History 320: War of 1812 Debate


For the debate, each student will take the role of a member of Congress in June 1812, when President Madison asked Congress to consider the question of war and peace with Great Britain. Each student will read these documents and take a position either for or against war. Those who have primary responsibility for this debate will make short, formal presentations (approximately 6-7 minutes each) explaining their positions to the class. Your position should be based upon these documents, which provide a variety of arguments both for and against war. You should not base your position on any historical knowledge of what actually happened in the war. After the formal presentations, we will have an open debate, involving give and take, questions and answers. All members of the class (even those not making formal presentations) should participate in the open debate, by questioning the presenters on their positions. Each student making a presentation must also submit a formal, written explanation of his/her position, due at the start of class on the day of the debate. All students must read the material and be knowledgeable about the issues to prepare for the debate.


War of 1812 Documents


Early Newspaper Debate, 1807-1809


The Chesapeake and the Leopard, Washington Federalist, 3 July 1807

We have never, on any occasion, witnessed the spirit of the people excited to so great a degree of indignation, or such a thirst for revenge, as on hearing of the late unexampled outrage on the Chesapeake. All parties, ranks, and professions were unanimous in their detestation of the dastardly deed, and all cried aloud for vengeance. The accounts which we receive from every quarter tend to show that these sentiments universally prevail. The Administration may implicitly rely on the cordial support of every American citizen, in whatever manly and dignified steps they may take, to resent the insult and obtain reparation for the injury.


The Responsibility For The British Outrage, Washington National Intelligencer, 10 July 1807

We are pleased to observe the circumspection of the merchants. If they consult their own interests, or that of the country, they will for a time repress their spirit of adventure, and run as few risks as possible, until an explicit answer shall be given by the British Ministry. As yet it remains a point undetermined whether the late barbarous outrages have emanated directly from the British Cabinet, or are the acts exclusively of subordinate commanders. If they are directly authorized by the Cabinet, then we may calculate upon a scene of violence co-extensive with British power, and for another display of that perfidy so characteristic of its government. Every American vessel on the ocean will be seized and sent into some British port for adjudication, and the courts will take special care, if they do not forthwith proceed to condemnation, at any rate to keep the cases sub judice. Indeed, if the recent outrages do not emanate from the government, it is difficult to say whether they will not, notwithstanding, seize what they may consider a favorable opportunity to wreak their vengeance on this country. We know the hostility of the greater part of those who compose the British administration to our principles, and they may be Quixotic enough to imagine themselves able to crush these principles, or seriously arrest our commercial growth. They may, therefore, under some hollow pretext, refuse that satisfaction which we demand, the result of which will be war. There is indeed no small color of truth in the supposition that this outrage has flowed from the change in the British Ministry, connected with the fate the treaty has received from our government, and that without meaning or expecting war, they have virtually authorized aggressions on us, which they fancied we would tamely submit to; and that however astonished they may be with the manifestation they will soon receive of the temper of the nation, their pride may prevent them from retracting.

Everything is, and must for some time remain, uncertain. In the meantime it becomes our duty to husband all our strength. But little injury can accrue to the merchant from a suspension of his export business for a few months, compared with the incalculable evils that might befall him from its active prosecution. He is, therefore, under a double obligation to pursue this course, arising not only from a regard to his own interest, but likewise from a love of his country. In the day of danger it will want all its resources, and all its seamen. Were Congress in session, it is extremely probable that their first step would be the imposition of an embargo. What they would do, were they sitting, it is the interest and duty of the merchant to do himself. We have no doubt that the intelligence of this order of men may on this occasion, as it has on all former occasions, be relied on.


The Chesapeake and the Leopard, New York Evening Post, 24 July 1807

We say and we once more repeat it, that the Chesapeake, being a national ship, was not liable to be searched for any purpose, nor to have any of her crew taken from her. This is ground that ought to be maintained at every hazard. But on the other hand, candor demands the concession, that it was in every way improper in the American commodore to enlist four deserters from the British man of war, knowing them to be such; and whether they were English subjects, or had voluntarily enlisted and received their bounty (this being a conduct long since silently permitted by us), is immaterial. And we say further that if the Administration, on being applied to by the English counsul, refused to accommodate the affair, but insisted on protecting the men by placing them under the national flag, the Administration thereby became criminal, and are answerable to the people for their culpable conduct.

Such are the sentiments we hold on this subject: they have been often revised, and are believed to be correct. The result is that our own Administration are considered as having been to blame; but not so that their misconduct justified the resort to force on the part of the English. On this point, we are ready to say that we consider the national sovereignty has been attacked, the national honor tarnished, and that ample reparations and satisfaction must be given or that war ought to be resorted to by force of arms.


The Embargo and the Farmer's Story, Columbia Centinel, 25 May 1808

A zealous Boston Democrat was lately in the country extolling the embargo to a plain farmer, as a wise as well as a strong measure, and urging the farmer to express his opinion upon it. The farmer, however, modestly declined, saying that he lived in the bush where he had not the means of information on which to ground an opinion on political measures; but if Boston folks, who knew more, said it was right, he supposed it was so; but, says he, I will tell you a story. Our minister one day sent his boy to the pasture after a horse. He was gone so long that the parson was afraid the horse had kicked his brains out; he went therefore with anxiety to look after him. In the field he found the boy standing still with his eyes steadily fixed upon the ground. His master inquired with severity what he was doing there. Why, sir, said he, I saw a woodchuck run into this hole, and so I thought I would stand and watch for him until he was starved out; but I declare I am almost starved to death myself.


Hateful Measures for Enforcing the Embargo, Boston Gazette, 2 February 1809

Within a few days past Colonel Boyd, commanding at the Castle, received orders from the Secretary of War to interdict all vessels from passing Fort Independence; in consequence of this edict the acting Collector has been placed under the necessity of withholding clearances to every description of vessels.

This aggravated repression was not generally known until yesterday, when the vessels in the harbor bound their colors in black, and hoisted them half-mast. The circumstance has created some considerable agitation in the public mind, but to the honor of the town has been yet unattended with any serious consequences.

It is to be presumed that this new edict will at least continue to be enforced until Secretary Dearborn is at leisure to come on, to mark out his favorites, and take upon himself the office, so long reserved for him, of the Customs.

The spirit of our citizens is rising and may burst into a flame. Everything should therefore be done to calm them till the Legislature has had time to mature its plans of redress. It is feared that the caution necessary in such an assembly may protract our relief too long; but we must wait patiently the aid of our Constitutional Guardians, rather than stain the character of this metropolis by mobs and riots. If our government cannot do anything now that shall afford full and complete relief, they may at least do enough to calm the public mind and lead the citizens to wait for events, which must place the means for a radical cure completely in our hands. The spirit of New England is slow in rising; but when once inflamed by oppression, it will never be repressed by anything short of complete justice.


The Embargo Experiment Ended, Baltimore Federal Republican, March 1809

The embargo now ceases to be in force, and every merchant who can give a bond with good sureties to double the amount of vessel and cargo, is entitled to clear out for any port except in France or England or the dependency of either of them. After depriving government of its means of support for sixteen months, and preventing the people of the United States from pursuing a lawful and profitable commerce, and reducing the whole country to a state of wretchedness and poverty, our infatuated rulers, blinded by a corrupt predilection for France, have been forced to acknowledge their fatal error, and so far to retrace their steps. To the patriotism of the New England States is due the praise of our salvation. By their courage and virtue have we been saved from entanglements in a fatal alliance with France. The whole system of fraud and corruption has been exposed to the people, and those very men who were the first to cast off the yoke of England, have lived to save their country from falling under the command of a more cruel tyrant. The patriot who had the courage to encounter the fury of the political storm, who stepped forth in the hour of danger to give the first alarm to his country, we trust will one day be rewarded with the highest honors in the gift of a grateful people.


French Outrages Against Our Ships and Sailors, New York Evening Post, July 1809

Fellow Citizens, for more than two years has your flag been struck on the ocean whenever it has been met with by the flag of France; your vessels have been scornfully burnt or scuttled in the ocean; your property has been seized or confiscated; your sailors robbed and manacled, or forced by cruelties to serve against their own country; the worthless part of them suborned by a public decree to commit perjury, and on their evidence, though charging no crime, the wretched remainder of the crew condemned as prisoners of war, landed as such and marched without shoes to their feet or clothing to their backs in the most inclement weather some hundreds of miles into the interior of France; lashed along the highway like slaves, treated with every possible indignity, and then immured in the infernal dungeons of Arras or Verdun. There, deprived of every comfort and of all intercourse with the rest of the world, there, fellow citizens, have they been lying, some for months and some for years! There they now lie, wasting away the best vigor of their days, counting the hours of their captivity as they turn in vain their imploring eyes towards their own government, and etching down another and another week of grief and despondence. Nineteen cents a day allowed them for subsistence and clothing and medicine! Allow them seven a day, or $25 a year for clothing, and you leave them four cents to purchase each meal. Think of this, ye who live in luxury here, and read their story with more indifference than you listen to the fictitious sorrows of a Robinson Crusoe; think of this, and let it at length engage your attention, and induce you to demand of your government to interfere in earnest.

But after all, what is to be expected? If any one of these wretched men, more fortunate than his fellow sufferers, escapes and brings the tale of their situation, and makes it known to his countrymen, a set of inhuman wretches here, more cruel than the French themselves, turn their wrongs into derision, or exert their miserable faculties in cavillings and criticisms to shew that all these statements are fabrications, because they have not been drawn up by some special pleader. The barbarous impudence of some editors pronounces them forgeries, and every fellow who can set a type repeats the infamous calumny, till the public voice that had begun to raise itself in their favor is stilled, and sympathy extinguished.


New York Evening Post, 1 July 1809

The proceedings of the present Congress, the debates, the votes and the acts, are calculated to excite nothing but surprise, indignation or ridicule. On the question of foreign relations, I do really think the French party has been more fairly unmasked than on any former occasion. Nobody can possibly forget that at the last session, every democrat in the house was loud and boisterous in his declarations of impartiality between France and Great Britain: they would hold them both in the same estimation, both they said had injured; neither had atoned nor offered satisfaction; both therefore should be equally excluded from our hospitality, until such satisfaction was attained. Since that time Great Britain, much to their surprise and vexation, has offered such satisfaction, and it has been accepted by the president; France has offered nothing; her wrongs and her insults remain full blown. And yet the Jefferson party, in the very teeth of all their professions, yet sounding in our ears, refuse to restore intercourse with Great Britain, unless it is also restored with France. What language can convey the indignant emotions that every American must experience at this bare faced conduct? I am lost in amazement. How long will the people remain stone blind to the conduct of such rulers, and to the consequences which will result from it?


Aurora General Advertiser, 31 July 1809

The prints which, by their subserviency to the baleful oppression of Great Britain, have contributed so much to the disgrace of this nation, and encouraged, by their corruption, the insolence of the enemy, are now seeking to make a sett off by rumors from France, which, like their usual fabrications, are too clumsy and preposterous to merit regard.

It is the common practice with the English government, and with its emissaries and adherents every where, to endeavor to mitigate her injustice, by drawing comparisons with the injustice of France. To the wrongs of France we are as much opposed as to those of England; but it will not answer, to say that, because France does us an injury, that, therefore, England has a right to accumulate wrongs upon us. If the argument is good for any thing, it must cut both ways; and then if it be admitted, the incessant insolence, aggression, insult, and outrage of England, furnishes precedents which, if France were to follow, might, with equal propriety, be used by France to mitigate or palliate her injustice.

...Whenever the outrages of England are complained of, the cry of the British faction is, that there is "French influence." If the laws of nations are asserted and maintained - it is said to arise from "French influence." If government endeavors to preserve its peace by self-denial - it is "French influence." If we complain of the infringement of our territory, or the impressment of our seamen - it is said to be "French influence."...

It is time to meet this delusion - the measure of British wrongs is now too full for palliation. The atrocious character of the measures of that government, cannot be mitigated; upon a comparison with the conduct of France to the United States, the contrast presents on one side a map of murderous and pestilential deformity; on the other we see the petulance, mixed with the compassion, of a nation desirous of being generous to us, and conscious that no cause of enmity can naturally exist between us.

The crisis comes upon us now, when we must look to our own security, and the policy which is best adapted to ensure our rights and our prosperity. France has fought our battles - had Britain triumphed, we should have been enslaved.

We can have no natural sympathies for a government which has tyrannised over us in every shape - which has murdered, torn from their homes, and plundered our citizens, insulted our flag, our territory, and our independence - and trampled upon the laws of civilized nations.

...We want no alliance - we look for none - we look for peace - we have a right to insist on free commerce and peace; and neither of the belligerents have a right to invade the one or the other. In our policy we must detest the nation that insults or injures us. Our policy in regard to Europe has not been naturally wise. We must stand upon that ground which asserts the rights of property alike, on the earth and the seas. Which assures neutral commerce, and which gives the high road of the ocean, as God has given it to man free, and without any other bounds to it than the creator has placed. We have no need to league with the belligerents, we have only to defend ourselves from oppression.


Political Leaders and their views, 1811-1812


John C. Calhoun Insists on Free Trade, 1811

Although Mr. Speaker, I believe, under existing circumstances, a war attitude necessary, or at least preparatory steps calculated to meet that event; and although situated as we are, I am for the whole of our legitimate rights; yet sir, I would not be willing to involve the country in war, in defence of the extensive and circuitous carrying trade, separate from the other causes; that is, that we should become carriers for the whole world; as Government receives no benefit from this circuitous carrying trade, only as it is calculated to aggrandize a few individuals engaged in it. I should be for holding fast the claim to the circuitous carrying trade, and would be willing to operate on our enemies by adopting countervailing restrictive systems. But, sir, I would not be willing, that the good of the States, the good of the people, the agriculturists and mechanics, should be put at hazard to gratify the avarice and cupidity of a small class of men, who in fact may be called citizens of the world, attached to no particular country; any country is their country where they can make the most money. But, sir, for what is an inherent right, for what I deem the legitimate, or necessary carrying trade, the liberty of carrying our productions to foreign markets, and with the return cargo, in which agriculture is particularly interested, I would fight in defence of.

Source: John C. Calhoun, Speech, in Annals of Congress, 12th Cong., 1st Sess., pages 482-483, 487.


A Southerner, Felix Grundy, Urges Continental Expansion, 1811

The true question in controversy . . . involves the interest of the whole nation. It is the right of exporting the productions of our own soil and industry to foreign markets. . . .

What, Mr. Speaker, are we now called on to decide? It is whether we will resist by force the attempt made by that government to subject our maritime rights to the arbitrary and capricious rule of her will; for my part I am not prepared to say that this country shall submit to have her commerce interdicted or regulated by any foreign nation. Sir, I prefer war to submission.

Over and above these unjust pretensions of the British government, for many years past they have been in the practice of impressing our seamen from merchant vessels; this unjust and lawless invasion of personal liberty calls loudly for the interposition of this government. . . .

This war, if carried on successfully, will have its advantages. We shall drive the British from our continent—they will no longer have an opportunity of intriguing with our Indian neighbors, and setting on the ruthless savage to tomahawk our women and children. That nation will lose her Canadian trade, and, by having no resting place in this country, her means of annoying us will be diminished. The idea I am now about to advance is at war, I know, with sentiments of the gentleman from Virginia. I am willing to receive the Canadians as adopted brethren; it will have beneficial political effects; it will preserve the equilibrium of the government. When Louisiana shall be fully peopled, the Northern states will lose their power; they will be at the discretion of others; they can be depressed at pleasure; and then this Union might be endangered. I therefore feel anxious not only to add the Floridas to the South, but the Canadas to the North of this empire.

Source: Felix Grundy, Speech, in Annals of Congress, 12th Cong., 1st Sess., pages 422-427.


Henry Clay Endorses War, 1811

What are we to gain by war, has been emphatically asked? In reply, he would ask, what are we not to lose by peace?--commerce, character, a nation's best treasure, honor! If pecuniary considerations alone are to govern, there is sufficient motive for the war. Our revenue is reduced, by the operation of the belligerent edicts, to about six million of dollars, according to the Secretary of the Treasury's report. The year preceding the embargo, it was sixteen. Take away the Orders in Council it will again mount up to sixteen millions. By continuing, therefore, in peace, if the mongrel state in which we deserve that denomination, we lose annually, in revenue only, ten millions of dollars. . . .

Not content with seizing upon all our property, which falls within her rapacious grasp, the personal rights of our countrymen--rights which forever ought to be sacred, are trampled upon and violated. The Orders in Council were pretended to have been reluctantly adopted as a measure of retaliation. The French decrees, their alleged basis, are revoked. England resorts to the expedient of denying the fact of the revocation. . . . We are invited, conjured to drink the potion of British poison actually presented to our lips, that we may avoid the imperial dose prepared by perturbed imaginations. We are called upon to submit to debasement, dishonor, and disgrace—to bow the neck to royal insolence, as a course of preparation for many resistance to Gallic invasion! . . . We were but yesterday contending for the indirect trade--the right to explore to Europe the coffee and sugar of the West Indies. To-day we are asserting our claim to the direct trade--the right to export our cotton, tobacco, and other domestic produce to market. Yield this point, and to-morrow intercourse between New Orleans and New York--between the planters on the James river and Richmond, will be interdicted. For, sir, the career of encroachment is never arrested by submission. It will advance while there remains a single privilege on which it can operate. Gentlemen say that this Government is unfit for any war, but a war of invasion. What, is it not equivalent to invasion, if the mouths of our harbors and outlets are blocked up, and we are denied egress from our own waters? Or, when the burglar is at our door, shall we bravely sally forth and repel his felonious entrance, or meanly skulk within the cells of the castle? . . .

[Y]ou must look for an explanation of [England's] conduct in the jealousies of a rival. She sickens at your prosperity, and beholds in your growth--your sails spread on every ocean, and your numerous seamen--the foundations of a Power which, at no very distant day, is to make her tremble for naval superiority. . . .

What! shall it be said that our amor patrioe is located at these desks--that we pusillanimously cling to our seats here, rather than boldly vindicate the most inestimable rights of the country? Whilst the heroic Daviess and his gallant associates, exposed to all the perils of treacherous savage warfare, are sacrificing themselves for the good of their country, shall we shrink from our duty?

Source: Henry Clay, Speech, in Annals of Congress, 12th Cong., 1st Sess., pages 599-602.


A Federalist, Samuel Taggart Voices Dissent, 1812

[T]he Orders in Council have been more rigorously carried into effect, on the part of Great Britain. And since the additional hostile attitude assumed during the present session of Congress, has been known in Great Britain, I understand, from the public prints, that orders have been given for their still more rigid execution. Unless she saw fit to rescind them, this was naturally to be expected. In proportion as we assume a more hostile attitude towards her, and show a disposition to embrace her enemy in the arms of friendship and affection, it was to be expected that she would either relax and accede to our demands, or adhere more rigorously to her own system. She has chosen the latter.

As it respects the impressment of seamen, this is a delicate and a difficult subject, and if it is ever adjusted to mutual satisfaction it must be by war, and whenever there is mutually a disposition to accommodate, it will be found necessary to concede something on both sides. . . . It is vain to contend against the principle [of drafting citizens for the military], since we have sanctioned it by our laws, and daily practise upon it, however hardly we may think of some of the particular modes in which it is applied. I feel satisfaction, however, in the reflection, that it has never had the sanction of my vote. The principle then being admitted, the only ground of complaint is the irregular application of it to Americans. Great Britain does not claim, she has never claimed the right of impressing American citizens. She claims the right of reclaiming her own subjects, even although they should be found on board of American vessels. . . .

It is said to be necessary to go to war, for the purpose of securing our commercial rights, of opening a way for obtaining the best market for our produce, and in order to avenge the insults which have been offered to our flag. But what is there in the present situation of the United States, which we could reasonably expect would be ameliorated by war? in a situation of the world which is perhaps without a parallel in the annals of history, it would be strange indeed, if the United States did not suffer some inconveniences, especially in their mercantile connexions and speculations. . . .

What is the particular achievement to be accomplished by this armament, which is to be kept up at such an enormous expense, and which is to bring the war to a successful termination? Why, the conquest of Canada. . . . Our rights on the ocean have been assailed, and, however inconsistent it may seem to go as far as possible from the ocean to seek redress, yet this would appear to be the policy. We are to seek it, it seems, by fighting the Indians on the Wabash or at Tippecanoe, or the Canadians at Fort Malden, at Little York, at Kingston, at Montreal, and at Quebec. . . .

For whose benefit is the capture of Canada? What advantages are we likely to reap from the conquest? Will it secure the liberty of the seas, or compel Great Britain to rescind her Orders in Council? Did we ever know an instance in which Great Britain gave up a favorite measure for the sake of saving a foreign possession, perhaps of very little value to her? Will the advantages to be derived from the conquest of Canada be an equivalent for the loss and damage we may sustain in other quarters? What is Great Britain to be about all the time that we are wrestling Canada out of her possession? Is it consistent with the vigor with which she usually acts, to stand by and tamely look on? Either she will attempt a vigorous defence of Canada, or she will not. If she does, some of the difficulties of the enterprise have been stated. If she does not, it will be that she may be the better able to inflict a severe blow in some other quarter. Admitting war to be sincerely intended, no course could be devised more inconsistent with the maxims of sound policy than that which appears to be pursuing by the United States.

Source: Samuel Taggart, Speech, June 24, 1812, Annals of Congress, 12th Cong., 1st Sess., pages 1649-1650, 1652, 1662-1663, 1666-1667.


The Kentucky Legislature Calls for Action

The people of this state, though not immediately exposed to those piratical depredations, which vex, and destroy the commerce of their eastern brethren on the ocean, cannot be less deeply interested in their effects. They look to the sufferings and wrongs of a single member as intimately affecting the whole body. But when an evil becomes so general and inveterate in its deleterious effects, as to threaten dissolution, unless a proper and forcible remedy is applied--The state of Kentucky, yielding to none in patriotism; in its deep rooted attachment to the sacred bond of the union; in its faithful remembrance of the price of our freedom, and in the heartfelt conviction that our posterity have a sacred claim upon us, to transmit to them unimpaired, this God-like inheritance, cannot fail to be penetrated, with any event which threatens even to impair it; much less then, can she be insensible to those daring wrongs of a foreign power, which lead to its immediate destruction.

But when we have discovered a systematic course of injury from her towards our country, evidencing too strongly to be mistaken, an utter disregard of almost every principle of acknowledged rights between independent nations, endeavouring by almost every act of violence on the high seas--on the coasts of foreign powers with whom we were in amity--and even in sight of our own harbours by capturing and destroying our vessels: confiscating our property: forcibly imprisoning and torturing our fellow-citizens: condemning some to death: slaughtering others, by attacking our ships of war: impressing all she can lay her hands upon, to man her vessels: bidding defiance to our seaports: insulting our national honour by every means that lawless force and brutality can devise: inciting the savages to murder the inhabitants on our defenceless frontiers: furnishing them with arms and ammunition lately, to attack our forces: to the loss of a number of brave men: and by every art of power and intrigue, seeking to dispose of our whole strength and resources, as may suit her unrestrained ambition or interest--and when her very offers of redress, go only to sanction her wrongs, and seek merely a removal of those obstacles interposed by our government, to the full enjoyment of her iniquitous benefits; we can be at no loss which course should be pursued. . . .

1. Resolved, by the general assembly for the state of Kentucky, that this state feel deeply sensibly, of the continued, wanton, and flagrant violations by Great Britain and France, of the dearest rights of the people of the United States, as a free and independent nation: that those violations if not discontinued, and ample compensation made for them, ought to be resisted with the whole power of our country.

2. Resolved, that as war seems probable so far as we have any existing evidence of a sense of justice on the part of the government of Great Britain, that the state of Kentucky, to the last mite of her strength and resources, will contribute them to maintain the contest and support the right of their country against such lawless violations; and that the citizens of Kentucky, are prepared to take the field when called on.

Source: Resolution, Kentucky Legislature, December 16, 1811, in Niles' Weekly Register, I (January 11, 1812).


President Madison States the Case for War, 1812

British cruisers have been in the continued practice of violating the American flag on the great highway of nations, and of seizing and carrying off persons sailing under it, not in the exercise of a belligerent right founded on the law of nations against an enemy, but on a municipal prerogative over British subjects. British jurisdiction is thus extended to neutral vessels in a situation where no laws can operate but the law of nations and the laws of the country to which the vessels belong, and a self-redress is assumed which, if British subjects were wrongfully detained and alone concerned, is that substitutions of force for a resort to the responsible sovereign which falls within the definition of war. Could the seizure of British subjects in such cases be regarded as within the exercise of a belligerent right, the acknowledged laws of war, which forbid an article of captured property to be adjudged without a regular investigation before a competent tribunal, would imperiously demand the fairest trial where the sacred rights of persons were at issue. In place of such a trial these rights are subjected to the will of every petty commander. . . .

British cruisers have been in the practice also of violating the rights and the peace of our coasts. They hover over and harass our entering and departing commerce. To the most insulting pretensions they have added the most lawless proceedings in our very harbors, and have wantonly spilt American blood within the sanctuary of our territorial jurisdiction. . . .

Not content with these occasional expedients for laying waste our neutral trade, the cabinet of Britain resorted at length to the sweeping system of blockades, under the name of orders in council, which has been molded and managed as might best suit its political views, its commercial jealousies, or the avidity of British cruisers. . . .

In reviewing the conduct of Great Britain toward the United States our attention is necessarily drawn to the warfare just renewed by the savages on one of our extensive frontiers--a warfare which is known to spare neither age nor sex and to be distinguished by featured peculiarly shocking to humanity. It is difficult to account for the activity and combinations which have for some time been developing themselves among tribes in constant intercourse with British traders and garrisons without connecting their hostility with that influence and without recollecting the authenticated examples of such interpositions heretofore furnished by the officers and agents of that Government. . . .

Our moderation and conciliation have had no other effect than to encourage perseverance and to enlarge pretensions. We behold our seafaring citizens still the daily victims of lawless violence, committed on the great common and highway of nations, even within sight of the country which owes them protection. We behold our vessels, freighted with the products of our soil and industry, or returning with the honest proceeds of them, wrested from their lawful destinations, confiscated by prize courts no longer the organs of public law but the instruments of arbitrary edicts, and their unfortunate crews dispersed and lost, or forced or inveigled in British ports into British fleets, whilst arguments are employed in support of these aggressions which have no foundation but in a principle equally supporting a claim to regulate our external commerce in all cases whatsoever.

We behold, in fine, on the side of Great Britain a state of war against the United States, and on the side of the United States a state of peace toward Great Britain.

Whether the United States shall continue passive under these progressive usurpations and these accumulating wrongs, or, opposing force to force in defense of their national rights, shall commit a just cause into the hands of the Almighty Disposer of Events, avoiding all connections which might entangle it in the contest or views of other powers, and preserving a constant readiness to concur in an honorable reestablishment of peace and friendship, is a solemn question which the Constitution wisely confides to the legislative department of the Government. In recommending it to their early deliberations I am happy in the assurance that the decision will be worthy [of] the enlightened and patriotic councils of a virtuous, a free, and a powerful nation.

Source: "To The Senate and House of Representatives of the United States, June 1, 1812," in James D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789-1908 (Washington: Bureau of National Literature and Art, 1909), Vol. 1, pages 500-505.


Newspaper Debate over War


The Folly of Joining the Army, New York Evening Post, 24 January 1812

"Tricks upon Travellers," or "More Ways than one to kill a Cat." - Old saws. We are certainly now to have a war, for Congress have voted to have an army. But let me tell you, there is all the difference in the world between an army on paper, and an army in the field. An army on paper is voted in a whiff, but to raise an army, you must offer men good wages. The wages proposed to be given to induce men to come forward and enlist for five years, leave their homes and march away to take Canada, is a bounty of $16, and $5 a month; and at the end of the war, if they can get a certificate of good behavior, 160 acres of wild land and three months' pay; for the purpose, I presume, of enabling the soldier to walk off and find it, if he can. Now I should really be glad to be informed, whether it is seriously expected that, in a country where a stout able-bodied man can earn $15 a month from May to November, and a dollar a day during mowing and harvesting, he will go into the army for a bounty of $16, $5 a month for five years, if the war should last so long, and 160 acres of wild land, if he happens to be on such good terms with his commanding officer as to obtain a certificate of good behavior? Let the public judge if such inducements as these will ever raise an army of 25,000 men, or ever were seriously expected to do it? If not, can anything be meant more than "sound and fury signifying nothing?" This may be called humbugging on a large scale.


They Call It a War for Commerce! New York Evening Post, 26 January 1812

Look for yourselves, good people all - The administration tell me that the object for which they are going to war with Great Britain, is to secure our commercial rights; to put the trade of the country on a good footing; to enable our merchants to deal with Great Britain on full as favorable terms as they deal with France, or else not deal at all. Such is the declared object for which all further intercourse is to be suspended with Great Britain and her allies, while we proceed to make war upon her and them until we compel her to pay more respect to American commerce: and, as Mr. Stow truly observed in his late excellent speech, the anxiety of members of Congress to effect this object is always the greater in proportion to the distance any honorable member lives from the seaboard. To enable you, good people, to judge for yourselves, I have only to beg of you to turn your eyes to Mr. Gallatin's letter in a succeeding column, stating the amount of the exports of the United States for the last year; the particular country to which these exports were sent, and specifying the amount received from us by each. If you will just cast a glance at this document, you will find of the articles of our own growth or manufactures we in that time carried or sent abroad (in round numbers) no less than $45,294,000 worth. You will next find that out of this sum, all the rest of the world (Great Britain and her allies excepted) took about $7,719,366, and that Great Britain and her allies took the remainder, amounting to $38,575,627. Now, after this, let me ask you what you think of making war upon Great Britain and her allies, for the purpose of benefiting commerce?


War Should Be Declared, Washington National Intelligencer, 14 April 1812

The public attention has been drawn to the approaching arrival of the Hornet, as a period when the measures of our government would take a decisive character, or rather their final cast. We are among those who have attached to this event a high degree of importance, and have therefore looked to it with the utmost solicitude.

But if the reports which we now hear are true, that with England all hope of honorable accommodation is at an end, and that with France our negotiations are in a forwardness encouraging expectations of a favorable result, where is the motive for longer delay? The final step ought to be taken, and that step is WAR. By what course of measures we have reached the present crisis, is not now a question for patriots and freemen to discuss. It exists: and it is by open and manly war only that we can get through it with honor and advantage to the country. Our wrongs have been great; our cause is just; and if we are decided and firm, success is inevitable.

Let war therefore be forthwith proclaimed against England. With her there can be no motive for delay. Any further discussion, any new attempt at negotiation, would be as fruitless as it would be dishonorable. With France we shall be at liberty to pursue the course which circumstances may require. The advance she has already made by a repeal of her decrees; the manner of its reception by the government, and the prospect which exists of an amicable accommodation, entitle her to this preference. If she acquits herself to the just claims of the United States, we shall have good cause to applaud our conduct in it, and if she fails we shall always be in time to place her on the ground of her adversary.

But it is said that we are not prepared for war, and ought therefore not to declare it. This is an idle objection, which can have weight with the timid and pusillanimous only. The fact is otherwise. Our preparations are adequate to every essential object. Do we apprehend danger to ourselves? From what quarter will it assail us? From England, and by invasion? The idea is too absurd to merit a moment's consideration. Where are her troops? But lately she dreaded an invasion of her own dominions from her powerful and menacing neighbor. That danger, it is true, has diminished, but it has not entirely and forever disappeared. The war in the Peninsula, which lingers, requires strong armies to support it. She maintains an army in Sicily; another in India; and a strong force in Ireland, and along her own coast, and in the West Indies. Can anyone believe that, under such circumstances, the British government could be so infatuated as to send troops here for the purpose of invasion? The experience and the fortune of our Revolution, when we were comparatively in an infant state, have doubtless taught her a useful lesson that she cannot have forgotten. Since that period our population has increased threefold, whilst hers has remained almost stationary. The condition of the civilized world, too, has changed. Although Great Britain has nothing to fear as to her independence, and her military operations are extensive and distant, the contest is evidently maintained by her rather for safety than for conquest. Have we cause to dread an attack from her neighboring provinces? That apprehension is still more groundless. Seven or eight millions of people have nothing to dread from 300,000. From the moment that war is declared, the British colonies will be put on the defensive, and soon after we get in motion must sink under the pressure.


An Address to the People of the Eastern States, New York Evening Post, 21 April 1812

In a war with England we shall need numerous armies and ample treasuries for their support. The war-hounds that are howling for war through the continent are not to be the men who are to force entrenchments, and scale ramparts against the bayonet and the cannon's mouth; to perish in sickly camps, or in long marches through sultry heats or wastes of snow. These gowned warriors, who are so loudly seconded by a set of fiery spirits in the great towns, and by a set of office hunters in the country, expect that their influence with the great body of the people, the honest yeomanry of our country, is such that every farmer, every mechanic, every laborer, will send off his sons, nay, will even shoulder his firelock himself and march to the field of blood. While these brave men who are "designing or exhorting glorious war," lodged safe at Monticello or some other secure retreat, will direct and look on; and will receive such pay for their services as they shall see fit to ask, and such as will answer their purposes.

Citizens, if pecuniary redress is your object in going to war with England, the measure is perfect madness. You will lose millions when you will gain a cent. The expense will be enormous. It will ruin our country. Direct taxes must be resorted to. The people will have nothing to pay. We once had a revenue; - that has been destroyed in the destruction of our commerce. For several years past you have been deceived and abused by the false pretenses of a full treasury. That phantom of hope will soon vanish. You have lately seen fifteen millions of dollars wasted in the purchase of a province we did not want, and never shall possess. And will you spend thousands of millions in conquering a province which, were it made a present to us, would not be worth accepting? Our territories are already too large. The desire to annex Canada to the United States is as base an ambition as ever burned in the bosom of Alexander. What benefit will it ever be to the great body of the people, after their wealth is exhausted, and their best blood is shed in its reduction? - "We wish to clear our continent of foreign powers." So did the Madman of Macedon wish to clear the world of his enemies, and such as would not bow to his sceptre. So does Bonaparte wish to clear Europe of all his enemies; yea, and Asia too. Canada, if annexed to the United States, will furnish offices to a set of hungry villains, grown quite too numerous for our present wide limits; and that is all the benefit we ever shall derive from it.

These remarks will have little weight with men whose interest leads them to advocate war. Thousands of lives, millions of money, the flames of cities, the tears of widows and orphans, with them are light expedients when they lead to wealth and power. But to the people who must fight, if fighting must be done, - who must pay if money be wanted - who must march when the trumpet sounds, and who must die when the "battle bleeds," - to the people I appeal. To them the warning voice is lifted. From a war they are to expect nothing but expenses and sufferings; - expenses disproportionate to their means, and sufferings lasting as life.

In our extensive shores and numerous seaports, we know not where the enemy will strike; or more properly speaking, we know they will strike when a station is defenceless. Their fleets will hover on our coasts, and can trace our line from Maine to New Orleans in a few weeks. Gunboats cannot repel them, nor is there a fort on all our shores in which confidence can be placed. The ruin of our seaports and loss of all vessels will form an item in the list of expenses. Fortifications and garrisons numerous and strong must be added. As to the main points of attack or defence, I shall only say that an efficient force will be necessary. A handful of men cannot run up and take Canada, in a few weeks, for mere diversion. The conflict will be long and severe: resistance formidable, and the final result doubtful. A nation that can debar the conqueror of Europe from the sea, and resist his armies in Spain, will not surrender its provinces without a struggle. Those who advocate a British war must be perfectly aware that the whole revenue arising from all British America for the ensuing century would not repay the expenses of that war.


WAR! Columbian Centinel, 20 May 1812

The universal sentiment against a British War which prevails among considerate men of all parties in this section of the Union, is accompanied by a natural, but perhaps a false security in the conviction of the impossibility of this event. With the exception of a few brawlers in the street, and of some office-holding editors, we can find none who seriously wish to promote this calamity. It is evident that under the circumstances of this country a declaration of war would be in effect a license and a bounty offered by our government to the British Fleet to scour our coasts - to sweep our remaining navigation from the ocean, to annihilate our commerce, and to drive the country, by a rapid declension, into the state of poverty and distress which attended the close of the revolutionary struggle. We are convinced of the absence of those exasperated feelings in the great body of the people which would impel them to such a conflict. We fathom the length and depth of the artificial excitement, which is attempted by men of desperate fortunes and character, and we are satisfied that, in their efforts to influence the public mind, they apply their blazing torches to a mountain of ice. Other considerations come in aid of our confidence. The proposed enemy is invulnerable to us, while we are on all sides open to assault. The conquest of Canada would be less useful to us than that of Nova-Zembla, and could not be so easily achieved. Our red brethren forgetful of the patriotic "talks" of their "father" Jefferson would pour down upon our frontier, and our black brethren would show themselves not less enamoured with the examples of liberty taught in St. Domingo than their masters are with those derived from its mother country. New-Orleans and the Floridas would pass into the hands of the enemy. Our seaports would be under strict blockade, and the mouths of our rivers would be bridged with frigates. Besides the war would be interminable, or end in a surrender on our part of the objects of contention. If the British nation, which now copes with a world in arms, should yield to us - a people destitute of naval force and capable of contact with her in only one point; whatever may be our internal strength, and national valour; it must be through feelings of complacence and affection, inspired by the known partiality of our Presidents, Governors, and Members of Congress, expressed in the public proceedings. Secluded from the world and oppressed by taxes, idle for want of employment, and indigent because idle, this once happy people would repine with maddening recollection of the days of their prosperity. Discontent, sedition and public commotions would ensue. The swords of the new army must not be suffered to rust "for lack, of somebody to hew and hack;" and civil discord would probably finish the catalogue of evils arising from such a state. A fair experiment has shown that the men beyond the Potomac who are the chief instigators to war have no money to apply to this object; and that the men on this side of it, will not part with theirs to accelerate their own ruin. It is no longer doubtful that the Eastern States, are invincibly opposed to war, and that nothing short of a conscription will fill an army for the foolish crusade. It is not less evident that our people will sooner become volunteers to drive from power the men who shall plunge them into a ruinous war, than conscripts to carry it on. Under an impression of this state of public opinion, confirmed by all we see and hear among our own people, we can hardly believe in the existence of a spirit of infatuation capable of urging our government to such an extremity. The men whose voice in Congress is for war, appear to be acting a theatrical part, and we impute their rant and violence to their feelings and dispositions rather than to ultimate and settled purpose.

It is well to be prepared for disappointment in these calculations. It is well for us to begin to think, how we shall be disposed to act, when we find ourselves in fact, the subjects of men from other States, who are devoid of sympathy for our interests, respect for our character, ignorant of our habits - who mock at our calamity and laugh when our fear cometh.


Niles Weekly Register, 30 May 1812

Every considerate and unprejudiced man, in every part of the union, freely admits we have just cause for war with both the great belligerents, and especially England; whose maritime depredations are not only far more extensive than those of rival, but who has superadded thereto the most flagrant violations of the individual, national and territorial rights of the American people; matters of much higher import and consequence. But a state of war is desired by no man; though most men agree it is not "the greatest of evils." The thunderstorm, black and tremendous, disturbs the calm serenity of the summer evening, and sometimes rives the mighty oak to tatters - it comes unwished for, excites general apprehension and frequently does partial damage - but it purges the atmosphere, gives a new tone, as it were, to listless nature, and promotes the common good. Thus it may be with war, horrid and dreadful as it is. The political, as well as the natural atmosphere, may become turbid and unwholesome.

It is very certain that no good citizen of the United States would wantonly promote a rupture with Great Britain, or any other country. The American people will never wage offensive war; but every feeling of the heart is interested to preserve the rights our fathers won by countless hardships and innumerable sufferings. Our love of peace is known to the world; nay, so powerful is the desire to preserve it, that it has been tauntingly said, even in the hall of congress that "we cannot be kick'd into war." Every measure that Forbearance, could devise, has been resorted to - and we have suffered injuries, particularly in the wealth of our citizens, which no independent nation ever submitted to. Embargo was tried: through the timidity of the 10th congress, excited by the insolent clamors of a small, but wicked, portion of the people, aided by the inefficiency of the laws for enforcing it, it failed of its foreign operation. Since that time we have virtually submitted, and thereby only lengthened the chain of encroachment. As has been before observed, we are driven into a corner, and must surrender at the discretion of a wicked and unprincipled enemy, or hew our way out of it - the hazard of life itself is preferable to the certain loss of all that makes it desirable.

"In the unprofitable contest of trying who can do each other the most harm," as Mr. Jefferson has emphatically described war, this gloomy satisfaction results - that we can do Great Britain more essential injury than another Europe could additionally heap upon her; for we have greater means of annoyance than all that continent possesses in our seamen and shipping; not calculated, it is true, to "Nelsonize the main," but to annihilate her commerce, the very sinews of the existence of her government. Our coasts may be secured, and regular trade be destroyed. But many Paul Jones' will ride and whithersoever a keel can go, just retaliation shall check the enemy's career. They who make the "Falkland islands" a resting place and pursue the whale to the Antipodes, will gather nutmegs at Amboyna and find sugar on the shores of Jamaica. No sea will be "unvexed" with their enterprizes: and the whole navy of Britain, if applied to no other purpose, will be incompetent to the protection of her vast possessions and commerce. To us she is the most vulnerable of all nations - we can successfully attack her at home and abroad. War will deprive her of an immense stock of raw materials, on the manufacture and application of which so great a portion of her population depends for subsistence; and, in despite of smugglers, the ingress of her manufactures will be denied, for a state of activity and exertion far different from that at present made use of, will be arrayed against them. Already are her laboring poor in a state of general disaffection for the want of bread and lack of employment. The military power is daily made use of to keep them to subordination. To what extremes might the desperation of the starving wretches lead them, if to their present privations were added those which must ensue from a war with these states?

The conquest of Canada will be of the highest importance to us in distressing our enemy - in cutting off his supplies of provisions and naval stores for his West India colonies and home demand. There is no place from whence he can supply the mighty void that would be occasioned by the loss of this country, as well in his exports as imports. It would operate upon him with a double force: it would deprive him of a vast quantity of indispensable materials (as well as of food) and close an extensive market for his manufactures. On its retention depends the prosperity of the West India islands. At war with the United States, and divested of supplies of lumber and provisions from Canada, their commerce would be totally ruined; and it is of far more importance to the British government than all their possessions in the East. Besides it would nullify his boast, "that he has not lost an inch of territory." Canada and Nova Scotia, if not fully conquered immediately, may be rendered useless to him in a few weeks. Without them, and particularly the latter, he cannot maintain those terrible fleets on our coast that we are threatened with, or "bridge" our harbors with frigates, admitting he may have no use for them to defend his own shores; for he will not have a dockyard, fitting the purposes of his navy, within 3,000 miles of us.

"Our red brethren" will soon be taught to wish they had remembered the talks of their "father Jefferson," and of all other persons who advised them to peace. Upper Canada, at least, would be immediately and completely in our possession. The Pandora boxes at Amherstburg and Malden would be closed, and all the causes of the present murders of the savages would cease; for they make neither guns nor gun-powder, being at this time supplied from the "king's stores" at these places, and urged to the work of death by "his majesty's agents" with liberal rewards and more liberal promises. To our mind there are facts "as strong as proofs from holy writ," to convince us that all our difficulties with the Indians originated with the British in Canada.

New Orleans, even if it should pass into the hands of the enemy, cannot be held by him. The estimate alone would annihilate it, pent up and harassed, and straitened for supplies, as it would be, from the active indignation of a gallant, hardy and adventurous people. But a million of persons are immediately interested in the navigation of the Mississippi; and like the torrent of their own mighty river would descend with a force irresistable, sweeping every thing before them. Certain parts of Florida the enemy might take, and perhaps, be permitted to hold; because he would retain them at a greater injury to himself than to us.

The war will not last long. Every scheme of taxation has already been resorted to in Great Britain. Every means have been tried to sustain the credit of her immense paper currency. The notes of the bank of England are 28 percent below their nominal value. A war with the United States will add a third to her present expenditures, at least; and, in a like proportion render her unable to bear them. Her revenue will decrease as her expenses increase; for she will lose all the export and import duties she levied on goods sent to or received from the United States, and all her resources, built, upon commerce will be fluctuating and uncertain. She will be assailed on that element she arrogantly assumes as her own, and be perplexed in a thousand new forms, by a people as brave and more enterprising and ingenious than any she can boast of. Her seamen once landed upon our shores, as prisoners or otherwise, will not return to her; and her naval officers will rarely feel themselves safe from mutiny while hovering on our coasts. It is considered lawful in war to encourage such enterprizes; and her impressed seamen, sure of our asylum, with "peace, liberty and safety," will retort upon their oppressors some of the pangs they have suffered. Tens of thousands of her former subjects, natives of generous and oppressed Erin, will remember the conflagration of their cottages and the murder of their friends, and vie with each other to avenge their wrongs: and Britain, to preserve herself, will be compelled to honest peace.

During the war there will be ample employment for all. Some part of the labor and capital of the United States, at present devoted to commerce, will be directed to objects calculated to seal the independence of the country, in the establishment of a thousand works, needful to the supply of our wants. Many years must elapse before any shall, of necessity, be idle because he cannot find enough to do; and the contest itself will create new sources of emoinment [sic]. Some changes in the habits of the people on the seaboard (a small part of our population) may take place; but there will be nothing terrible in them. Our agriculturalists will have a steady and better market at home: of this we are easily assured when we reflect, that all our provisions exported have not produced more than paid for the foreign liquors we consumed. Instead of sending tobacco, (the most wretched crop of all others ever raised) to the fluctuating markets of Europe, we will furnish ourselves, and (in a short time) the whole world, with wool; and apply the extra laborers to its manufacture - a state of things that will have a powerful tendency to ameliorate the condition of the unfortunate negro, equally profitable to his master. The bonds which fasten us to Europe will be broken, and our trade and future intercourse with her be materially and beneficially changed.

The political atmosphere being purged, a greater degree of harmony will exist; and the regenerated spirit of freedom will teach us to love, to cherish and support our unparalleled system of government, as with the mind of one man. The hydra party, generated by foreign feelings, will die in agonies. The "new army" will be chiefly employed in the conquered countries, or on the frontiers, and the protection of the states, generally, be confided to the people themselves, who are not "their own worst enemies." Neither the men beyond "the Potomac," nor on this side of that river, are the instigators of the war - the causes for it exist in the conduct of the cabinet of St. James', nourished and cherished by the false hopes they entertain of the strength of "their party" in the United States.

Money will not be wanting. The people will freely supply it when there is need for it. Our country is rich. Our resources are great. Our specie is abundant, and will greatly increase by opening a direct trade with Mexico; and so serve ourselves and the patriots of that country by furnishing them with arms and ammunition and stores, and enable them to drive out their many-headed tyrant. Numerous hardy volunteers, as true as ever pulled a trigger, will flock to their standard, from the western states - and encourage in them an affection for this government and teach them how freemen should fight.

But the money drawn from the people, either by loans or moderate taxes, will not moulder away and perish; it will immediately revert to them, and always be ready, by a perpetual motion, to supply the wants of the government. In fact, the great probability is, that money will be much more plenty, as the common saying is, in a state of war than it is at this time....

On the present occasion the exertions of his friends were greater than ever. Nor will a "conscription" be necessary to supply the regular troops or militia. The ranks of the former are filling with great rapidity, and the requisition of the latter, it appears, may be chiefly composed of volunteers. In Lexington where the first blood was shed in the war for independence, a draft was made to ascertain who should not serve; and the town immediately voted a bounty of six dollars with the addition of ten dollars monthly pay to those called into actual service. "The cradle of the revolution" cannot become the sink of disaffection - and men will be found that followed Arnold through the then howling wilderness who, a second time, will set themselves down before Quebec, in force and irresistable power.

The last paragraph of the article from the Centinel is of itself sufficiently odious. It is of a piece with the mission of John Henry; it comes from the same spirit, and would have the same issue. It needs only to be seen to be hated. It springs from a feeling that must be eradicated; a feeling that existed in 1776, and threatened the congress of that with dreadful things: the "snake was scorch'd not kill'd," and the ill-advised return from Halifax in 1783 gave body and substance, with activity and force, to it - and trade and commerce, gold and intrigue, have so metamorphosed some people in the United States, that (as Mr. Pickering said on another occasion) "it is impossible to distinguish them from English men." This hydra talks of Washington and calmly proposes a separation of the states - it preaches morality and order, and speaks of a resistance to the laws! Such sentiments, however, though loudly expressed, are held by a very contemptible portion of the people; they will be eradicated by the war, and their eradication will indemnify the expense of it. The disaffected are far less numerous than they were in 1776: and they may depend upon it there will be no second return for such from Nova Scotia.