for governmental aid. Even Jefferson laid aside his early prepossessions in favor of a simple bucolic life for the American citizen, and admitted that "to be independent for the comforts of life, we must fabricate them for ourselves. We must now place the manufacturer by the side of the agriculturist." Madison, too, departed from the Virginia faith so far as to recommend sufficient protection of "the enterprising citizens whose interests are now at stake" to guard them "against occasional competition from abroad."
Within sight of the blackened walls of the Capitol, in temporary quarters which it had rented, Congress set its hand to the work of national reconstruction. Before many months had passed, the new Capitol, under the supervision of Latrobe, began to rise from the ruins of the old, a symbol of a new era. On the walls of the rotunda, John Trumbull painted scenes which were to remind coming generations of the heroic days of the Revolution, and within its confines was eventually installed what was left of the library of Congress, with the gaps supplied in part by Jefferson's private collection, which Congress purchased. The new nation was not to disdain wholly the finer aspects of life nor to despise the garnered wisdom of the ages.
In March, 1816, Congress took under consideration a tariff bill which had been drafted on lines marked out by the new Secretary of the Treasury, A. J. Dallas, of Pennsylvania. The debates brought out a wide diversity of interests. Daniel Webster represented admirably the mingled feelings of his New England constituents when he professed to favor existing manufactures, but deprecated any action calculated to produce new industries. He never wished to see the time when the young men of the country would be forced to close their eyes to heaven and earth, and open them in the dust and smoke of unwholesome factories. On the other hand, Calhoun, eschewing a narrow sectionalism, declared that manufacturing must be encouraged as a wise national policy. "Neither agriculture, manufactures, nor commerce, taken separately, is the cause of wealth," said he. "It flows from the three combined and cannot exist without each." The South showed little of the apprehension which John Randolph expressed when he cried, "Upon whom bears the duty on coarse woolens and linens and blankets, upon salt, and all the necessaries of life?" and answered, "On poor men, and on slaveholders."