On March 4, 1809 James Madison gave his short inaugural address before he took the oath of office as the fourth President of the United States under the Constitution. He recognized that he was inheriting from his predecessor Republican institutions and peace with all nations even though many of them are engaged in “bloody and wasteful wars.” The fruits of their just policies have produced unrivaled growth of faculties and resources. Improvements in agriculture, successful commerce, progress in manufacturing, and useful arts enabled them to increase public revenue and reduce the national debt. Admitting that recently their trade has been under stress from hostile nations, he said the United States has cultivated peace by observing justice and neutral obligations. He did not know how long the violence of the belligerent powers would go on despite the “fair and liberal attempts” by the United States to induce a revocation of them.
Then in a very long sentence he affirmed the principles of “peace and friendly intercourse with all nations,” maintaining neutrality to belligerent nations, seeking reasonable accommodation of differences without appealing to arms, excluding foreign intrigues and partialities, and fostering
a spirit of independence too just to invade the rights of others,
too proud to surrender our own,
too liberal to indulge unworthy prejudices ourselves,
and too elevated not to look down upon them in others.1
He promised to support the Constitution, respect the rights and authorities reserved to the states and the people, avoid the slightest interference with the rights of conscience or the functions of religion so wisely exempted from civil jurisprudence, preserve freedom of the press, observe economy in public expenditures, and liberate public resources by discharging public debts. He affirmed that a “trained militia is the firmest bulwark of republics; that without standing armies their liberty can never be in danger, nor with large ones, safe.” He urged the promotion of agriculture, manufacturing, commerce, science, and the diffusion of information as the best nourishment of liberty.
President Madison maintained Albert Gallatin as Secretary of the Treasury and relied on him as his closest advisor. He nominated Jefferson’s Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith to be Secretary of State, and as the brother of Senator Samuel Smith of Massachusetts he was easily confirmed. He aimed for geographical diversity and selected Dr. William Eustis of Massachusetts as Secretary of War and Paul Hamilton of South Carolina to be Secretary of the Navy. Madison kept on Postmaster Gideon Granger and Attorney General Caesar Rodney. Unlike previous presidents, Madison did not hold cabinet meetings frequently, but rather he visited their offices for personal advice. All the cabinet nominations were confirmed on March 7, the day they were submitted. Madison appointed John Quincy Adams to be minister to Russia, but the Senate again rejected having such a position. However, Madison wrote to Emperor Alexander that he would renew the nomination, and at a special session of Congress that began in May the mission of Adams was approved on June 27, the day before Congress adjourned. Madison had all gunboats decommissioned except at New Orleans, and he discharged 100,000 militia. Four frigates under construction were fitted for service.
At the end of Jefferson’s second term Congress had repealed the unpopular embargo and passed a non-intercourse law. The British continued to impress American sailors, and their attack on the Chesapeake still had not been resolved. A recent law had opened world trade to American ships except for France and Britain. Madison hoped to reinstate trade with them if they would end their restrictions on American commerce. On March 19 he sent the same instructions to the Minister Plenipotentiary William Pinkney in England and to Minister John Armstrong in France. British Foreign Secretary George Canning proposed renewed commerce, but Madison rejected as insulting continuation of the British policy of allowing their ships to interfere with American ships bound for France.
On April 19 an agreement was made with the new British ambassador David Erskine that revoked the objectionable Orders in Council. Madison proclaimed that this would take effect on June 10. The Order in Council on April 26 revoked most of the general blockade of all ports under French control and opened neutral commerce in other ports. However, on May 25 the American envoy in London learned that Canning had cancelled the agreement, though the news did not reach Washington for six weeks while Madison was at his Montpelier home in Virginia. Madison asked Joel Barlow to purchase the 93 volumes of the Encyclopedie Methodique for $488.88. On May 31 President Madison and his wife Dolly held her first Wednesday evening levee.
The news of Canning’s disavowal of Erskine’s agreement arrived in America on July 22, and merchants had time to send their cargoes to sea before the government acted. On August 9 Madison announced that the Orders in Council had not been withdrawn, and he proclaimed that legal trade with Britain was banned under the revived non-intercourse law. His opponents complained that Congress had not given him power to do that. Madison did not want a war, but pressure in the country against the British was mounting. Erskine was recalled and replaced by Francis James Jackson who had delivered the ultimatum to Denmark just before the British Navy began bombarding Copenhagen. Madison did not receive Jackson until October 3. Jackson accused the Americans of double-dealing, and on the 9th Madison instructed the State Department to communicate with him only in writing. On the 19th Jackson was informed that he had not explained the reasons for his government not fulfilling its pledge. Finally on November 8 Madison sent a letter to Jackson informing him that no further communications would be received from him, and that message should be passed on to his government.
About 2,000 soldiers were sent to New Orleans in 1809. In the spring General James Wilkinson stationed most of them at the malaria-infested Terre aux Boeufs camp below New Orleans. The camp was finally moved in September; but 816 soldiers had died, and 745 were still in hospitals. After a court martial Madison, like Jefferson, kept the controversial Wilkinson in command.
Governor Harrison of the Indiana Territory summoned the Miamis, Eel Rivers, Delawares, Potawatomies, and Kickapoos, and on September 30, 1809 in the Treaty of Fort Wayne they ceded about three million acres to the Americans for $7,000 and an annuity of $1,750. This forced many Indians into the country of their enemies, the Chippewas and Sioux. Resentment of this caused the respected Wyandots and Hurons to join the confederation led by Tecumseh and the prophet Tenskwatawa. Tecumseh refused to accept the salt that was part of the annuity from the treaty, and he accused the Americans of deceiving the Indians and demanded the cessions be annulled. He said no future cessions should be made unless all the tribes agreed. In 1809 Tecumseh visited Indians from the Seminoles in Florida to the Osages in Missouri. He won over the Creeks, but the Choctaws and the Cherokees wanted to abide by their treaties and wait for an actual invasion before they went to war. The Choctaw Chief Pushmataha said that going to war against the Americans would be suicidal. Late in the year Tecumseh went to New York, but he was unable to enlist the Senecas and Onondagas or others in the Iroquois alliance. He returned to Prophetstown, and by the spring of 1810 he had a thousand warriors there trained to fight.
Harrison, concerned that his policies were now going to lead to war, became determined to crush the Indians before the British could help them. The British sent gifts and weapons to the Indians and urged Tecumseh to widen his confederacy and unite the tribes. However, the British did not want Tecumseh to go to war prematurely, and they tried to persuade him to wait until they gave their approval.
Harrison sent for Tecumseh, and he came to Vincennes with many armed Indians on August 12, 1810. The Wyandots, Kickapoos, Potawatomies, Ottawas, and Winnebagos joined the Shawnee confederacy and accepted Techumseh as chief. He explained to Harrison that at Tippecanoe they removed village chiefs who had sold out to the Americans and tried to empower all the warriors. Tecumseh met privately with Harrison and told him they did not want to make war on the United States. He said the Americans were trying to prevent the Indians from doing what they wanted. He believed in the Great Spirit and wanted to live in harmony with everyone. He would like to be their friend if the Governor could persuade the President to give back the lands recently ceded and never make another treaty without doing so with all the tribes. For this Tecumseh would become their ally against the British. Harrison told him this would not happen, and Tecumseh replied that then they would probably have to fight. When Harrison said that the United States had always treated the Indians fairly, Tecumseh shouted angrily that he was lying. Harrison adjourned the council. The next day Tecumseh sat next to Harrison on a bench and kept moving over until Harrison was about to be pushed off. Tecumseh explained that that was what the whites were doing to the Indians. On November 15 Tecumseh crossed the Detroit River into Canada and addressed a council of Potawatomis, Ottawas, Sauk, Foxes, and Winnebagos at Fort Malden where the British provided them with arms and supplies.
In the fiscal year ending on September 30 revenues were $9,300,000, but expenditures were $10,600,000. Because of the embargo revenue from customs receipts had fallen from $16,000,000 in 1807 to $6,500,000 in 1809. The balance in the Treasury made up $1,300,000 and also paid $6,730,000 on the national debt, and the Treasury began the new year with a balance of $5,000,000. In eight years the Republicans had reduced the national debt by about $40 million. Gallatin proposed a budget for 1810 that would cut military funds for the Army and Navy in half and save $3 million. Madison submitted it because he did not want him to resign; but three weeks later the President asked for an increase in military spending to a record-breaking $6,037,000.
Congress convened on November 27, and two days later in his first state of the union address President Madison noted the intransigence of the British while asking Congress for guidance. John Randolph opposed spending more on the military as a waste of money, and $750,000 was authorized for harbor fortifications. The wealthy Quaker George Logan, who was a Republican and had provoked the Logan Act forbidding private citizens from engaging in international diplomacy, once again went to Europe to try to avert war, and Madison asked him to take a copy of a letter he wrote to Logan and a note to Pinkney.
On April 16, 1810 Chief Justice Marshall issued the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Fletcher v. Peck. This case settled the long-running dispute over the Yazoo lands which the state of Georgia claimed. Known as the Indian Reserve west of Georgia, these 35 million acres eventually became the states of Alabama and Mississippi. In 1795 Georgia divided the land and sold it in four tracts to speculators with different land development companies. After the scandal of bribery was exposed, the voters turned out many of those who had voted for it. John Peck sold the land he bought to Robert Fletcher who sued him in 1803, claiming that Peck did not have a clear title to the land when he sold it. In a 6-1 decision Marshall wrote that they upheld the sale as a binding contract. This case also promoted the process of taking legal title of land away from the Indians. Jefferson criticized the decision for favoring the speculators from New England who eventually were paid $4,282,151.
The American consul in Paris told John Armstrong that in the previous year 51 American ships had been taken in the ports of France, 44 in Spain, 28 in Naples, and 11 in Holland. On May 1 Congress passed Macon’s bill #2 drafted by Gallatin that allowed American merchants to bring French or British goods into American harbors while closing American ports to ships of the belligerent nations. The strategy was to play the French and English off each other so that both would relent. Anglo-American trade revived during the summer, but new Orders in Council changed the British policy from anti-French to anti-American. The wily Napoleon reacted by offering to withdraw the Berlin and Milan decrees if the United States Congress pledged to punish any nation that held on to its anti-American edicts. On August 2 Napoleon began dictating a letter that was signed by the Duc de Cadore on August 5 promising the American ambassador Armstrong that the punitive French decrees would be recalled after November 1 if the British withdrew their Orders in Council. Armstrong left Paris on September 12, and this information reached Madison on the 25th.
On November 2 the President proclaimed that France had fulfilled the requirement of the Macon Act and that the British had three months to revoke their edicts, or the Non-Intercourse Act of 1809 would go back into effect against the British. Eleven years later Gallatin learned of Napoleon’s Trianon Decree from September 1810 which invoked the Berlin and Milan decrees against American ships discharging their cargoes in French ports without obtaining an imperial license. Armstrong learned of it on September 12, but his sailing from France was delayed for nearly two months.
American settlers believed that Spain had less than 400 half-starved soldiers at Pensacola, and they met at St. John’s Plains in West Florida on July 25 to discuss the future of the territory also claimed by Spain. Those wanting a separate state to turn it over to the US Army were a majority and were willing to leave the cooperative Governor de Lassus in office. On September 23 the West Florida convention army stormed the garrison at Baton Rouge and declared the Republic of West Florida. Their declaration reached Madison on October 25, and two days later he claimed this West Florida territory west of the Perdido River for the United States based on the 1803 Louisiana Purchase treaty with France. Governor William Claiborne was to take possession and govern it as part of the Orleans Territory. Claiborne immediately went from Washington DC to Washington, the capital of the Mississippi Territory, where he distributed the proclamation in English, French, and Spanish. However, Congress and the public did not even learn about this executive action until December 5 when Madison explained this and his proclamation against England in his second annual message.
Claiborne took possession of West Florida on December 7 but only east to the Pearl River, and he began negotiating with Spanish Governor Juan Vicente Folch for the land between the Pearl and the Perdido. Governors Claiborne and Holmes with the militia planned to go to West Florida early in the new year. Federalists complained that American troops had invaded, but on January 15, 1811 the Republican Congress authorized $100,000 to move American troops into East Florida “if the local authorities were willing to deliver it up or if any foreign power attempted to occupy it.” They also passed legislation that put the disputed West Florida under the jurisdiction of the Orleans Territory. That month General George Matthews led a task force into East Florida but reported to Senator William H. Crawford that it would be difficult to hold the territory.
In the 1810 fiscal year the national debt was reduced by about $4 million to about $53 million, and in 1811 the debt was reduced another $4 million. That year expenditures were about $8 million while revenues were $13.5 million. Spending on the Navy, which had been nearly $3 million in 1809, fell to $1.6 million in 1810, and Congress appropriated only $1.87 million for 1811.
The 1810 census counted 230,760 people in Ohio and 406,511 in Kentucky. There were 1,191,362 slaves and 186,466 free Africans in the United States out of a population of 7,239,881 people. In the elections the Republicans won every state in New England except Connecticut, and Massachusetts finally rejected Timothy Pickering. The Federalists lost another seat in the Senate and were to be outnumbered 30-6. In the House the Republicans gained 15 seats, giving them 107 representatives to 36 Federalists. The war hawks Henry Clay and Richard M. Johnson of Kentucky, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, and Felix Grundy of Tennessee were elected. Clay argued they were fighting for “free trade and seamen’s rights” which became the American motto for the war.
On January 3, 1811 President Madison sent a secret message to Congress declaring that the United States would not let any part of a neighboring territory “pass from the hands of Spain into those of any other foreign power.”2 He commissioned General George Matthews and Col. John McKee to take over East Florida and redeliver it if a lawful sovereign insisted. On January 8 about 400 slaves joined a rebellion that began on the plantation of Major Andry near New Orleans. Major Andry and other planters hunted for them in the woods and killed or executed 66 and recaptured 16.
The February 2 deadline went by, and Napoleon had not cancelled his decrees, and on March 17 at the Tuileries he announced to deputies of the Hanseatic League that the Berlin and Milan decrees were fundamental laws of his empire. Jonathan Russell was in charge of the American legation in Paris, and on April 4 he wrote that no American ship had been allowed entry since February 4 without a license.
The charter of the United States Bank was set to expire after twenty years and needed to be renewed by Congress; but on February 20, 1811 the Senate voted 17-17, and Vice President George Clinton cast the deciding vote against the bill, ending the first Bank of the United States. Madison and many others had argued that the Constitution did not authorize Congress to create a bank; some were concerned about the concentration of financial power; stockholders in the state banks opposed the competition; others resented that two-thirds of the bank’s stock was held by foreigners; and some just wanted to attack Gallatin. After Congress adjourned on March 3, Gallatin submitted his resignation, but Madison would not do without his capable Secretary of the Treasury. However, they began making plans to replace the Secretary of State Robert Smith with James Monroe.
In the spring of 1811 Congress appropriated funds to support the Salem Meeting House Baptists in the Mississippi Territory and the Episcopal church in Alexandria in the District of Columbia, but President Madison vetoed both bills because of the first amendment prohibition against the governmental establishment of religion.
In a speech in May at Buffalo Creek, New York the Seneca Chief Red Jacket told his American brothers that their application to buy their lands was made in a crooked manner. They remembered how the New Yorkers purchased their lands in the past piece by piece with little money paid to a few men in their nation. If they sell any more they will have no place to live. When they sold their eastern lands, they were determined to keep the rest; but now they want them to sell more land and move west. Red Jacket told them to tell their employers that they have no right to buy and sell the false rights to their lands.
In late May near New York harbor the HMS Little Belt attacked the USS President which retaliated with a broadside. The new British minister John Foster was not aware of this incident when he was instructed to negotiate a solution to the Chesapeake incident. He was also told to object to the seizing of West Florida as unprovoked and unjustifiable. Madison did not recognize Napoleon’s brother on the Spanish throne and would not discuss this. Madison first received Foster on July 2, but he found he had little to offer. The British wanted proof that Napoleon had cancelled his decrees. The French later claimed that Napoleon had signed a new decree at Saint-Cloud on April 28 to carry out the promises of the Cadore letter; but this was not known in the United States until much later, and it was believed that the decree had been postdated a year later.
The death of Justice William Cushing in the fall of 1810 and then of Samuel Chase on June 19 gave Madison two appointments to the Supreme Court. The Senate rejected Alexander Wolcott of Connecticut, and Republican convert John Quincy Adams was confirmed unanimously but declined. Madison finally chose his friend, the Treasury comptroller Gabriel Duvall, and 31-year-old Joseph Story, and they were confirmed by acclamation on November 15.
On December 19 Farmers-Brother of the Seneca sent a letter to Secretary of War William Eustis complaining that in the 1797 Treaty at Big Tree the $100,000 they got from Robert Morris when they sold most of their land, which they were told would be planted in a field that would bear seed forever, has become barren.
On January 15, 1811 Virginia’s Governor John Tyler had resigned to become a federal judge, and the legislators elected James Monroe governor. President Madison had found Secretary of State Robert Smith so incompetent that he had to write his important letters for him. He learned that Smith had told the British chargé d’affaires that the President was bluffing and that if the English persisted the American sanction would fall apart because Madison knew that Napoleon’s decrees were still in effect. The President knew by previous precedent that he could dismiss a cabinet officer without the consent of the Senate, and he forced Smith to resign. Smith was offered the diplomatic position in Russia, but he wanted London and was refused. Smith retaliated by publishing a 40-page pamphlet in June that was also printed in many newspapers. Madison then appointed his fellow Virginian James Monroe who began running the State Department on April 1, though his unanimous confirmation by the Senate did not occur until November 25.
The new British minister August Foster arrived at Annapolis on June 29, and Madison met with him on July 2. Foster was instructed to delay offering reparations for the Chesapeake incident until they determined how many British sailors had been killed on the Little Belt. On May 16 John Rodgers, who commanded the USS President, thought the British sloop Little Belt was the HMS Gurreiere, and after hailing it shots were exchanged. In the American investigation fifty officers testified that the Little Belt had fired the first shot, but the British had other accounts. News arrived in the middle of July that American ships sequestered in France since November 2 had been freed. Joel Barlow was appointed minister to France and sailed in late summer. The Spanish Governor Folch refused to give up Mobile and Pensacola, and Madison told the eager Claiborne to hold what they had gained without violence.
On June 24, 1811 Indiana Governor William Henry Harrison had sent a letter to Chief Techumseh and the Prophet Tenskwatawa in which he said that their seizing of salt meant for other tribes was enough reason to go to war. Techumseh visited Vincennes on July 27 with about two or three hundred warriors and told Harrison that he was going south to invite the Creeks into his confederation. Four days later citizens met at Vincennes and resolved that the settlement at Tippecanoe should be broken up. While Madison was at his Montpelier home, Secretary of War Eustis sent 500 more regulars from Pittsburgh to Harrison with the message that if the Prophet threatened war, he should be attacked. Joseph H. Daveiss of Kentucky wrote to Harrison on August 24 offering to volunteer, and he told people he planned to take the field on September 20 with the backing of the government. The last orders from the War Department on August 29 had not changed the President’s instructions to maintain the peace. Meanwhile Tecumseh spent six months in the south.
Col. Boyd arrived in the Indiana Territory in early September with 300 infantry. Harrison and his army spent three weeks building a fort later named after him. On October 10 a sentinel was wounded, and demands sent to the Prophet by Indian emissaries were rejected. Eustis sent him another message suggesting an attack without having consulted the President. The fort was completed on October 28, and Harrison moved his army up the Wabash River. He sent a letter with friendly Indians to the Prophet demanding that the Winnebagos, Potawatomies, and Kickapoos at Tippecanoe return to their tribes and that they surrender stolen horses and murderers. On November 5 Harrison’s army arrived within eleven miles of Tippecanoe. They advanced again and camped within 150 yards of the Prophet’s town.
On November 7 the Army camp was attacked before dawn by about 450 warriors. About one-fifth of the American soldiers were killed or wounded; but they held their ground and then charged and burned the Indians’ town. In the two hours of battle the Americans had 61 killed and 127 wounded, and the bodies of 38 Indians were found on the field. The Indians deserted the town, and Harrison claimed the tribes had suffered their worst defeat by white people. The Army’s cattle had been driven away, and they had little food. After throwing away personal baggage they used all the wagons to transport the wounded as they marched back to Vincennes, reaching it November 18 without losing another man. However, Indians retaliated against settlers in the region.
The 12th Congress did not meet until November 4, 1811, and Henry Clay of Kentucky was elected the youngest Speaker of the House ever at the age of 34. He had supported Jefferson’s embargo so strongly that he fought a duel over it. In his third annual message on November 5 President Madison noted that the United States had grievances against both the French and the British, and he requested harbor fortifications and more ships for the Navy. Gallatin advised him to moderate the militancy of his speech and to continue non-intercourse because measures necessary for war would be unpopular and could result in defeat and a disgraceful peace. The President still warned the British that attacks on commerce must cease, or war could result. Madison indicated the war was a ways off when he said he was going to wait for the return of the Hornet in the spring. Foster was told that the President would not send a minister to London until the British stopped warring on American commerce, but this prevented a top diplomat from being there to negotiate peace. Madison also reported the American victory against the Indian revolt at Tippecanoe.
Techumseh returned from the south, and he visited Vincennes on March 1, 1812 with eighty Indians. He told Harrison that he had consulted with the tribes during the winter, and they all wanted peace. Harrison gave him permission to visit Washington. Hostilities increased as a few settlers were murdered in various places in April. Harrison reported on May 6 that most of the citizens in the region had abandoned their farms. On the 16th Tecumseh gave a speech to the tribes at Massassinway on the Wabash favoring peace, and he said the murders had been committed by the Potawatomis. He refrained from retaliating for Harrison’s having invaded and taken over disputed territory.
New York’s Mayor DeWitt Clinton and Gouverneur Morris persuaded the President to endorse their ambitious plan to build the Erie Canal, though Madison believed federal funding might not be constitutional. The steamboat New Orleans was built in Pittsburgh in 1811 and was the first to operate on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, but the first steamboat to return upstream to Pittsburgh was the Enterprise in 1816. John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company competed against the Canadian North West Company, but in 1811 they agreed to divide the western trade that gave Astor’s South West Company trading rights east of the Rocky Mountains and the Canadians the territory farther west.
Congress debated war in December, and they voted 97-22 to arm merchant ships. Senator Giles proposed raising 25,000 men for five years. On January 11, 1812 President Madison signed the Giles bill that enlarged the Army to 35,000 men, though no funds were appropriated to enlist, arm, or clothe them. The Federalists hoped that the necessary taxes would ruin Madison, but he signed the bill. In arguing for 50,000 volunteers Madison reported that 6,200 American seamen had been impressed into the Royal Navy, but the bill called for militiamen who were not supposed to be used for foreign service. The Senate cut the House’s appropriation of $3 million to $l million. In the debate over a Navy bill Secretary of the Treasury Gallatin estimated that a war could cost $50 million. He advised direct taxes for $3 million, additional excises for $2 million, and the rest to be borrowed at $10 million per year. Gallatin reported that during the first year of restored trade exports to Britain and her allies Spain and Portugal had been $38,500,000 compared to only $1,194,000 to France and Italy. The Republican House voted down 59-62 the bill for new frigates.
Madison ordered Joel Barlow to work for reducing French tariffs and abolishing their licenses. On March 6 Madison wrote to Jefferson that the House had passed the taxes in preparation for war. The State Department paid $50,000 for the letters of Captain Henry which showed that the British had tried to destroy the American Union by connecting Eastern states to Great Britain. President Madison had all the names of Americans erased, hoping that this warning would bring them back to reuniting against the common enemy. Monroe admitted to the French minister that they used Henry’s documents to excite the nation and the Congress for war.
In March 1812 the United States had only 5,000 soldiers fit for duty, and Madison requested 5,000 more; but Senator Giles called for a total of 25,000 with provision for 50,000 more volunteers. Congress enacted another embargo, but it was not to go into effect until July 4. The war hawks in Congress blamed the British for the impressments by the Royal Navy, the Orders in Council by the cabinet, and for supporting the Indian insurrection in the northwest.
On April 1 Madison requested a general embargo law for sixty days; but the Senate increased it to ninety days, and the President signed the bill into law on the 4th. The National Intelligencer called for “open and manly war.” Although this editorial was attributed to the hawkish Henry Clay, it was actually written by Secretary of State James Monroe. Madison asked for two assistant secretaries in the War Department, and both houses favored the bill; but Senator Leib shelved it by postponing a House amendment. Vice President George Clinton died on April 20.
General Matthews led 200 American adventurers into East Florida and took over Amelia Island on March 16, and J. H. McIntosh with only eight followers declared independence. The Spaniards surrendered the province south to the St. John’s River, and McIntosh ceded it to the United States. On April 4 Monroe wrote to Matthews to disavow the seizure of Amelia Island, and Madison replaced Matthews with Georgia’s Governor D. B. Mitchell and instructed him to return the occupied territory to Spain. However, he also ordered him to remain there to protect the inhabitants. Controversial territory was not included in the slave state of Louisiana so that it could be admitted into the Union in April as the 18th state and the first to be added that was not connected to another state. The state of Tennessee prohibited the importation of slaves.
Meanwhile Madison had been supported for re-election by the legislators in Virginia in February and by those in Pennsylvania on March 7. Madison hoped that Castlereagh’s letter might still prevent war. However, on April 14 an editorial in the National Intelligencer called for a war. On May 6 in Albany 800 citizens signed a petition asking for repeal of the embargo. In the spring British ships began to use more forbearance with American ships and citizens, and captains at Halifax and Bermuda were ordered to keep clear of the American coast to avoid incidents. On May 18 the 82 Republicans who met as a caucus in Congress voted unanimously for Madison to be the Republican candidate for President. The next day the Hornet returned to New York, and its long-awaited dispatches reached Washington three days later; but there was no indication the Orders-in-Council would change.
On June 1 Congress received documents and read Madison’s war message behind closed doors. The President laid out the many violations Americans had suffered from the British because they wanted to monopolize commerce. Two days later young John Calhoun read a war manifesto attributed to the House Committee on Foreign Relations, but it actually had been written by Secretary of State Monroe. Calhoun then introduced the war bill drafted by Attorney General William Pinkney. Monroe wanted to limit the war to the high seas, and Gallatin agreed with him; but attempts to limit the war to the seas failed in Congress. Republicans were afraid to enact taxes to pay for the imminent war because they did not want to endanger Madison’s re-election. Many wanted war for economic reasons. Planters in South Carolina and Georgia suffered from low prices for cotton, and farmers in the Ohio valley had difficulty getting their produce to markets. Southerners also wanted to take Florida from Spain, and northerners and western expansionists hoped to get Canada. On June 4 the House voted for war 79-49 with the Federalists and 15 Republicans in opposition. The Senate voted 19-13 for unrestricted war on the 17th. All 39 Federalists in Congress voted against the war. The next day the House approved the Senate’s amendments, and Madison signed it. His proclamation of war was published in the National Intelligencer on June 20, and the United States was at war against the British. Congress adjourned on July 6 after passing 143 laws.
The English actually repealed the Orders in Council and told the Parliament on June 16, and one week later the British ended their system of blockades and licenses. However, newspapers with the text of the repeal did not reach Washington until August 13, and that was too late to stop the war. Madison sent a courier to London to request an armistice. His demands that the British stop impressments, release American seamen, pay an indemnity for seized American ships, and end its blockades of European ports were sent to the British cabinet on August 24 but were rejected five days later.
When the war began in June 1812, the United States had only about 6,744 regular soldiers with little experience and 5,000 recruits in training. So far the military academy at West Point had graduated less than a hundred officers. Republicans had argued in 1798 that the Constitution does not allow state militia to fight outside the national borders. Now Federalists and Republicans opposed to the war used this argument. To raise an army of 10,000 men they raised the bounty for enlistment from $12 to $31 and 160 acres of land. They planned to add 25,000 regulars and 50,000 volunteers for one year, and the Congress authorized the President to call up 100,000 militia for six months. They also appropriated $1,900,000 to purchase arms and military supplies. Americans did not know that the British had 6,000 regulars in Canada and 2,100 Canadian auxiliaries and about 3,000 Indian allies. The US Navy had less than a dozen seaworthy ships while the Royal Navy had some eighty ships at Halifax and in the West Indies with nearly 700 warships at sea. Madison approved a three-pronged invasion of Canada advised by Secretary of War Eustis and General Dearborn.
The Americans called a council at Fort Wayne in June, and older chiefs opposed to Tecumseh were for supporting the United States in the war against the British. However, Tecumseh disagreed and argued that this was the opportunity for the Indians to unite and ally with the British to win at least a portion of the land of their fathers that would be respected by the King. He believed that if the country passed into the hands of the “Long Knives,” meaning the Americans, then it would not be long before the remnants of their tribes between the Mississippi, the Great Lakes, and the Ohio River would be driven west. Twice when an American envoy handed him peace pipes, Tecumseh broke them in two. Then he marched with the Shawnees, Delawares, and Kickapoos who supported him to Fort Malden to fight with the British. They were joined by Wyandots, Chippewas, and Sioux, and Black Hawk led warriors of the Sauk, Foxes, and Winnebagos.
Baltimore with 47,000 people was the third largest city in the nation, and on June 20 the Federal Republican published by Alexander Contee Hanson and Jacob Wagner opposed the war, angering Republicans. The next evening a crowd of several hundred men gathered at the newspaper office, and led by Philip Lewis they destroyed the building. Riots went on for several weeks; but city officials refused to call out the militia until the church was threatened. On July 27 the Federal Republican published an editorial on “mobocracy” that denounced the violence. That evening youths gathered at the Hanson house and taunted the Federalists by throwing rocks. Men joined them but refused to disperse until the Federalist fired warning explosives in the air. The mob led by Dr. Thadeus Gale came back and pushed through the door. The Federalist fired, killing Gale and wounding others. Brigadier John Stricker ordered Major William Barney to summon his cavalry; but they refused to come to the scene until two magistrates signed the order at three in the morning. By six the crowd had grown to about two thousand. The militia marched to the jail while people threw cobblestones at them. After dinner the crowd became unruly, and the laborer George Wooleslager led a mob that broke in and captured Federalists, severely beating nine of them including Hanson and “Light-Horse” Harry Lee. Brigadier General James M. Lingan was stabbed and died.
A third riot occurred on August 3 at the Baltimore post office where the newspapers were distributed to subscribers. The city was disturbed for another week, and officials stationed a guard at the post office and proclaimed a curfew. A grand jury indicted several of the leaders on several charges, but only one man was convicted and sentenced to a small fine. Many Federalists denounced this violence, but riots against those opposing the war also occurred outside of Maryland. Yet the publicity caused many more people who opposed the war to subscribe to the Federal Republican.
William Hull had been governing the Michigan Territory since 1805, and he volunteered and was appointed a general. He was ordered to cut a road from Urbana in Ohio 200 miles to Fort Detroit. He was in command of 2,000 troops when he learned on July 1 that the war had begun. On the 9th he received the order from War Secretary Eustis to attack the British at Fort Malden; but he delayed until they were reinforced. On July 17 the British without a fight took over Fort Mackinac that was known for its fur-trading by the straits of the great lakes Huron, Erie, and Superior. On August 4 Hull sent 200 men to meet the 230 militiamen from Ohio led by Captain Henry Brush, but Tecumseh and his warriors trapped the relief convoy and killed many soldiers. He also captured Hull’s dispatches and sent them to the British at Malden. Four days later Hull sent another force of 600 men; but British troops crossed the River Raisin and attacked them with Tecumseh who was wounded in the battle.
On August 13 General Isaac Brock arrived at Fort Malden with 300 British reinforcements, and Tecumseh persuaded him to attack Detroit. Brock let a courier be captured by the Americans with a report that 5,000 Indians were coming to join Tecumseh. Hull had ordered Fort Dearborn at Chicago evacuated. Terms were arranged, and the Americans marched out of the fort on August 15; but about 500 Potawatomis led by Blackbird attacked them, and many whites including Captain William Wells were killed. The next day Brock led 730 British soldiers across the river and attacked Detroit. Hull felt trapped in the Michigan Territory and surrendered after only seven men were killed. Tecumseh made sure that the prisoners were well treated. Brock paroled the 1,600 militiamen from Ohio but interned the 582 American regulars in Canada, and he proclaimed Michigan part of Britain. Eventually the British released William Hull, and he was convicted of cowardice by a court martial. He was sentenced to be shot, but President Madison pardoned him.
On August 19 Captain Isaac Hull on the USS Constitution sank the Guerriere, killing 15, wounding 78, and capturing 257 men. General Henry Dearborn was supposed to take Montreal, but he divided his forces. In the Niagara campaign the Americans had 6,400 troops facing about 2,300 British and Indians. General Solomon Van Ransselaer led an attack on Queenstown on October 13. After 1,300 Americans retreated, 60 were killed, 170 were wounded, and 764 surrendered. Van Rensselaer resigned. General Dearborn trained 5,000 troops and marched them north in mid-November; but the state militia refused to cross the Canadian border because they believed they were to fight only within their state. By Thanksgiving in 1812 the invasion of Canada was called off, and General Alexander Smyth withdrew the American forces even though the Canadian frontier was only guarded by a token force.
In New England many people were opposed to the war. In August 1812 a Boston town meeting condemned the war, and Massachusetts Governor Caleb Strong refused to send the militia to aid the invasion of Canada. The British sought a truce in Canada and tried to negotiate a permanent peace, but Madison urged Dearborn to march on Montreal. The British tried to win over New England, and the Royal Navy exempted that region from its blockade of the coast south to Georgia and of New Orleans.
Although they opposed Madison’s war, the Federalists did not do that well in the elections. DeWitt Clinton was their presidential candidate, and the Federalists made gains in New England. Clinton won all of New England except Vermont and New York and New Jersey and got 5 of Maryland’s electoral votes; but Madison won all the southern and western states, giving him a 128-89 vote victory in the electoral college. The Republicans retained a 114-68 majority in the House and a 22-14 advantage in the Senate. Madison sent his annual address to Congress on November 4 when the election was still uncertain. He called for expanding the Army and the Navy and proposed revising the militia laws. Government expenditures increased from $20 million in 1812 to $32 million in 1813.
On October 12 Secretary of War Eustis had called out 1,500 militia from Tennessee to defend the lower country, but he resigned on December 3, the day the electoral college met. For two months Monroe ran the State and War departments, but western Congressman objected. Navy Secretary Paul Hamilton was seen drunk and also resigned.
On January 8, 1813 Madison nominated John Armstrong to be Secretary of War and William Jones of Pennsylvania to be Secretary of the Navy. General Harrison sent Brigadier General James Winchester to protect settlers at Frenchtown, and they drove away the British on January 18; but four days later Col. Henry Proctor with 1,200 British soldiers and Indians from Fort Amherstburg counter-attacked at the River Raisin. Winchester was captured and surrendered his army that suffered 410 Americans killed, 81 wounded, and 547 captured while the British lost only 26 killed and 161 wounded.
Madison said that negotiations with Spain had broken down, and he asked Congress for authority to annex both Floridas; but on February 2 the proposal was defeated by Federalists and other northerners. Armstrong took over the War Department on February 5 and began planning attacks by the US Army of 58,000 men. Although the United States had only 16 ships in their Navy, by the end of the war nearly 500 privateers had been authorized to harass British merchant ships. In 1813 American ships seized more than 400 British ships, most of them by privateers. The True-Blooded Yankee captured 27 prizes while sailing around the British Isles in 37 days.
Congress in January had authorized Treasury Secretary Gallatin to borrow $16 million to pay for the war. Bankers in New England raised less than $1 million in bonds, but the financiers David Parish, Stephen Girard, and John Jacob Astor loaned the rest for 7.48% interest which was considerably higher than the usual 5.4%. Thus Gallatin got $5,720,000 from New York and $6,800,000 from Philadelphia. While reporting on Napoleon’s retreat from Russia, Joel Barlow had died in Poland on December 26, 1812. Madison selected Senator William Crawford to replace him in Paris.
On March 4, 1813 Madison began his second term, and in his inaugural address he talked about the justice of war and fighting to maintain their independence from British oppression. Czar Alexander I of Russia offered to mediate a peace treaty.
War Secretary Armstrong was politically ambitious and considered Harrison and Monroe his rivals for the presidency. General James Wilkinson led an attack on West Florida in early 1813 and captured the British garrison of 80 men at Mobile on April 15. Armstrong sent General Dearborn across Lake Ontario to attack Kingston, but he and the naval Captain Isaac Chauncey attacked York (now Toronto) instead on April 27. The Americans triumphed, but Brigadier Zebulon Pike was killed. The Americans had 55 men killed and 265 wounded while the Canadians lost 82 dead, 112 wounded, and 274 captured. In the next three days the Americans burned the public buildings of the Legislative Assembly in Upper Canada’s little capital, destroying the printing press. The British would retaliate for this by burning the Capitol and White House in Washington in August 1814. On May 27, 1813 Dearborn’s army captured Fort George at the mouth of the Niagara by Lake Ontario.
Tecumseh had visited the south again in the fall of 1812 and helped inspire the Creek Confederation. By April 1813 Tecumseh had returned to Malden with 600 recruits from Illinois tribes. General Brock had been killed at Niagara, and Tecumseh considered Col. Henry Procter incompetent for not stopping a massacre of prisoners. On April 25 a thousand British led by Procter and 1,200 Indians led by Tecumseh besieged Fort Meigs that was defended by 1,100 men under General Harrison. On May 5 Brigadier General Green Clay arrived with 1,200 men and attacked the British; but while pursuing the retreating British the disorganized Kentucky militia were counter-attacked by Tecumseh’s warriors and suffered 160 killed, 190 wounded, and 530 captured plus 100 wounded prisoners. The British lost only 14 killed, 47 wounded, and 41 captured, but the strong fort was not taken. Once again Proctor allowed prisoners to be killed by Indians, and Tecumseh intervened to protect them and told Proctor that he was unfit for command and should put on petticoats. Tecumseh said he conquered to save while Proctor did so to murder.
Madison summoned the new Congress for an early session to begin on May 24 instead of the usual December. He appointed James Bayard and Gallatin to go to the peace conference at St. Petersburg to join John Quincy Adams who was already there. The American mission departed on May 9, but the Senate rejected this effort and Madison’s appointment of a minister to Sweden. The President approved Gallatin’s proposed direct tax of $3 million and a loan authorization for $7.5 million. Madison was ill with what he thought was influenza for more than a month, and in June the British fleet arrived in Chesapeake Bay near the capital. Vice President Elbridge Gerry was also ill, and Senate president pro-tem Giles thought he might become president. Madison recovered and left Washington’s heat to go home for a while in late July.
On August 30 the Red Stick Creeks attacked Fort Minns north of Mobile, and they killed 517 of the defenders including women and children. During this massacre a few whites escaped in the woods, and Indians carried off some black slaves.
On September 10 Commander Oliver Hazard Perry, while flying the banner “Don’t give up the ship” led nine ships against the British squadron on Lake Erie and defeated them. He reported to General Harrison, “We have met the enemy, and they are ours.” Harrison and his army of 3,000 men attacked the British near Thamesville, Ontario on October 5 and won another victory, and this time Chief Tecumseh was killed. Casualties on both sides were light, but about 570 British soldiers were captured. Two days later the Americans burned Moraviantown. On October 16 Harrison agreed to an armistice with the Potawatomis, Miamis, Ottawas, Ojibwas, Weas, and Wyandots. Armstrong persuaded Madison to dismiss Dearborn, and General Wilkinson was chosen to attack Kingston. Wilkinson accused General Hammond of drunkenness, and Madison replaced them both with Jacob Brown and George Izard. By November the British had the entire Atlantic coast south of New England under a blockade.
General Andrew Jackson was leading a campaign against the Creeks called Red Sticks because they used red clubs. On October 4 he assembled 5,000 militiamen at Fayetteville. On November 3 he sent General John Coffee with 900 Tennessee militia and volunteers and some friendly Cherokees, and they killed 186 Red Sticks in the Battle of Tallushatchee. Jackson learned that 1,100 Red Sticks were besieging friendly Creeks at Talladega, and on November 9 his force of 1,200 infantry and 800 cavalry killed about 300 of them. Jackson did not want his men to leave his army and threatened to shoot those who tried. John Woods refused to obey orders, and he was court-martialed and shot. On the 29th General John Floyd with 950 troops from Georgia and about 400 friendly Creeks led by William McIntosh attacked Autosee and burned it along with Tallassee, killing about 200 Indians.
Madison sent his annual message to Congress on December 7 on the war, and he reported that the British had declined the Russian mediation offer. Congress met in secret and passed the Embargo Act that Madison signed on the 17th. The embargo prohibited all American ships and goods from being exported and banned customary imports from Britain, some foreign ships from trading in American ports, and ransoming ships. The army authorization was increased to 62,500 men.
The British regained Fort George in December, and on the 19th a British force of 562 men led by Col. John Murray made a surprise attack on Fort Niagara and captured 358 soldiers and its war supplies. Then the British led by General Phineas Riall invaded American territory and destroyed Lewiston and other towns. On December 30 they landed at Black Rock with 1,400 regulars and Indians, and they looted and burned Black Rock and Buffalo.
On December 30, 1813 a British ship delivered a diplomatic package to Annapolis proposing direct negotiations with the Americans in London or Gothenburg, Sweden. Madison sent Castlereagh’s letter to Congress with his letter of acceptance on January 6, 1814. Gallatin was still in Europe, and Madison suggested him as an envoy. The American commissioners left St. Petersburg in January. The absent Gallatin was removed from the cabinet by Congress, and on February 7 Madison appointed George W. Campbell of Tennessee to be Secretary of the Treasury; he was confirmed two days later. Because John Quincy Adams and Bayard might be deadlocked on impressments, Madison also nominated the popular war hawk Henry Clay and Jonathan Russell as commissioners. Congress decided against a draft but offered a bonus of $124 and 320 acres of public land to recruits, the greatest inducements for joining the military so far. Treasury Secretary Campbell estimated that $24,550,000 would be needed for the Army and $6,900,000 for the Navy in 1814, and he calculated that the annual deficit would be $29,400,000. Congress authorized a loan of $24 million and $5 million in Treasury notes and printing $5 million more if needed.
Andrew Jackson with about 2,000 infantry, 700 cavalry, and 600 Indian allies also defeated the Creeks at Horseshoe Bend on March 27, killing nearly 857 Red Sticks while only 47 Americans died. Jackson was made a major-general and was put in command at Mobile. He persuaded the Creeks to capitulate on August 9, and the Treaty of Fort Jackson transferred about 36 million square miles which was more than half their land.
Bankers were asked to raise another loan of $10 million in early 1814, the year many enlistments were set to expire. Monroe, who wanted to be the next president, urged Madison to remove Armstrong. New York’s Governor Daniel Tompkins asked the President for 2,500 troops to defend against the British invasion. Newspapers reported that New Englanders were negotiating a separate peace with Britain, and they began selling food across the Canadian border illegally. With additional revenues the Massachusetts legislature armed and trained their state militia of 70,000 men, but none of them fought the British in this war. Meanwhile the British rejected the Russian mediation. Madison got Congress to stop New England from trading with the enemy by adopting an embargo, and the Federalists became completely opposed to what they called “Mr. Madison’s war.”
On March 31, 1814 Madison sent a message to Congress recommending the end of the embargo and resuming exports and imports in American ships and those owned by nations at peace with the United States. Both bills passed, and the President signed them on April 14. William Pinkney replaced Caesar Rodney as Attorney General but quit when Congress required him to live in Washington. Madison appointed Richard Rush of Pennsylvania who edited the Laws of the United States from 1789 to 1815. Congress authorized funds to launch Fulton’s first Steam Frigate. Secretary of War Armstrong accused General Harrison of not keeping good accounts, and the hero of Tippecanoe resigned.
In the late spring the American and British diplomats agreed to move the peace negotiations from Sweden to Ghent in Belgium, but they were not ready to begin meeting again until July 6. On June 4 Madison sent instructions to seek no gains and no concessions on either side with disputed boundaries settled by joint commissions. The British impressments of American sailors had already ended. Meanwhile on April 25 the British had extended their blockade to New England ports so that it covered the entire coast of the United States from New Brunswick to Texas. Napoleon’s abdication on April 11 freed British forces to come to America, and about 13,000 veterans would come to Canada by September, increasing their forces there to 30,000.
On July 5 General Jacob Brown recaptured Fort Erie in the Battle of Chippewa. Brown’s army of 2,600 regulars failed to join Commodore Chauncey at Fort George, and the British and American armies both suffered a beating at Lundy’s Lane on July 25. Brown reported that he had 171 men killed and 572 wounded while Upper Canada’s Governor and General Gordon Drummond lost 84 killed and 559 wounded. Navy Secretary Jones removed Chauncey and gave Stephen Decatur command of Lake Ontario. General Izard moved 4,000 men from Plattsburg to Sackett’s Harbor in August, and the British siege of Fort Erie begun on August 4 was lifted on September 21. The Americans had 213 killed, 565 wounded, and 240 captured while the British suffered 283 killed, 508 wounded, and 748 captured. George Prevost organized 10,000 men at Montreal and invaded the United States on August 31. On September 6 about 8,000 of them attacked the Americans on the north shore of the Saranac River, and the Battle of Plattsburg went on for six days with only 272 dying on both sides. The American invasion of Canada had accomplished little or nothing.
Madison anticipated a British attack on Washington and asked for 10,000 men, but Armstrong did not agree with him. At a cabinet meeting on July 1 they assumed they had 3,140 regular troops and 10,000 militiamen to defend Washington. Monroe learned of warnings from Gallatin in London and Crawford in Paris, and he advised the President to prepare for an attack. However, Secretary of War Armstrong argued that the militia should not be called out until the enemy was strong enough to attack. On July 15 General Moses Porter informed Armstrong that another British squadron had entered Chesapeake Bay. When Armstrong did authorize General William Winder to mobilize 2,000 from Virginia and 5,000 from Pennsylvania, his letter sent by ordinary mail did not reach Winder for 22 days.
On August 9 Madison and his cabinet visited Fort Washington, and he called for a special session of Congress to begin on September 19; he put General Winder in command of the capital’s defense. He requested 6,000 men from Maryland while Armstrong dismissed the rumor that the British would attack from the Chesapeake. General Philip Stuart, who was also a Congressman, asked for more ammunition and stronger guns, and Madison over-ruled Armstrong and had munitions and 350 regulars sent to Stuart at Upper Marlboro. On August 20 General Winder ordered three regiments from Baltimore to go to Washington.
Major General Robert Ross had commanded English forces against Napoleon, and he led 3,400 British regulars and 700 Royal Marines from a squadron in Chesapeake Bay that landed on August 22. Now the people of Washington realized they were being invaded, and many fled. The next morning Madison and Monroe rode through Winder’s camp. The President sent a message to his wife Dolley to prepare to flee, and others had already clogged the roads out of Washington. Madison, Armstrong, and Jones returned to the capital that afternoon, and at midnight Monroe’s warning that the enemy was marching on Washington reached the President.
The British attacked Bladensburg on August 24, and Madison prudently retreated. Armstrong admitted to the President that he had not yet talked to General Winder about arranging defense. The American militiamen outnumbered the British; but Winder ordered 2,000 men to retreat before firing a shot, and many fled from the British veterans. They pillaged and burned, and some Americans looted too. The British concentrated on the main buildings of the government, leading many to believe that a spy was guiding them. They burned the Capitol, the State-War-Navy building, and every nonmilitary public building except the one that housed the General Post Office and Patent Office. The Library of Congress with its thousands of books was destroyed. Dolley Madison organized the removal of the important documents and Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of Washington from the White House before the British came and burned the building. The President crossed the Potomac to Virginia, but he returned to Washington three days later. For more than four days the 63-year-old Madison spent more than 15 hours a day on horseback arranging for public safety and to find the shortest way to resume contact with the Army.
The mayor of Alexandria capitulated to the British and on August 29 delivered their naval stores and private merchandise which filled 21 ships seized by the British. Commodore Rodgers was sent from Baltimore with 650 seamen to protect Georgetown. General Samuel Smith, who was also a senator, took command of about 9,000 soldiers, and he ordered Winder to turn over 3,185 regulars to General John Stricker who defended Baltimore behind barricades. When Admiral Alexander Cochrane anchored nearly fifty ships fourteen miles below Baltimore on September 11, Smith had 15,588 men. Two days later they learned that about 8,000 British soldiers and marines had landed. On the 13th they attacked Baltimore, and an American sharpshooter mortally wounded General Ross. Cochrane used his fleet to bombard Fort McHenry and sent 1,200 seamen on a flanking movement. The American guns proved to be more accurate as most of the British 1,500 rounds burst in the air. The American Prisoner Exchange Agent Col. John Stuart Skinner and Francis Scott Key were guests of British officers and were held during the battle because of their knowledge of British forces; but they were able to observe the battle, and Key wrote “The Star Spangled Banner.” The next morning the American flag was still flying over Fort McHenry. The British retreated, and on September 19 Cochrane’s fleet sailed for Halifax, leaving a few ships that stayed until October 14. The Royal Navy had captured naval stores, weapons, gunpowder, and 21 seaworthy American ships.
The Congress met in the Post Office and Patent Office building and debated moving the nation’s capital to Philadelphia. Dolley Madison found the Octagon House where the French minister had been staying, and the first family moved in there. The President held a cabinet meeting on August 29 and confronted Armstrong for his incompetence during the crisis. He claimed he was a victim of intrigue and offered to resign and did so in a letter on September 4. The next day Monroe once again temporarily took over the War Department in addition to the State Department, and he wrote to General Jackson that he should prepare for a British invasion of New Orleans, ignoring his request to attack Pensacola. Madison issued a proclamation complaining that the British had violated the rules of civilized warfare, especially since they had recently initiated peace negotiations.
On September 11 the British and Canadian forces at Plattsburg outnumbered the Americans three to one, but only 104 Americans were killed compared to 168 British. They were evenly matched on Lake Champlain where Captain Thomas Macdonough won an impressive victory, forcing Canada’s Governor General Prevost to retreat with 14,000 men. Congress authorized a regular army of 62,488, but on September 30 they had only 34,029 men. Vice President Elbridge Gerry died on November 23, and the Senate elected John Gaillard of South Carolina president pro tem to replace him.
Madison ordered Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia to increase Jackson’s militia to 15,000 plus 2,300 regulars. The Spanish governor ignored British warnings of an American attack on Pensacola. On November 7 Jackson violated his orders by attacking with 4,100 soldiers and Indians the 200 British who destroyed the Spanish forts and departed by sea. About 500 Spanish troops did not resist, and Jackson gave Pensacola back to the Spaniards and returned to Mobile. He moved into New Orleans on December 2 and found Claiborne’s volunteers there. Jackson promised free Africans in Louisiana the same rights as white volunteers if they enlisted for the duration of the war.
The peace in Europe meant that the British no longer needed to impress American sailors into their navy. Madison sent his annual message to Congress and said they were working for peace on honorable terms. As Clay was in Europe, the House elected Madison’s critic Langdon Cheves as speaker. They investigated the disaster in Washington, and Armstrong claimed that he was never given command in the field. The report ended up not blaming anyone. The Library of Congress had been burned, and Thomas Jefferson offered to sell his valuable collection for what Madison considered a low price. Congress debated the issue and appropriated $23,950 for the 6,487 books.
In 1814 John Taylor of Caroline published An Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United States. He was a Jeffersonian Republican and criticized the natural aristocracy ideas of John Adams and the capitalist aristocracy theory of Alexander Hamilton. He wrote that Adams argued that individuals are not equal biologically, enabling the more capable to dominate the weaker. Hamilton justified capitalist control of the economy by appealing to the security of property, fear of anarchy, and faith in the nation. However, Taylor believed that the social inequality of feudal, natural, or capitalistic aristocracies results from the exploitation based on accidental opportunity, unscrupulousness, and force. The masses have always been dominated by ruling classes whether royal, feudal, or ecclesiastical. Recently the capitalist class has emerged that exploits by using paper money, bank stocks, protective tariffs, and faith in credit and the national state. Workers, especially those on the land, are being exploited. Capitalists have no political principles and have even come to influence the powerful Republican party. Taylor suggested that the remedy is to remove their special privileges.
Federalists in New England still opposed the war, and in October the Massachusetts legislature recommended a regional convention by a vote of 260-90. Rhode Island and Connecticut agreed; but Vermont and New Hampshire declined, though some delegates from there went on their own. On December 15 the 26 delegates from New England met at Hartford and blamed Madison for the war, hoping to get concessions. The Convention proposed constitutional amendments to reduce the representation of slave states in Congress; to require a two-thirds vote to declare war, restrain commerce or admit new states; to exclude those born outside of the United States from federal offices; and to limit the President to one term. They also wanted to authorize the states to defend themselves and the country and to withhold the cost from federal taxes. If the war continued, they called for a new convention in June.
In the negotiations at Ghent the British asked for no American fishing off the Grand Banks, an Indian boundary favoring Canadian traders, no American navy in the Great Lakes, more territory for Canada in the northwest, and giving the British the right to navigate the Mississippi River. Clay persuaded his colleagues that the British were bluffing, and the Americans rejected all these arrogant demands. New York’s Governor Daniel Tompkins declined to be Secretary of State, and Madison kept Monroe on running two departments. Navy Secretary Jones resigned on December 19, and the President appointed Benjamin Crowninshield from Massachusetts to succeed him. Madison appointed Alexander Dallas of Pennsylvania to be Secretary of the Treasury.
The embargo took its toll in 1814. New York’s exports in 1811 had surpassed $12,250,000, but in 1814 they were only $209,000, and Virginia’s fell from more than $3 million in 1812 to $1,819,000 in 1813 and only $17,581 in 1814. On January 17, 1815 Treasury Secretary Dallas estimated that expenditures in 1815 would be $56 million which included paying $15.5 million on the debt while income with new taxes would only be $15.1 million. The United States Government needed to borrow $40.9 million, and the effective interest rate went up to 8.6%.
Congress authorized the President to call up 40,000 militiamen for twelve months, but they limited their use to their home state unless the state governor gave his consent. Madison signed the bill on January 27, and three days later he vetoed a bank bill. British and American delegates at Ghent signed a peace treaty on December 24, 1814, but the official dispatches would not reach the President until February 14, 1815. The Americans had compromised on neutral rights to gain concessions in the West. Thus the British abandoned the Indians to the land-hungry Americans.
General Andrew Jackson learned that fifty British ships had sailed from Jamaica bringing 10,000 men to New Orleans; but 12,000 volunteers were coming from Tennessee. On January 8 the British at New Orleans fought against General Jackson’s army after the war had officially ended. In one day of fighting before retreating they lost 291 killed, 1,267 wounded, and 484 captured or missing; the Americans had only 13 dead, 39 wounded, and 19 missing.
The report of the Hartford Convention did not become public until January 12, and the news of Jackson’s victory at New Orleans did not reach Washington until February 5. When people found out about the peace agreement on February 14, public opinion turned against the New Englanders of the Hartford Convention. The US Senate unanimously ratified the treaty on February 16, and the next day Madison proclaimed that the war was over. Gallatin had been the key negotiator, and he observed that the successful end to this war renewed the national feelings created by the Revolution and restored American pride. He hoped that the permanency of the Union had been secured.
In the War of 1812 the Americans suffered 2,260 military killed and 4,505 wounded out of the 60,000 regulars in the Army, 20,000 in the Navy and Marines, 10,000 volunteers, and 458,000 militia. British forces lost 1,160 killed and 3,679 wounded, but their military had 3,321 who died from disease. The United States spent $105 million on the war, and the government borrowed $80 million. American privateers took 1,700 merchant ships, and US ships won two-thirds of their battles against the Royal Navy. During the war manufacturing expanded greatly in the United States. By 1815 Connecticut had 25 woolen factories. After the war Madison called for an adequate regular Army, a permanent Navy, and a national bank.
On February 18, 1815 President Madison sent a special message to Congress asking for a regular Army, a stronger Navy, and other defensive measures. He proposed keeping 20,000 troops, but the House and Senate agreed on a standing army of 10,000 men. Congress provided pensions for the families of those killed and wounded in the war. Britain had 260,000 men under arms. The British refused to transport 4,700 American seamen in Dartmoor prison after the war ended. When some tried to escape in March 1815, British soldiers shot at them, killing seven and wounding sixty. Soon after this “massacre” the Americans were officially released. The Treaty of Ghent required Canada to return captured slaves or pay for them; but this was not resolved until 1827 when England agreed to pay £250,000 ($1,204,960) to settle all claims on private property; this legally freed about 3,600 former slaves.
On February 25 Madison informed Congress that the Dey of Algiers had cut down an American flag and was demanding his annual tribute while American sailors were still in his dungeons. The President asked Congress for a declaration of war against Algiers, and in the spring he sent a squadron of ten ships commanded by Stephen Decatur. They captured two ships, and the Dey promised to stop piracy, release all prisoners, and stop demanding annual tribute payments. This was followed by similar treaties with Tunis and Tripoli. Only one American died in the brief combat, though three were killed when a deck cannon exploded.
Congress ended their happy session on March 3. The Madisons went home to Virginia in late March and returned to Washington in early June. The President ordered troop strength cut back. A new commercial treaty was negotiated in London on July 3, and Gallatin and Clay sent the official version to Madison who was disappointed that the British had not agreed to stop discriminating against American goods. Although Americans were given limited trading rights in the British Isles and India, trade with the British West Indies and Canada had not been addressed. The Senate ratified the treaty in late December.
Madison sent the commissioners Governor William Clark of the Missouri Territory, Governor Ninian Edwards of the Illinois Territory, and the fur-trader Auguste Chouteau from St. Louis to meet with 2,000 Indians. Between July 18 and September 16 they agreed to the Treaties of Portage des Sioux that ended the wars with the Indians that had coincided with the British-American War. Chief Black Hawk refused to come; but eventually he was compelled and signed the last treaty. Delegates from the Fox and Sauk tribes had left in anger, and the Kickapoos and Winnebagos were not satisfied. Chief Black Thunder of the Fox said he would never surrender their lands but with his life because they had been cheated in the previous contract with the United States.
When the new Congress assembled, Henry Clay was elected Speaker by the House again. President Madison instructed John Quincy Adams to propose the mutual reduction of armaments in the Great Lakes, though he asked Congress to authorize three big warships on Lake Ontario. Madison sent his annual message to Congress in December and reviewed American achievements. He noted that the national debt had reached $120 million, but they had asserted their national rights and independence from the British. The war had cost the United States $68,783,122, and the paper money in circulation now was coincidentally $68 million. He asked for a protective tariff to aid enterprising citizens against competition from abroad, and he recommended consideration of a national bank. Treasury Secretary Dallas proposed a bank with a capital of $35 million with $7 million provided by the national government. Bank notes had increased from $80 million in 1811 to more than $200 million. The consumer price index, which had been 109 in 1789, reached 211 in 1814 and was 185 in 1815. Prices continued to decline to 169 in 1816.
The President and Secretary Dallas reprimanded General Andrew Jackson for violating freedom of the press and the courts by maintaining martial law after the war. He expelled the French consul and ordered 130 French sent to Baton Rouge. A Louisiana legislator protested, and Jackson had him arrested, defied a writ of habeas corpus, and deported the federal judge who issued the writ. Jackson favored American settlers over the land rights of Indian tribes, and Madison ordered federal officials to remove people who squatted on public lands whose titles were still being negotiated. Jackson was the Indian commissioner for the region between New Orleans and the east coast, and Madison ordered him not to obtain any land from those nations “upon principles inconsistent with their ideas of justice and right.”3
Indians no longer owned any land in Ohio, and the population of that state rose from 230,000 in 1810 to 400,000 in 1815. Settlers in the Indiana Territory wanted to become a state, and in 1815 the territorial legislature counted 63,897 residents. On March 30, 1816 the House of Representatives passed the enabling bill for Indiana 108-3; but they recommitted Mississippi’s petition because it would have become the largest state in the Union. Madison approved the bill to enable Indiana statehood on April 19. A constitutional convention met at Corydon on June 10, and the state constitution of Indiana banning slavery was proclaimed on the 29th. Congress made the free state of Indiana the 18th state on December 11. The defeat of the Tecumseh Confederacy in Indiana and the Creeks in the southwest had resulted in treaties and opening land to settlers who moved west after the war. The Mississippi Territory was divided in half, and Mississippi became a state on March 1, 1817.
In 1816 and 1817 the Americans rebuilt Fort Wayne and Fort Harrison in Indiana. Fort Shelby in Detroit and the forts Gratiot and Mackinac were garrisoned in Michigan. Fort Dearborn and Fort Clark were strengthened to protect settlers in the Illinois Territory. In 1816 they built Fort Edward in western Illinois, Fort Armstrong on Rock Island, Fort Crawford at Prairie du Chien, and Fort Howard by the mouth of the Fox River.
On March 7, 1816 Congressman Richard M. Johnson’s committee proposed changing congressional pay from $6 per day to an annual salary of $1,500, and the President, who made $25,000 a year, signed the Compensation Act on March 19. The next day the US Supreme Court in Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee upheld a previous decision that confirmed their power to rule on the decisions of state courts, and Justice Joseph Story wrote for the Court. Madison signed the bill to create a national bank on April 10, and he nominated five Republicans to be on the board of directors. The Bank would open for business in January 1817. On April 17, 1816 Congress created the Canal Commission to survey and plan the Lake Erie and Lake Champlain canals. Congress passed the tariff bill, and the President signed it on April 27. Southerners managed to get the direct tax cut in half, and the average rate of the tariff in 1816 was 20%. On the 29th Madison signed the Naval Expansion Act. In July United States troops and Indian allies led by Col. Duncan Clinch besieged Fort Blount in Florida for ten days until it surrendered. Four soldiers lost their lives, and they killed 270 fugitive slaves who had taken over the fort.
Federalist newspapers severely criticized the Compensation Act even though most Federalists voted for it. Only the Daily National Intelligencer in Washington approved the bill. Public meetings of protest were held around the country, and during the summer it was the most popular subject of discussion. Only one-third of the Congress returned the next year. Of the 81 members who voted for the bill, only 15 were re-elected while 31 of 67 who voted against it were returned to Congress. Only 9 of the 52 Federalists were re-elected, and their number fell to 35. The lame-duck Congress repealed the Compensation Act on January 23, 1817, and the next Congress voted to set their pay at $8 a day and $8 per 20 miles of travel.
Republicans had met in a caucus on March 16, and they chose James Monroe as their presidential candidate by a vote of 65-54 over William Crawford. They selected Daniel Tompkins to be Vice President by a much larger margin. Congress adjourned at the end of April. Madison had Monroe write to John Quincy Adams in London to negotiate with Castlereagh about armed vessels on the Great Lakes. The Madisons left Washington on June 5 and stayed at Montpelier through the summer and did not return to the capital until October 9. That summer lacked rain and was so cold that it was called the “year without summer.” The air was cooled because of the ash from the volcano on Sumbawa in Indonesia in April 1815. Harvests were bad, and the price of grain increased. The commodity price index went from 112 in 1815 to 202 in 1816. However, peace increased the trade that had been blocked, and American exports rose from $52.5 million in 1815 to $82 million in 1816 while imports increased from $113 million to $147 million.
On September 14 General Andrew Jackson signed a treaty with the Cherokees that promised peace and friendship with the United States forever. The Cherokees were forced to cede all their land south of the Tennessee River and west of a ridge and the Coosa River in exchange for $5,000 sixty days after the treaty was ratified and $6,000 annually for ten years. The treaty was ratified by the entire Cherokee nation at Turkey Town. The Chickasaws also made a treaty with Jackson on September 20 in which they ceded all their land on both sides of the Tennessee River and east of the Tombigbee River to the Choctaw border for $12,000 a year for ten years and $4,500 in gifts to influential chiefs who were secretly bribed. Jackson sent John Coffee, and he with John Rhea and John McKee negotiated a treaty with the Choctaws at the Choctaw Trading House on October 24 whereby that nation ceded their land east of the Tombigbee River for annual payments of $16,000 for twenty years and $10,000 in goods at the signing. These three treaties opened up millions of acres to the white Americans and connected Tennessee to the Gulf of Mexico, but many Indians were unhappy with the agreements.
Northern states had already voted, and it was clear that Monroe would be the next president. Rufus King was the Federalist candidate, and he won only Massachusetts (which still included what is now Maine), Connecticut, and Delaware, giving Monroe 183 electoral votes to 34 for King. Treasury Secretary Dallas resigned in October, and Crawford was moved from the War Department to the Treasury. Matthew Carey had published The Olive Branch in November 1814, calling for party harmony rather than rage and rancor.
In his last annual message on December 3 Madison still complained about limits on American trade with the British. Indian tribes were peaceful. The militia system needed reform, and they had not yet established uniform weights and measures. Madison proposed a national university in the District of Columbia and promoted education in general, and he wanted an improved system of roads and canals. The Congress continued the development of Jefferson’s interstate Cumberland Road. Madison suggested a decimal system of weights and measures, which would have been much easier to implement then and has yet to be adopted by the United States, and other innovations that were eventually instituted, namely a revised criminal code (1825), a Department of the Interior (1849), federal aid to education (1862), and appellate circuit courts (1911).
The temperance movement was developing in 1816 when Dr. Benjamin Rush’s 1784 essay “Inquiry into the Effect of Ardent Spirits upon the Human Mind” and Mason Locke Weems’s 1812 treatise, Drunkard’s Looking Glass, were reprinted. Governor William Jones of Rhode Island condemned the use of alcohol in his message to the legislature in October. Dr. Jesse Torrey Jr. published a series of essays to prove that its consumption was worse than war, and he proposed taxing stills to aid libraries.
In December 1814 Noah Worcester published The Solemn Review of the Custom of War, showing that war is the effect of popular delusion, and Proposing a Remedy, and it had five editions in the next two years. In 1815 David Low Dodge published War Inconsistent with the Religion of Jesus Christ, and in August he and thirty others in New York City formed the first peace society in the world. The Massachusetts Peace Society began in December and included the governor, two judges, and the president and several professor from Harvard. Worcester began writing its circular letters in March 1816, and the group had 200 members by the end of the year. William Ellery Channing gave his first address on war to the convention of Congregational Ministers of Massachusetts at Boston in May 1816, describing the miseries and crimes of war, their causes, and some possible remedies.
The Philadelphia Female Tract Society began on January 1, 1816 and published more than 60,000 religious tracts that year to Sunday schools, churches, and female seminaries in Pennsylvania. In February the New York Religious Tract Society reported that they published 70,000 tracts in the last year. Bible societies also increased from 40 in 1814 to 108 in 1816. The American Bible Society was formed in New York City on May 13, 1816, and its first President Elias Boudinot contributed $10,000. The National African Methodist Episcopal Church was organized at a conference in Philadelphia, and Richard Allen became the first bishop. Daniel Coker founded the Bethel Charity School in Baltimore for the education of Negroes.
The free African Paul Cuffe became a Quaker and in December 1815 paid for 38 free blacks to go to Sierra Leone. The American Convention for the Abolition of Slavery met in Philadelphia on January 9, 1816, and in August the Columbian United Abolition Society formed in Eaton, Ohio. The American Society for Colonizing the Free People of Color in the United States was founded on January 1, 1817 with Bushrod Washington as president. At the first meeting Henry Clay praised their goal of removing free Negroes from the country. On January 14 John Randolph asked the Congress to create a colony for free blacks in Africa, but the report on February 11 by the House Committee on the African Slave Trade disappointed the society. Most free Africans in the United States did not want to emigrate to Africa. Many people were immigrating into the United States especially from Ireland, and in 1816 the Shamrock Society of New York published Hints to Emigrants from Europe.
On January 2, 1817 Peter Wendover of New York proposed a bill to keep the number of stripes in the flag at thirteen but have one star for each state as they increased, and it was eventually approved on March 25, 1818. Madison signed a bill in February 1817 retaliating against British commercial restrictions, something he had been advocating since 1790. The new Bank of the United States was functioning; but Congress had left it with a $1.5 million bonus to use for improvements in interstate commerce and national defense. Madison considered this a violation of the Constitution and vetoed the bonus bill on March 3, but the Congress over-rode his veto. Like every president from Washington on, Madison took his papers home with him, though the papers of each department remained with the government. James Madison had been serving the people in the government since 1776, and after 41 years he retired to his plantation, continuing the tradition started by Washington of serving as President for only two terms.
1. “First Inaugural Address” in Writings by James Madison, p. 681.
2. Quoted in James Madison: The President 1809-1812 by Irving Brant, p. 240.
3. Quoted in James Madison: Commander in Chief 1812-1836 by Irving Brant, p. 401.