James Madison and the War of 1812
James Madison and the War of 1812
Jefferson retired from office after serving two terms, solidifying the two-term limit precedent that Washington had set. James Madison, Jefferson’s secretary of state, won the election of 1808 and became president on March 4, 1809. He immediately confronted the nation’s deteriorating foreign relations.
Under Madison, Congress first replaced the Embargo Act with the Non-Intercourse Act, which prevented trade with Britain and France only, thereby opening up all other foreign markets. But because the British and French were the largest and most powerful traders in the world, the Non-Intercourse Act did little to stimulate the struggling U.S. economy. In 1810, Congress substituted Macon’s Bill No. 2 for the Non-Intercourse Act, as a ploy for either Britain or France to lift trade restrictions. Macon’s Bill No. 2 resumed open trade with both Britain and France and stated that if either nation repealed its restrictions on neutral shipping, the United States would install an embargo against the other nation. Napoleon seized this opportunity and repealed French restrictions, provoking an American declaration of non-intercourse with Britain. Despite Napoleon’s promise, the French continued to seize American ships.
The War Hawks
As it became clear that peaceable coercion would not ease the hostilities, Madison faced increasing pressure from War Hawks within Congress. Led by South Carolina’s John C. Calhoun and Kentucky’s Henry Clay, the War Hawks resented the post-embargo recession that had plagued southern and western regions from 1808 to 1810, and advocated war rather than disgraceful terms of peace. They also hoped that, through war, the U.S. would win some western and southwestern territories, annex Canada in order to eliminate the British and Native American threat along the frontier, and open up new lands to settlement.
The War Hawks feared that the British were recruiting Native Americans along the Canadian border to fight American settlers. Heightening these fears, a Shawnee chief, Tecumseh, and his brother “The Prophet” attempted to unite a number of tribes in Ohio and Indiana under an anti-white government. In response, future president William Henry Harrison, then governor of the Indiana Territory, crushed the Shawnees in the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe, though his own forces also suffered heavy losses. Almost 30 years later, Harrison would run for president on his popularity as an Indian fighter, using the campaign slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler too!” (John Tyler ran as his vice president.) Although the Battle of Tippecanoe represented an American victory over the Shawnees, it did not end the threat of Anglo-Indian alliance—Tecumseh and the Shawnees later allied with British troops during the War of 1812.
The War of 1812
The SAT II U.S. History rarely asks specific questions about war facts, such as the names of battles and generals. It is more important to know what caused the war and how it ended.
In June 1812, convinced of the inevitability of war against Britain, Madison sent a message to Congress enumerating British violations of U.S. neutrality rights, including the presence of British ships in American waters and the impressment of American sailors. In a conciliatory measure, Britain repealed the Orders in Council, its aggressive naval policy, but it was too late. Congress had already passed a declaration of war, and the War Hawks pushed for full engagement.
The American forces, however, were outmatched by British forces, in part because the Republicans had drastically cut military expenditures and programs, leaving the U.S. forces seriously underfunded and under-trained. Nonetheless, the war ended in stalemate, mainly because the British were also occupied with events in Europe. The signing of the Treaty of Ghent in December 1814 ended the war and restored the status quo. The treaty did not mention free trade or sailor’s rights.
Two weeks after the signing of Treaty of Ghent, but before news of the treaty had reached America, American troops won a decisive victory in the Battle of New Orleans. General Andrew Jackson’s troops defended the city, killing more than 2,000 British troops while losing only thirteen men. The timing of the Battle of New Orleans inspired the popular misconception that the U.S. had won the war and had forced the British to surrender and sign the treaty. Even without officially “winning” the war, the U.S. did succeed in protecting itself against one of the world’s premier powers, for which reason the War of 1812 has been called the “second war of independence.”
The Hartford Convention
In 1814, during the later stages of the War of 1812, a group of disillusioned Federalists met at the Hartford Convention, where the New England-based party enumerated its complaints against the ruling Republican Party. Some Federalists called for New England’s secession, but cooler heads prevailed and called for a resolution summarizing New England’s grievances, both general and those specifically relating to the War of 1812. These complaints included the charge that Republicans were neglecting the needs of New England industry and commerce. The war, and its accompanying trade restrictions in particular, hurt New England because of the region’s concentration of seaboard manufacturers and merchants. The group at the Hartford Convention also drafted seven constitutional amendments meant to politically strengthen the Northeast, including an amendment to abolish the three-fifths clause, to change the policy by which Congress declared war, and to set a maximum time limit for trade embargoes.
The Federalists had hoped to deliver their resolution to Madison as the U.S. struggled in a deadlocked war and anti-war sentiment ran high. They arrived in Washington, D.C., however, just as news spread of the victory at New Orleans and the signing of the Treaty of Ghent. The perceived war victory and the restoration of peace stripped the Federalists of their central complaints and made them look like traitors and secessionists. Many Federalists who had attended the convention were forever stigmatized as disloyal Americans, crippling their political careers. The embarrassment of the Hartford Convention marked the end of the Federalist Party as a prominent influence in national politics.
American Nationalism and the Spirit of Cooperation
The perceived American victory in the War of 1812 ushered in an era of nationalism and cooperation. On a cultural level, the war yielded a number of important symbols of national pride and cooperative spirit, including the “Star-Spangled Banner,” which a young American, Francis Scott Key, composed while observing the British attack on Fort McHenry. Another patriotic element emerging from the war was the popular term “White House” for the presidential mansion (after the British burnedWashington, D.C., in battle, the presidential mansion was covered in whitewash to conceal the stains).
Influenced by the postwar spirit, Madison presented a nationalist policy program. With the Federalists no longer posing a political threat to Republican leadership after the debacle of the Hartford Convention, Madison proposed a number of policies that Republicans might earlier have avoided, since the policies, which increased the power of the central government, were rather Federalist in nature. In 1816, Madison signed the bill to charter the Second Bank of the United States, pushed through a moderate tariff bill in order to protect America’s growing industries, and urged federal funding for internal improvements, including a national system of roads and canals. In Congress, Henry Clay fleshed out these nationalist economic policies in his American System, a policy program aimed at economic self-sufficiency.
Nationalist proposals under Madison included the charter for the Second Bank of the United States, protectionist tariffs, and federal funding for internal improvements.
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