War of 1812 “ Th e o n l y w i n n er i n th e W a r o f 1 8 1 2 wa s T ch a i k o vsk y.” – S o lo m o n S h o r t
Deep within the complex equation that characterizes the formula and the inevitable cause of war lies the heartbeat of the human basis for conflict, and within this subtext can be found a small handful of people who ultimately pull the trigger and manipulate a nation to follow them into war. In the years after the Revolutionary War, the United States was a nation filled with fiercely independent, politically liberal free spirits, driven by the challenges of taming a vast wilderness. The responsibility for the success or failure of the American Revolution now shifted from the battlefield to the political field, resting with the members of the first Federal Congress. It was up to Congress and its members to interpret and implement the new Constitution of the United States and fulfill the country’s manifest destiny. The fledgling nation, teetering like an infant who has just mastered the art of crawling, was quickly discovering what it meant to stand upright and walk, and began to flex its muscle applying its sovereignty to lands west of the Appalachians that had previously been held by Great Britain. In 1787, the year before the Constitution was ratified, the Congress of the Confederation made a bold move for more land by enacting the Northwest Ordinance, considered to be one of the most significant achievements of a young country. The Ordinance provided many of the basic liberties the colonists had considered essential, such as trial by jury, unlawful imprisonment, and religious freedom. The statute did something more, putting the world on notice that a popular piece of land nestled west of the original states, just over the Appalachian Mountains, bounded on the north by the Great Lakes, on the south by the Ohio River and on the west by the Mississippi River, would be developed and become part of the United States. More than any other document, the Northwest Ordinance set the stage for an orderly settlement of the west. The Ordinance set out in detail which new states would be created out of the western lands, and then admitted into the Union. Governors and judges would be appointed and rule a territory until it contained 5,000 male inhabitants of voting age; then the people would elect a territorial legislature, which would send a non-voting delegate to Congress. When the population reached 60,000, the legislature would submit a state constitution to Congress and, upon its approval, the state would enter the Union. 1
The document made it clear that there would be no inferior or superior states in the Union; that new states would be equal to the old; that settlers of the territories would be equal citizens of the United States, and would enjoy all of the rights that had been fought for in the Revolution. More than anything else, the legal framework greatly accelerated the westward expansion of the United States. By 1803, buoyed by brisk settlement, Ohio entered the Union becoming the 17th state beating out Indiana, which had hoped that it would be the next to join. There was only one thing standing in the way of America’s passion for development, from the perspective of the government: Native Indians. The cacophony settlers shouting “give me land, lots of land!” could be heard by indigenous people reverberating louder and louder through the young United States, as the white man continued to push westward. U.S. settlers wanted land for farms and towns. British, French, and American trappers wanted land its fur-bearing animals, competing with Indians for game and often using superior implements. Merchants saw the Northwest Territory as a prime place to establish trading posts, cash in on lucrative trade with settlers and the native tribes of the area. Traders offered Indians a variety of new articles that Indians were quick to integrate into their culture. Unfortunately, many of these items, like firearms, tied Indians into a system of dependence; others, like alcohol robbed them of their sanity and health. Native Americans wanted the land themselves, mainly because it was their home, their hunting ground, and their very lives. Now, however, the natives soon realized that they were losing the battle. Some tribes had already signed agreements giving their territories to the U.S. Indian tribes were quickly learning, that America's passion for growth and development produced a massive land grab that was quickly squeezing them out. All native tribes were under great pressure to cede their lands. President Jefferson's Indian Policy set the course for dealing with native peoples describing farmers as the "salt of the earth," and declaring that nothing should hinder them from moving into the rich new territory. The policy’s only choice for Native Americans who were displaced by settlers: Indians could choose to fit in with the white communities or move farther west. Moreover, Indians became increasingly involved in the complex struggles between the English and the French, especially as English traders and American settlers pressed into the Ohio Valley. Building allegiances with the English and the French was nothing new for the Indians, based on the economy of commerce trapping and trading. During the Revolutionary war, the Cherokees, for instance, took the side of the British and attacked white settlements in their territory. While alliances with the English, French and Spanish occasionally secured Indian land 2
and bolstered Indian power, more often they pitted one Indian tribe against another in vicious ways empowering one tribe to take advantage of others. Furthermore, as French and English influences withdrew, the Indians were left facing Americans who had grown increasingly confident of their own claim of residency in the New World and had become increasingly more aggressive in pursuing their desires for more land. During the 18th Century, the European powers sat perched like colonial vultures waiting to swoop down on its prey of the Northwest Territory. Britain had never given up hope of regaining her lost colonies. Spain eyed with envy the western frontier. France was still more inclined than ever toward establishment of a new empire in the new world. Only one person stood between this axis of political carnivores and the continued westward expansion of the United States: a man some called, ‘Mad.’ Descriptions of General Anthony Wayne vary from impetuous to vain. “Jemy the Rover,” who served as Wayne’s principal spy during the Valley Forge campaign, christened his military leader with the nickname that would follow the hotheaded General for the rest of his life. During the winter of 1781 Jemy became unruly, and Wayne, not at all in good spirits, ordered him to receive 29 lashes across the back for his behavior. "Anthony is mad, stark mad," Jemy exclaimed. "Mad Anthony Wayne" he yelled again and again. Had it not been for Mad Wayne’s victories in Ohio in 1793 and again in1794, and the founding of Fort Wayne, the western border of the country might never have made it even to the Mississippi River. At the end of the Revolutionary War, Great Britain agreed that the Mississippi River would be the western boundary of the United States and that the Great Lakes would serve as the border on the north. This meant, it was presumed, that British troops would withdraw from these areas into Canada. In fact, they did not. The United States, operating under the new Articles of Confederation was weak, and the Northwest Territory was a lucrative source of furs for the British. The British found a strong ally in the Indians of the area, to whom they supplied shot, powder and guns in exchange for furs. Passage of the Northwest Ordinance in 1787 opened the door for American settlers who moved into the Ohio Valley at the rate of 10,000 a year. Problems protecting the settlers highlighted the weakness of the Articles of Confederation, and led to ratification of the new Constitution June 21, 1788. By 1790, Congress yielded to the appeals for protection from Indians by the new residents of the Northwest Territory. In their defense, the Indians believed they owned the land by moral right and previous treaty.
Brigadier General Josiah Harmar was dispatched to the new territory with an army and instructions from President Washington to punish the Wabash and Miami Indians for their raids on river traffic. Harmar commanded 320 regular troops, 1,133 Kentucky militiamen and a battalion of Pennsylvania infantrymen. Harmar's army was ambushed and soundly defeated by the Indians, a national humiliation and a major setback to President Washington's plans for the Northwest Territory. Congress quickly authorized higher troop levels, and another army of men was dispatched to punish the Indians. Again, President Washington warned his general to be careful of surprise attacks. The advice from the Commander in Chief, himself a brilliant military strategist was not heeded. More than 700 Americans died in the fighting, including 56 women who had accompanied their soldier husbands to the frontier. President Washington's western policy now lay in shambles. The citizens of every state questioned the young governmentâ€™s effectiveness and also the usefulness of the new Constitution. The crisis facing the United States was approaching critical mass. Foreign powers could smell weakness, and were ready to pounce taking any opportunity to invade. Enter Mad Wayne, whom President Washington named Commanding General of the newly formed Legion of the United States. Wayne set about training his men in earnest in July 1792. President Washington was still trying to resolve the land dispute problem through negotiation. But by the fall of 1793 it was clear that negotiations had failed. The United States refused to ban any settlement by its citizens beyond the Ohio River. The Indians refused to allow intruders upon their lands. On September 11, 1793, President Washington unleashed his Mad General and sent word to attack. Defying his reputation for impetuosity, General Wayne planned to launch his attack in the spring and settled in at Fort Jefferson, some 75 miles north of Cincinnati. Indian scouts, spying on Wayne, called him "the Chief who never sleeps." Shortly before Christmas Day 1793, Wayne led a small group of men north and built Fort Recovery. In June of 1794, 2,000 Indians attacked the fort. Although the Indians vastly outnumbered Wayneâ€™s army, the Generalâ€™s well-trained soldiers and riflemen held out against overwhelming odds deep within the professionally built fort. The Indians were forced to retreat; their defeat at Fort Recovery shook their confidence. Two of the Great Lakes tribes decided to return to their camps. General Wayne continued moving north. Ahead of him were nearly 1,300 Indians outside of Fort Miami, the British-held stronghold. Wayne's army attacked the Indians at Fallen Timbers, just south of Toledo. The battle lasted less than an hour. In retreat, the fleeing Indians raced toward Fort Miami, where the British had promised protection. Not 4
wanting to risk war with the United States, the British reneged on their promise of refuge and turned their Indian allies away. The following year, the former contending forces gathered at Greenville to sign a peace agreement. General Wayne represented the federal government and expressed his hope that the treaty would last “as long as the woods grow and the waters run.” The natives, who were less than enthusiastic, regarding the agreement as a forced treaty, felt that they had no choice but to accept the terms, which included that they surrender all claims to lands in the Northwest Territory, although they retained the right to hunt throughout the area. The ink was barely dry on the Treaty of Greenville in the summer of 1795, and by all appearances it would seem that relative peace prevailed between the white settlers and the natives of the Old Northwest. But this was the New Northwest, and while the Native Americans abided by the terms of the treaty; American settlers did not. New white settlements began popping up almost immediately. President Thomas Jefferson, the American farmer’s strong advocate, took a much more aggressive posture than the Washington and Adams administrations, seeking additional lands through a series of purchases from the tribes. Not all the frontiersmen bothered with the niceties of treaties and simply occupied Indian lands illegally. Not without reason, resentment among the tribes ran high. In 1808, Tecumseh, a Shawnee chieftain, and his brother Tenskwatawa also known as The Prophet, launched a reform movement among their people. They attempted to end the sale of additional lands to the whites and to resist alcohol and other temptations of the competing culture. A new native settlement was built at the confluence of the Wabash and Tippecanoe rivers and became known as Prophet’s Town. The village became the focal point of Tecumseh’s effort to rally the tribes east of the Mississippi River in the hope of halting the spread of white settlements. As Governor of the Indiana Territory, William Henry Harrison was also superintendent of the Northwest Indians. Fearing the growing strength of Tecumseh’s confederacy, Harrison decided to strike quickly. He marched an army of 1,100 men along the Wabash toward Prophet’s Town. Tecumseh was on a recruiting venture in the south, but his brother prepared the men for battle with fiery oratory—including promises that the white men’s bullets could not harm them. Shortly before dawn on November 7, 1811, Harrison’s soldiers were attacked. The Battle of Tippecanoe lasted just two hours, but its ramifications would be felt for years to come. The Prophet and his brother’s band of followers were forced to flee and their village was destroyed. In less than a year, the United States would once again be at war, and the consequences from the Battle of Tippecanoe would play an integral role in the war’s direction. 5
Anxiety about the Indians and the battle for land notwithstanding, the United Statesâ€™ young government had two other concerns leading up to the War of 1812: British naval actions on the Atlantic and an American desire to seize more of Britain's North American colonies. Merchant American ships had long become a haven to an increasing number of deserters from the Royal Navy, and for good reason. The Royal Navy during the 18th century and early 19th century regularly used impressment as a means of crewing warships, the act of forcibly conscripting people to serve as sailors. The violent, although legal sanction for the practice, dating back to the time of King Edward I, forced thousands of men between the age of 18 and 55 from England, as well as countless sailors from other nations, to serve in His Majestyâ€™s service. Countless sailors jumped ship at the first chance they got, and almost without fail headed for the safety of Americaâ€™s burgeoning merchant ships. Frustrated at seeing its forces dwindling, British warships frequently stopped American ships capturing any believed to be deserters. In the process, the British also impressed between six to eight thousand Americans over the years into its navy. The most offensive incident of impressment occurred when the British warship Leopard opened fire on the American Chesapeake, which had refused to stop. A number of American seamen were killed and wounded aboard the Chesapeake. The British navy also attempted to restrict American trade with France by imposing tariffs and stopping any ships containing military supplies. France attempted to do the same, but its weaker navy made it less of a problem for the U.S. In 1807, President Thomas Jefferson signed a bill which banned all trade with the warring parties, hoping this would so damage them that they would be forced to negotiate. The political fallout proved disastrous, and the bill was repealed in 1808 less than a year later. Britain continued its impressment and restrictions, however and President Madison asked Congress to declare war on June 18, 1812. Paradoxically, before war could actually be declared the British parliament had, in fact, already decided to end impressment and remove the trade restrictions. Sadly, the message was still in transit when the U.S. declared war. The other concern facing the U.S. government owed more to the push for land and how America could best complete what many thought of as its manifest destiny: the annexation of Canada. This, then, was the backdrop against which the Twelfth Continental Congress met from 1811 to 1813, which included a small but politically persuasive group of young Turks called the War Hawks, a term coined by the prominent Virginia Congressman John Randolph of Roanoke, a staunch opponent of entry into the war.
The War Hawks in the Twelfth Congress were mostly young Republicans who, as youths, had been weaned on the ideals of the American Revolution. This small, but influential band of politicos, knew that they had their collective finger on the trigger and could manipulate the nation to follow them into war. The fact that none of them had any war experience nor were alive during the American Revolution was a moot point to their cause in which they believed the ends justified the means. Still, what they lacked in war experience they made up for in patriotic fervor that was practically at the boiling point. They were all, without exception, primarily from southern and western states. The War Hawks advocated going to war against Great Britain for a variety of reasons, mostly related to the interference of the Royal Navy in American shipping which the War Hawks believed hurt the American economy, and injured American prestige. The Hawks, at least the ones from the western states, also believed that the British were instigating American Indians on the frontier to attack American settlements, and so they called for an invasion of British Canada to punish Great Britain and end this threat. Chief among the War Hawks was the new Speaker of the House, 34-year-old Henry Clay, a Senator and a Representative from Kentucky, who was born into a middle class family on April 12, 1777, in Hanover County, Virginia; a district known as “the Slashes.” Clay studied law with George Wythe, mentor of Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall. By the age of 20, he had moved to Kentucky quickly establishing himself as a successful lawyer. His oratorical skills, friendly manner and inclinations to engage in gambling and drinking made him immensely popular. As Speaker of the House Clay was prominent among the War Hawks, pushing for expansion and war with Britain. He was deeply partisan and hotheaded; possessing a polarizing demeanor that was so extreme those around him gave him the nickname “The Dictator.” It stuck like glue. Henry Clay’s all consuming ambition to become President of the United States would later lead him to try, and fail miserably, to capture the presidency no less than five times. "I would rather be right than President," was his most famous remark, and probably one of the greatest utterances of political sour grapes of all time. From the outset of his career Clay favored regenerating an American national spirit as a means of opening up the fertile but inaccessible west. So it was that, the year before he took office as Speaker of the House, on Washington’s Birthday, Feb. 22, 1810, 32-yearold Senator Henry Clay stepped on the national stage by calling for war with Britain. It was the message that would carry him all the way to Congress. Personally, Clay had been ready for war since age four when he and his frightened mother had watched British Redcoats rifle through the grave of his father looking for 7
treasure. But revenge, thought the young Clay, would be sweetest if meted out by a great national power such as America. So it was up to him to help make America great. Learning law, history, and philosophy from Virginia's scholar and patriot leader George Wythe, Henry Clay had acquired the cultural depth necessary for such a sweeping vision of America's future; he had taught himself the mental toughness needed to implement it against treason and imbecilic public opinion. Some said the secret of his political power lay in his persuasiveness as an orator and his charming personality, the result of having trained himself in the art of speech making early in his career, by practicing in the forest, the field and even the barn, with only a horse and an ox for an audience. Elected to Congress, Clay was appointed to the position of Speaker of the House on the first day, and immediately began his campaign for war by appointing fellow War Hawks as leaders of all the important House committees: New York's Peter B. Porter to Foreign Relations, South Carolina's Langdon Cheves to Naval Affairs, and likewise to Military Affairs, and Ways and Means. Yet, while failing in his fondest goal to become President, Clay became perhaps the foremost legislator America ever produced. He served as Speaker of the House longer than any man in the 19th Century, transforming the office from a mere presiding function into one of enormous power and influence. In Europe, the War of 1812 was referred to as the British-American War. In America, publicly at least, it was sold to the public as the War of 1812. But as America was born by a fiercely independent spirit, it was this same spirit that ran through its citizens who continued with tradition and nicknamed it Mr. Madisonâ€™s War. The oldest of 12 children, James Madison was born in Port Conway, Virginia. A small, sickly child, he never weighed more than 100 pounds during his entire life. Madison was highly intelligent, well respected, and politically savvy, qualities that were noticed by President Jefferson who named Madison his Secretary of State. The two men worked closely on many issues and became lifelong friends. After Jefferson retired from office, Madison was easily elected as the fourth president of the United States in 1808. He was the last of the Founding Fathers to serve as president. His personal and political skills aside, President Madison possessed none of his mentorâ€™s adroitness at keeping the United States out of war. Despite popular opinion in the South and the West, which clearly favored confrontation, President Madison realized that the country had a weak, scattered army and a navy that was virtually insignificant compared to that of Great Britain. The stress of the presidency was so hard on the sickly Madison that he almost died. 8
Nevertheless, he won a second term in office. In the four years from 1808 to 1812, Madison's popularity fluctuated between extreme lows and incredible highs, depending upon the state of affairs with England. From the moment he assumed office in 1809, Madison was consumed by Britain's continued violations of America's neutral rights at sea. Nothing he did seemed to satisfy his critics. Challenges to his alleged pro-French policies reached fever pitch in the New England states, which had been impoverished by the actions that Jefferson and Madison took to cut off trade with England. Madison's nomination for a second term came just fifteen days before his war message to Congress. On May 18, 1812, Madison received the endorsement of congressional Democratic-Republicans in their nominating caucus. Nevertheless, roughly one-third of Republican legislators boycotted the caucus altogether, vowing not to participate in his re-nomination for the Presidency. In his speech to the U.S. Congress on June 1, 1812, Madison outlined his reasons and stated his case for war: • Ongoing impressment of American sailors into service on British Navy ships, an insulting breach of American sovereignty • Britain's navy "violating the rights and the peace of our coasts" • Britain's blockade of U.S. ports ("our commerce has been plundered in every sea") • Britain's refusal to repeal its Orders in Council, enacted in1807, forbidding neutral countries to trade with European countries, and the British Navy's enforcement of this order • Britain's incitement of Native Americans to violence against the Americans After Madison's speech, the U.S. House of Representatives quickly voted 79 to 49 to declare war, and after much debate, the U.S. Senate also voted for war, 19 to 13. The conflict formally began on June 18, 1812 when Madison signed the measure into law. This was the first time that the United States had declared war on another nation, and the Congressional vote would prove to be the closest vote to declare war in American history. None of the 39 Federalists in Congress voted in favor of the war; critics of the War of 1812 began referring to it as "Mr. Madison's War." For Madison and the War Hawks, the declaration amounted to a second war of independence for the new Republic. It also provided the opportunity to seize Canada, drive the Spanish from west Florida, put down the Indian uprising in the Northwest, and secure maritime independence. In the preparations for battle, it became clear that most of the War Hawks wanted a land invasion of Canada above all else. Although the outbreak of the war had been preceded by years of angry diplomatic dispute, the United States was absolutely unready, and the United Kingdom was still hard pressed by the Napoleonic Wars, and was compelled to retain the greater part of her forces and her best crews in European waters, until successes against Napoleon left her 9
free to send an overwhelming force of ships to American waters. The U.S. military was weak and inexperienced. Service was voluntary and extremely unpopular, with an almost total lack of trained and experienced officers. The militia, called in to aid the regulars, objected to serving outside their home states, was not amenable to discipline and, as a rule, performed poorly in the presence of the enemy. The war, although not yet started, was already showing signs of deeply splitting the United States internally. While the South and West favored war, New York and New England opposed it because it interfered with their commerce with Britain and France. The declaration of war had been made with military preparations still far from complete. There were fewer than 7,000 regular soldiers, distributed in widely scattered posts along the coast, near the Canadian border and in the remote interior. These soldiers were to be supported by the states’ undisciplined militia. The total number of British troops present in Canada in July 1812 was officially stated to be 5,004, more than half of which were actually members of the Canadian militia. Additionally, many Native Americans fought as allies of the British, for reasons of their own. The war was conducted in four theatres of operations: • The Atlantic Ocean • The Great Lakes and the Canadian frontier • The coast of the United States • The American South Senator Clay was no doubt ebullient upon hearing that the war began with the invasion of Canada, which, if properly timed and executed, would have brought his dream of more land in the north to fruition. But the entire campaign miscarried and ended with the British occupation of Detroit. The U.S. Navy, however, scored successes and restored confidence. In addition, American privateers, swarming the Atlantic, captured 500 British vessels during the fall and winter months of 1812 and 1813. The campaign of 1813 centered on General William Henry Harrison, who would later become president, and his army of militia, volunteers and regulars from Kentucky and their goal of re-conquering Detroit. On September 12, while he was still in upper Ohio, news reached him that Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry had annihilated the British fleet on Lake Erie. Harrison occupied Detroit and pushed into Canada, defeating the fleeing British and their Indian allies on the Thames River. The entire region now came under American control. Another decisive turn in the war occurred a year later when Commodore Thomas Macdonough won a point-blank gun duel with a British flotilla on Lake Champlain in upper New York. Deprived of naval support, a British invasion force of 10,000 men 10
retreated to Canada. At about the same time, the British fleet was harassing the Eastern seaboard with orders to "destroy and lay waste." Although U.S ships won a number of battles, they proved no match for England's experienced fleet. As the war entered its third year, strategy and professional militarism surrendered to raw, petty emotion as the British set about to humiliate and demoralize the Americans in the hope of igniting an internal disintegration that would split the country apart. The British commander in chief of the North American station, Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, had it in mind to give his foes "a complete drubbing." His target: Washington, D.C., a town that held no strategic significance for the British military. As the capital city of the United States, Washington, D.C. was little more than a gawky village, a mere embryo of the conurbation it aspired to be. In the fourteen years since the capital had moved from Philadelphia, the population had grown to slightly more than 8,000; one sixth of its residents were slaves. The clammy expanses of its Potomac site were still almost barren and certainly bleak. Attorney General Richard Rush described Washington as "a meager village with a few bad houses and extensive swamps." Augustus John Foster, who would be promoted from junior diplomat to the last British minister to the United States before the two countries went to war, lamented his posting to "an absolute sepulcher, this hole." It was so coarse, woebegone, and lacking in refinement that in another letter home Foster wailed, "Luckily for me I have been in Turkey, and am quite at home in this primeval simplicity of manners." The attack on Washington was a tit for tat to avenge the burning of public and private buildings by American forces in York, the capital of Upper Canada the year before. Early warning signs that Washington would be targeted went unheeded, even though the British press had openly speculated on the fate of the American capital. Little action was taken, even after U.S. emissaries in Europe warned that the fall of Napoleon in mid-1814 would free up thousands of British troops for the war against America. Secretary of War John Armstrong refused to take these signals seriously, even as the British fleet sailed into the Patuxent River, fifty miles east of Washington, in August 1814. "By God," he fumed at Major General John Van Ness, the uneasy chief of militia in the District of Columbia, "they would not come with such a fleet without meaning to strike somewhere. But they certainly will not come here!" In July 1814, President Madison appointed Brigadier General William Winder to maintain the city's defenses. Because of poor co-ordination between the General and Armstrong, insufficient action was taken to fortify Washington. There were almost no prepared gun positions, and the American defense force consisted mainly of militia. Armstrong reasoned that Baltimore rather than Washington was crucial to the military. However, it was said that his poor effort in the defense of the capital was largely due to 11
his dislike of General Winder, whose appointment Armstrong deeply resented. The Battle of Washington D.C. and the subsequent burning of the parliament buildings was one of the most debated and denounced events during the entire war. Washington was the first target in a line of major raids by the British, designed to frighten as well as draw attention away from the invasion of a vulnerable Canada. Reaching the village of Bladensburg, east of Washington, the British forces rushed across the bridge on the road from Bladensburg. The disorganized American militia could not hold off the assault for long. Because there was no precise defense plan, General Winder split his troops, unsure if the British would attack Washington, or Baltimore, as Armstrong predicted. Frightened by British rockets, the majority of the American force soon fled, with the exception of the sailors who fought on until the British flanked them. When the news of defeat reached President Madison, he fled to Virginia. The British had not factored in, however, Madison's wife, in their assault on the nation’s capital. Dolley Madison, one of the most beloved women ever to occupy the White House, displayed courage rare among Washington’s residents. She stayed on in the President’s House even after her guard of one hundred military men had fled. The president’s wife re-fused to be rushed even after a horseman galloped down Pennsylvania Avenue warning all to flee because the British army had routed American forces at Bladensburg, about six miles northeast of Washington. She insisted on staying to save the portrait of the first president, which then hung on the west wall of the large dining room. The federal government had been acquired it as a state portrait for the President’s House in 1800 at a cost of $800. At this calamitous moment two New Yorkers entered the room and asked if there was anything they could do to help. One of the men, a ship owner named Jacob Barker, was a close friend of the Madison’s, and, like Dolley, a Quaker. His companion was Robert DePeyster. "Save that picture if possible!" cried Dolley. "Under no circumstances allow it to fall into the hands of the British!" When she saw that her slave, Paul Jennings, and another servant were taking too long to unscrew the giant frame from the wall, she told them to break the wood and take out the linen canvas. At that moment White House steward, Jean Sioussat, referred to as French John, entered the room, and seeing the potential for irreparable damage to the painting, ordered Jennings to stop. With Dolley’s approval he took out a penknife and cut the heavyweight English twill fabric from its frame. French John gave the canvas to Barker, who started to roll it up until stopped by the Frenchman for fear the paint would crack. Barker and DePeyster then escorted the portrait in a wagon through Georgetown into the countryside, where they left it with a 12
farmer who kept it in a barn. A few weeks later Barker retrieved it and gave it back to Dolley Madison. The Madison’s returned to the city three days later to find the White House a charred ruin. They moved to the nearby Octagon House while reconstruction was underway. and she is credited with saving a portrait of George Washington and other important papers. Without an army to protect the city, the British entered Washington on the night of August 24. "I determined to march upon Washington,” wrote British Major General Robert Ross, “and reached that city at eight o'clock that night. Judging to complete the destruction of the public buildings with the least possible delay, so that the army may retire without loss.” Within 24 hours, the British soldiers had successfully completed their objective, burning the Capitol, the President's house, the Treasury, the War Office, and the office of the National Intelligencer. Mission accomplished, they retreated the next day and were back in Benedict by August 29. The flames destroying Washington were visible 40 miles away in Baltimore. Providence smiled on the Americans as a thunderstorm at dawn dampened the fires, keeping the flames from spreading more than they did. The burning of Washington was highly denounced both in North American and Europe. In the aftermath, the burning of Washington united Americans in their fight against the British and, at the same time, lowered their morale. John Armstrong resigned his position as Secretary of War which was filled a month later by James Monroe, at the time also the Secretary of State. Before departing from a ravaged Washington, British soldiers arrested Dr. William Beanes of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, on the charge that he was responsible for the arrests of British stragglers and deserters during the campaign to attack the nation’s capital. They subsequently imprisoned him on a British warship. Friends of Dr. Beanes asked Georgetown lawyer Francis Scott Key to join John S. Skinner, the U.S. government’s agent for dealing with British forces in the Chesapeake, and help secure the release of the civilian prisoner. Key and Skinner produced a pouch of letters written by wounded British prisoners praising the care they were receiving from the Americans, among them Dr. Beanes. The British officers relented but would not release the three Americans immediately because they had seen and heard too much of the preparations for the attack on Baltimore. They were placed under guard, first aboard the H.M.S. Surprise, then onto a sloop and forced to wait out the battle behind the British fleet. Key, Col. Skinner, and Dr. Beanes watched the battle with apprehension. They knew that 13
as long as the shelling continued, Fort McHenry had not surrendered. But, long before daylight there came a sudden and mysterious silence. What the three Americans did not know was that the British land assault on Baltimore as well as the naval attack, had been abandoned. Judging Baltimore as being too costly a prize, the British officers ordered a retreat. When he saw “by the dawn’s early light” of September 14, 1814, that the American flag soared above the fort, Key knew that Fort McHenry had not surrendered. Moved by the sight, he began to compose a poem on the back of a letter he was carrying. On September 16, Key and his companions were taken back to Baltimore and released. Key took a room in the Indian Queen Hotel and spent the night revising and copying out the four verses he had written about America’s victory. The next day he showed the poem to his wife’s brother-in-law, Judge Joseph Nicholson, who had commanded a volunteer company at Fort McHenry. Nicholson responded enthusiastically and urged Key to have the poem printed. First titled “The Defense of Fort McHenry,” the published poem included instructions that it be sung to the 18th-century British drinking song “Anacreon in Heaven,” a tune Key had in mind when he penned his sonnet. Copies of the song were distributed to every man at the fort and around Baltimore. The first documented public performance of the words and music together took place at the Holliday Street Theatre in Baltimore on October 19, 1814. A music store later published the words and music under the title “The Star-Spangled Banner.” As the war continued, British and American negotiators each demanded concessions from the other. The British envoys decided to concede, however, when they learned of Commodore Macdonough's victory on Lake Champlain. Urged by the Duke of Wellington to reach a settlement, and faced with the depletion of the British treasury due in large part to the heavy costs of the Napoleonic Wars, the negotiators for Great Britain accepted the Treaty of Ghent in December 1814. It took two months for the news to reach the United States from Europe that a treaty had been reached ending the war. The biggest battle of the conflict was actually fought after peace had been declared. Led by General Andrew Jackson, the Americans defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans. This final victory made Americans feel they had won the war. Madison received the credit and became more popular than ever, retiring to Montpelier, Virginia, at the end of his term. The Treaty provided for the cessation of hostilities, the restoration of conquests and a commission to settle boundary disputes. At the same time that British and American negotiators were talking terms of a settlement, Federalist delegates selected by the legislatures of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire gathered in Hartford in a meeting that symbolized opposition to Mr. Madison's war. New England had managed to trade with the enemy throughout the conflict, and some areas actually prospered from the commerce. 14
Nevertheless, the Federalists claimed that the war was ruining the economy. Some delegates to the convention advocated secession from the Union, but the majority agreed on a series of constitutional amendments to limit Republican influence, including prohibiting embargoes lasting more than 60 days and forbidding successive presidents from the same state. By the time messengers from the Hartford Convention reached Washington, D.C., however, they found the war had ended. The Hartford Convention stamped the Federalists with a stigma of disloyalty from which they never recovered. Although Madison fared poorly during the war, the victories against Tecumseh and at New Orleans lifted American spirits and returned Madison to a high point of public respect. If nothing else, the war swelled national pride, broke the Indian threat in the Northwest, and reaped tremendous political benefits for those lucky enough to have fought and survived. The Battle of the Thames River alone, for example, was used to produce a President of the United States (Harrison), a vice president, three governors of Kentucky, three lieutenant governors, four U.S. senators, and twenty congressmen. General Jackson, moreover, emerged as a genuine war hero, equal in public esteem to George Washington. Not all Americans, however, wrapped themselves in the flag of patriotism. New England states seldom met their quotas of militiamen, and many New England merchants and farmers traded freely with the enemy. The War of 1812 created a greater sense of nationalism in the United States and Canada, produced a national anthem and two future presidents for the U.S., and perhaps most consequentially, the war marked the end of European alliances with American Indians in the United States.
Published on Mar 10, 2010