In 1805, Napoleon suffered a set-back when his combined Franco-Spanish fleet was defeated at the Battle of Trafalgar. Conquering across Europe, Napoleon invaded Russia in June of 1812 with 500,000 men. Six month later he retreated with only 50,000. The Napoleonic Wars resulted in an estimated 6 million military and civilians deaths across Europe. Napoleon’s power waned till he was exiled to the Island of Elba.
Britain was now the most powerful nation in the world.
Napoleon had made an interesting observation: “When a government is dependent upon bankers for money, they and not the leaders of the government control the situation, since the hand that gives is above the hand that takes. Money has no motherland; financiers are without patriotism and without decency; their sole object is gain.”
In 1811, James Madison refused to recharter the Bank of the United States. Powerful British financiers reportedly owned two-thirds of the bank’s stock.
British Prime Minister William Pitt had stated: “Let the American people go into their debt-funding schemes and banking systems, and from that hour their boasted independence will be a mere phantom.”
Jefferson described the Bank of the United States “as a machine for the corruption of the legislature.” Tensions with Britain escalated culminating in the outbreak of the War of 1812 on June 18, 1812.
James Madison wrote, Sept. 20, 1814: “The capture of nearly a thousand American vessels and the impressment of thousands of American seafaring citizens … by the government of Great Britain. … Our beloved country … persevering hostility … must carry with it the good wishes of the impartial world and the best hopes of support from an Omnipotent and Kind Providence.”
The British backed Indian terrorists attacks on American settlements by supporting Shawnee leader Tecumseh. James Madison told Congress, March 9, 1812: “The British Government, through … a secret agent … was employed … fomenting disaffection … and in intrigues with the disaffected, for the purpose of … destroying the Union. … The discovery of such a procedure … will not fail to render more dear to the hearts of all good citizens that happy union of these States which, under Divine Providence, is the guaranty of their liberties.”
Shawnee Chief Tecumseh, being armed by the British, formed a confederation of Indian tribes across a thousand-mile frontier. Incited by Tecumseh, the Red Stick Creek Indians attacked Fort Mims, Alabama, on Aug. 30, 1813. Driven by rumors the British were paying cash for scalps, the Red Sticks killed over 500 men, women and children in the largest Indian massacre in American history.
Outraged Americans volunteered, including Davy Crockett, Sam Houston and Daniel Boone, though Boone was turned down, being age 78.
In a proclamation of war, June 19, 1812, President James Madison stated: “I do moreover exhort all the good people of the United States … as they feel the wrongs which have forced on them the last resort of injured nations … to consult the best means under the blessing of Divine Providence of abridging its calamities.”
On June 1, 1812, President James Madison told Congress: “We behold … on the side of Great Britain a state of war. … Whether the United States shall continue passive under these progressive usurpations and these accumulating wrongs … shall commit a just cause into the hands of the Almighty Disposer of Events.”
The British had captured Maine’s cities of Eastport, Castine, Hampden, Bangor and Machias. A Second Great Awakening Revival swept America. President Madison, who had introduced the First Amendment in the first session of Congress, proclaimed a Day of Public Humiliation and Prayer, July 9, 1812: “A day, to be set apart for the devout purpose of rendering the Sovereign of the Universe and the Benefactor of mankind the public homage due to His holy attributes; of acknowledging the transgressions which might justly provoke the manifestations of His divine displeasure; of seeking His merciful forgiveness, and His assistance in the great duties of repentance … and especially of offering fervent supplications that in the present season of calamity and war He would take the American people under His peculiar care and protection.”
Madison stated, Nov. 4, 1812: “The war in which we are actually engaged in … was preceded by a patience without example under wrongs accumulating without end. … Appeal was accordingly made … to the Just and All-powerful Being who holds in His hand the chain of events and the destiny of nations. … We prosecute the war with united counsels … until peace be so obtained … under the Divine blessing.”
On Feb. 24, 1813, Madison told Congress: “Great Britain had already introduced into her commerce during the war … a mass of forgery and perjury … making an unfortunate progress in undermining those principles of morality and religion which are the best foundation of national happiness. … The general tendency of these demoralizing and disorganizing contrivances will be reprobated by the civilized and Christian world.”
On March 4, 1813, President Madison stated: “I should be compelled to shrink if I … felt less deeply a conviction that the war with a powerful nation … is stamped with that justice which invites the smiles of Heaven on the means of conducting it to a successful termination.”
On May 25, 1813, in a special session message to Congress, Madison stated: “The contest in which the United States are engaged appeals … to the sacred obligation of transmitting entire to future generations that precious … independence which is held in trust by the present from the goodness of Divine Providence.”
On July 23, 1813, Madison proclaimed a National Day of Public Humiliation and Prayer: “In times of public calamity such as that of the war … it is especially becoming that the hearts of all should be … turned to that Almighty Power in whose hands are the welfare and the destiny of nations … for … He has blessed the United States with a political Constitution founded on the will and authority of the whole people and guaranteeing to each individual security, not only of his person and his property, but of those sacred rights of conscience so essential to his present happiness and so dear to his future hopes … that He would pardon our manifold transgressions and awaken and strengthen in all the wholesome purposes of repentance … so He would … bestow His blessings on our arms in resisting the hostile. … If the public homage of a people can ever be worthy of the favorable regard of the Holy and Omniscient Being to whom it is addressed, it must be that in which those who join in it are guided only by their free choice, by the impulse of their hearts and the dictates of their consciences … that religion, that gift of Heaven for the good of man, freed from all coercive edicts … and making no appeal but to reason, to the heart, and to the conscience, can spread its benign influence everywhere and can attract to the divine altar those freewill offerings of humble supplication.”
The British attacked on Lake Erie. On Dece. 7, 1813, Madison stated: “It has pleased the Almighty to bless our arms both on the land and on the water. … On Lake Erie, the squadron under the command of Captain Perry having met the British squadron of superior force, a sanguinary conflict ended in the capture of the whole. … We may humbly repose our trust in the smiles of Heaven on so righteous a cause.”
The British invaded the U.S. Capitol on Aug. 25, 1814. Fires were set and flames engulfed the White House, the Department of War building, the Library of Congress, the Treasury, the Supreme Court, and the Navy Yard. The Patent Office office was the only government building untouched. President James Madison was directing troops and Dolley Madison had to flee the White House.
On Sept. 1, 1814, in a proclamation after the British invaded the Capitol, Madison stated: “The enemy by a sudden incursion has succeeded in invading the capitol of the nation. … During their possession … though for a single day only, they wantonly destroyed the public edifices. … An occasion which appeals so forcibly to the … patriotic devotion of the American people, none will forget. The glory acquired by … fathers in establishing the independence … is now to be maintained by their sons with the … strength and resources … Heaven had blessed them.”
A few weeks later, on Sept. 13, 1814, the British bombarded Fort McHenry, as Francis Scott Key wrote of “bombs bursting in air.”
On Nov. 16, 1814, Madison proclaimed a National Day of Public Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer: “The two Houses of the National Legislature having by a joint resolution expressed their desire that in the present time of public calamity and war a day may be recommended to be observed by the people of the United States as a Day of Public Humiliation and Fasting and of Prayer to Almighty God for the safety and welfare of these States, His blessing on their arms, and a speedy restoration of peace. … I have deemed it proper … to recommend … a day of … voluntarily offering … humble adoration to the Great Sovereign of the Universe, of confessing their sins and transgressions, and of strengthening their vows of repentance.”
The British attacked New Orleans. When the war ended, President James Madison addressed Congress, Feb. 18, 1815: “I lay before Congress copies of the treaty of peace … between the United States and His Britannic Majesty. … We accord in grateful acknowledgments for the protection which Providence has bestowed upon us.”
On March 4, 1815, President Madison proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving: “To be observed by the people of the United States with religious solemnity as a day of thanksgiving and of devout acknowledgments to Almighty God for His great goodness manifested in restoring to them the blessing of peace. No people ought to feel greater obligations to celebrate the goodness of the Great Disposer of Events and of the Destiny of Nations than the people of the United States. … To the same Divine Author of Every Good and Perfect Gift we are indebted for all those privileges and advantages, religious as well as civil, which are so richly enjoyed in this favored land … especially for the restoration of the blessing of peace.”
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There were two major reasons given for the war.
- First, Britain was at war with France since 1793. For twenty years the British claimed they had the right – as a legitimate and necessary wartime measure — to intercept American ships on the high seas, seize and keep their cargoes, and search the crews for British navy deserters. The British between 1807 and 1812 seized some 400 American ships and cargoes worth millions of dollars.
- Second, was the British practice of ‘impressment’. A chronic manpower shortage in the Royal Navy led the Brits to stop American merchant vessels on the high seas and remove seamen. Between 1803 and 1812 the Brits captured an estimated six to nine THOUSAND Americans in its dragnet. These men were subjected to all the horrors of British naval discipline—enforced with the cat-o’-nine-tails—and made to fight a war that was not their own.
America felt this violated its rights as a neutral and sovereign nation. So, we declared war against the Brits in 1812.
THE END OF THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR SEEDED THE WAR OF 1812
Isn’t that often the case … that the end of one war, and the demands of the victor, eventually leads to yet another war? The war for American Independence lasted until 1783 when the peace treaty with the British was signed. Imagine the giddy feeling you would have had at that time. Freedom! Independence! But the rational exuberance was met with irrational naivete.
The American populace, including its politicians, assumed that the British would continue to allow access to British ports …. as if nothing at all happened! America assumed that the Brits needed our wheat, the British Navy needed our timber, hemp, and tar, and British colonies in the West Indies needed our fish, wheat, and salt to feed their slaves. This was a big miscalculation.
Canada and Ireland delivered most of the same goods. In fact, America needed the Brits more than they needed us as we depended on British manufacturing goods. America had zero leverage, and it was Britain that dictated foreign policy. They admitted American raw materials on a case-by-case basis, excluded manufactured goods altogether from entering England, and closed West Indian ports to American goods. Bullocks to America! What could America do? Nothing. We had no navy to back up our demands.
1801 – A PIVOTAL YEAR
George Washington negotiated the Jay Treaty in 1795. The Brits negotiated from a position of strength, and conversely, America from weakness. In a nutshell, the treaty granted the Brits virtually unlimited access to American markets in exchange for limited access to British markets in the West Indies. It also allowed British creditors to recover debts owed by Americans.
In 1801, Thomas Jefferson was elected president and James Madison was named his secretary of state. They quickly abrogated the treaty.
Madison took a hard-line approach towards the Brits. Even back in 1790, as a Congressman from Virginia, he championed the idea of countering British trade restrictions with a series of discriminatory tariffs via import taxes. George Washington and John Adams rejected the idea. Now, however, as Secretary of State, Madison hoped to implement what he believed was a long overdue aggressive trade policy against Britain. But, he shot himself in the foot big time …. by reversing the naval-building policies of John Adams
John Adams succeeded in his priority of strengthening the United States Navy. When he was elected in 1796, the navy had only three battleships. Five years later, in 1801, the navy had fifty … more than enough to defend America’s coastline and maintain a viable presence in the Caribbean.
Jefferson, and Madison, undid all this for several reasons. They felt maintaining a navy was too expensive. As Republicans they believed in frugal, tax-cutting government. And they believed that a large military posed a domestic threat in that the officer corps could harbor aristocratic ambitions and become a tool for would-be tyrants. Lastly, they felt navies led countries into unnecessary foreign entanglements. As such, Jefferson invested only in small gunboats for coastal patrols. The battleships atrophied. By 1812, the United States had only a dozen seaworthy battleships of any size.
Jefferson and Madison certainly were not stupid men. Yet, one must wonder “What were they thinking??” With no leverage (military power) to bring to the negotiating table, did they expect the Brits to just quietly and unquestioningly bend to American demands? Hardly! As should have been expected, Britain continued to apply both its commercial and naval power to dictate — by force as necessary — trade and maritime policy to the United States.
MORE HALF-ASSED DECISIONS AND ERRONEOUS BELIEFS
All governments do dumb things, even that of our Founding Fathers.
So, in 1807 Jefferson tried to pressure the Brits and French by convincing Congress to secure a radical embargo against all foreign trade. (Embargo!!! Our government still loves them to this very day. When will we ever learn?) American ships were forbidden from trading overseas. The embargo only hurt America. It was quickly scrapped.
It was replaced with the Non-Intercourse Act. This act had nothing to do with the cessation of attacking the pink fortress. It allowed trade with all countries except Britain and France. It also allowed the President to restore trade with either country IF either belligerent ended its maritime harassment. That only intercoursed the American people, and didn’t work out either.
So, in 1810 Madison signed the ridicules Macon’s Bill No.2. Even he didn’t like it, but he could not yet get Congress to pass a war resolution. The bill authorized Madison to impose trade restrictions against one offending country if the other lifted its trade restrictions against the United States. In other words, the United States would commercially punish country A if country B agreed to allow America to trade freely. Pitting two countries against each other didn’t work either.
What was the result of all these half-assed measures to intimidate the British? They shopped elsewhere! For example, between 1808-1812 the Canadian timber industry exploded with its exports to England, increasing by 500%. Canadian agricultural production also increased greatly. The Brits were eating beef, Americans were eating crow.
Madison was getting desperate. He was conjuring up even more rigorous measures against the British fearing that the window of opportunity for gaining concessions through commercial pressure would soon close forever. His conjuring included plans for war.
He figured it would be a little war, and a quick one. (How many times have our Dear Leaders told us that? Especially since 1960?) Most of the British army and navy were bogged down in Europe, fighting a brutal war with Napoleon. The French controlled most of Europe, and the little Frenchie dictator assembled a 700,000-man army for an invasion of Russia. All Madison wanted was the right to trade freely and, gain the respect owed to the United States as an independent nation. He calculated that since he wasn’t seeking territory or conquest, that Britain would surely be willing to negotiate rather than have to deploy valuable ships and troops thousands of miles away from the war in Europe. Madison miscalculated. Madison was wrong to believe that the British would rush to negotiate with him. The British even refused Tsar Alexander I’s invitation to mediate in 1813.
Britain’s commitment to battle only strengthened over the first two years of the war. Madison was even wrong about the impact of the European war on America. He felt that when the European war ended, that the British would send the bulk of their armies to battle the United States. When you need popular support for a quick and easy war, you still need a little fear-mongering. “The British will come!!” One reason the Brits didn’t redeploy their troops was that American military incompetence at the beginning of the war made it unnecessary. More fortuitously, after more than two decades of continual war, the Brits had had enough, and by 1814 were more than happy to soften their demands. (The British Invasion finally took place about 150 years later. But with guitars and drums.)
THE FRENCH CONNECTION — TAKING ADVANTAGE OF MACON’S BILL
The Brits had the world’s strongest navy, and couldn’t be coerced into lifting its restrictions. France, on the other hand, had everything to gain. Their Berlin (1806) and Milan (1807) decrees imposed severe trade restrictions against any country trading with Britain. But France’s navy was not sufficiently powerful enough to enforce these decrees. So, in compliance with Macon’s Bill, France could force the United States to restrict itself. In other words, France repealed its restrictions against the United States, thus forcing the United States to suspend its trade with Great Britain. Thus, on August 5, 1810 the French lifted the Berlin and Milan decrees. Madison, in turn, ended all trade with Britain on Feb. 2, 1811.
The New England Federalists — who were dependent upon trade with Britain for their economic sustenance — immediately attacked the announcement. The claimed Napoleon could not be trusted, and that it would lead America into war. They were correct. Napoleon refused to release American ships already held in French ports, and continued to harass American shipping. America would declare war on June 18, 1812.
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