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The War of 1812 (1809-1815)

Madison

Economic Warfare

The "War Hawks"

Summary

In the election of 1808, James Madison managed to win by publishing dispatches from his term as Jefferson's secretary of state, proving that he was tough on the British. On March 4, 1809, Madison became US President. It was easily apparent that he was no Thomas Jefferson: the short, bald, unimposing Madison lacked personal magnetism as well as the ability to inspire his audiences. Soon after taking office, the Madison government had to deal with the imminent expiration of the Non-Intercourse Act. In 1810, Congress passed Macon's Bill No. 2. declaring that if either France or Britain normalized trade with the US, the US would employ the Non-Intercourse Act against the other power. Napoleon jumped at the opportunity. In August of 1810, he quickly promised that all economic terms restricting US imports into Europe would soon be lifted. Based on this promise, Madison reinstated the Non-Intercourse Acts restricting trade with Britain in November 1810, pushing the US closer to war with Britain than it had been since the 1807 Chesapeake Incident. Napoleon, for his part, did not keep his promise.

Also in 1810, American forces took control of Spain's province of West Florida. There had been some boundary disputes regarding the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, and Madison now pursued the furthest extent of those boundaries in Spanish Florida with tremendous popular support. In 1812, Madison faced a tough re-election against Federalist opponent Dewitt Clinton. US possession of West Florida was probably the crucial issue propelling Madison to reelection.

Commentary

Macon's Bill No. 2 was a crafty piece of foreign policy, through which US leaders hoped to resume trade with either Britain or France by playing the two arch-enemies against each other. Napoleon proved craftier, however. He quickly promised the US a repeal of the Continental System, but with no intention of keeping the promise. Madison had no way of knowing if Napoleon meant to keep his promise, and he had no way of enforcing Napoleon's terms. Madison made a serious mistake by thinking he could take Napoleon at his word. We can consider Napoleon either a deceitful liar or we can consider him to be a master tactician and brilliant strategist, who employed misdirection in all he did, from battlefield tricks to diplomacy. Regardless, Napoleon got exactly what he wanted. He gave the US nothing but an empty promise, and for that, the US aligned with France, reinvoked the Non-Intercourse Acts against Britain, and started a war against Britain that would divert British resources away from opposing Napoleon's armies on the European continent.

However, although it seems as though France simply beat Britain to meeting Macon's Bill No. 2, Britain also tried to meet the bill's conditions immediately. Britain, however, asked the US to raise trade restrictions against all British enemies, not just the French. In addition, the British demanded that the US allow Impressment of US sailors to continue. Britain's offer was quickly rejected in favor of Napoleon's.

Under President Jefferson, James Madison had served as Secretary of State. A faithful, hardworking, and dutiful servant, Madison believed firmly in the same principles as Jefferson, although he never was quite as eloquent in arguing for them. During his presidency, his party, the Democratic-Republicans, held a strong majority in Congress. However, considerable factionalism existed even within the party, and bickering and indecision plagued Madison's cabinet as a result and often created intense pressure over handling of foreign and domestic policy.

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