History of the United States
Volume III


Chapter IV
Madison's Administration and War of 1812

The new President was inaugurated on the 4th of March, 1809. He had been a member of the Continental Congress, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and secretary of state under Jefferson. Long familiarity with public affairs had fitted him in an eminent degree for the presidency. He owed his election to the Democratic party, whose sympathy with France and hostility to the policy of Great Britain were well known. Six days before the new administration came into poer, the embargo act was repealed by Congress; but another measure was adopted instead, called the non-intercourse act. By its terms American merchantmen were allowed to go abroad, but were forbidden to trad with Great Britain. Mr. Erskine, the British minister, now gave notice that by the 10th of June the "orders in council," so far as they affected the United States, should be repealed. But the British government disavowed the act of its agent; and the orders stood as before.

In the following spring the emperor of the French issued a decree authorizing the seizure of all American vessels that might approach the ports of France or other harbors held by his troops. But in November of the same year the hostile decree was reversed, and all restrictions on the commerce of the United States were removed. If Great Britain had acted with equal liberality and justice, there would have been no further complaint. But that government, with peculiar obstinancy, adhered to its former measures, and sent ships of war to hover around the American ports and enforce the odious orders issued in previous years. It was only a question of time when such insolence would lead to retaliation and war.

The affairs of the two nations were fast approaching a crisis. It became more and more apparent that the wrongs perpetrated by Great Britain against the United States would have to be corrected by force of arms. That England, after such a career of arrogance, would now make reparation for the outrages committed by her navy was no longer to be hoped for. The ministry of that same George III. with whom the colonies had struggled in the Revolution still directed the affairs of the kingdom; from him, now grown old and insane, nothing was to be expected. The government of the United States had fallen completely under the control of the party which sympathized with France, while the Federal party, from its leaning toward British interests and institutions, grew weaker year by year. The American people, smarting under the insults of Great Britain, had adopted the motto of Free Trade and Sailors' Rights, and for that motto they had made up their minds to fight. The elections, held between 1808 and 1811, showed conclusively the drift of public opinion; the sentiment of the country was that war was preferable to further humiliation and disgrace.

In the spring of 1810 the third census of the United States was completed. The population had increased to seven million two hundred and forty thousand souls. The States now numbered seventeen, and several new Territories were preparing for admission into the Union. The resources of the nation were abundant; its institutions deeply rooted and flourishing. But with the rapid march of civilization westward the jealousy of the Red man was aroused and Indian Territory was afflicted with an Indian war.

The Sahwnees were the leading tribe in the country between Ohio and the Wabash. Their chief was the famous Tecumtha, a brave and sagacious warrior; and with him was joined his brother Ilkswatawa, called the Prophet. The former was a man of real genius; the latter, a vile imposter, who pretended to have revelations from the spirit world. But they both worked together in a common cause; and their plan was to unite all the nations of the Northwest Territory in a final effort to beat back the whites. When, therefore, in September of 1809, Governor Harrison met the chiefs of several tribes at Fort Wayne, and honorably purchased the Indian titles to three million acres of land, Tecumtha refused to sign the treaty, and threatened death to those who did. In the year that followed he visited the nations as far south as Tennessee and exhorted them to lay aside their sectional jealousies, in the hope of saving their hunting-grounds.

Governor Harrison from Vincennes, the capital of the Territory, remonstrated with Tecumtha and the Prophet, held several conferences with them, and warned them of what would follow from their proceedings. Still, the leaders insisted that they would have back the lands which had been ceded by the treaty of Fort Wayne. The governor stood firm, sent for a few companies of soldiers, and mustered the militia of the Territory. The Indians began to prowl through the Wabash Valley, murdering and stealing. In order to secure the country and enforce the terms of the treaty, Harrison advanced up the river to Terre Haute, built a fort which received his own name, passed on to Montezuma, where another block-house was built, and then hastened toward the town of the Prophet, at the mouth of the Tippecanoe. When within a few miles of his destination, Harrison was met by Indian ambassadors, who asked for the appointment of a conference on the following day. Their request was granted; and the American army encamped for the night. The place selected was a piece of high ground covered with oaks. Burnet Creek skirted the encampment on the west. Beyond that, as well as to the east of the oak grove, were prairie marsh lands covered with tall grass. Before daybreak on the following morning, 7th of November, 1811, the treacherous savages, numbering seven hundred, crept through the marshes, surrounded Harrison's position, and burst upon the camp like demons. But the American militia were under arms in a moment, and fighting in the darkness held the Indians in check until daylight, and then routed them in several vigorous charges. On the next day the Americans burned the Prophet's town and soon afterward returned victorious to Vincennes. Tecumtha was in the South at the time of the battle; when he returned and found his people scattered and subdued, he repaired to Canada and joined the standard of the British.

Meanwhile, the powers of Great Britain and the United States had come into conflict on the ocean. The British ship Guerriere was reported to have impressed an American seaman named Diggio. The secretary of the navy determined to make an object lesson of this vessel. Accordingly, on the 16th of May, Commodore Rodgers, cruising in the American frigate President, hailed a vessel off the coast of Virginia, thinking it to be the Guerriere. Instead of a polite answer to his salutation, he received a cannon-ball in the mainmast. Other shots followed, and Rodgers responded with a broadside, silencing the enemy's guns. In the morning--for it was already dark--the hostile ship was found to be the British sloop-of-war Little Belt. The vessel had been severely though justly punished by the President, having eleven men killed and twenty-one wounded. The event produced great excitement throughout the country and increased the war spirit that was fast gaining control of the Americans.

On the 4th of November, 1811, the twelfth Congress of the United States assembled. In the body were many men of marked ability and patriotism who were destined to take the forefront in the nation's councils. John C. Calhoun, of South Carolina, now took his seat as a member of the House of Representatives. Henry Clay was chosen speaker. From the first it was seen that war was inevitable. It was impossible for the United States, knowing that more than six thousand American citizens had been impressed into the British navy, to endure, without dishonor, further injury and insolence. Still, many hoped for peace; and the winter passed without decisive measures. On the 4th of April, 1812, an act was passed by Congress laying an embargo for ninety days on all British vessels within the jurisdiction of the United States. But Great Britain would not recede from her hostile attitude. One of the ministers declared that it was "an ancient and well-established right" of His Majesty's government to impress British seamen on board of neutral vessels. Before the final decision of England was known, Louisiana, the eighteenth State, was, on the 8th of April, admitted into the Union. The area of the new commonwealth was more than forty-one thousand square miles; and her population, according to teh census of 1810, had reached seventy-seven thousand.

President Madison sent his war message to Congress on June 1st.

Diplomatic relations had virtually been broken off between the two countries. Our minister to England, William Pinckney, had come home. Francis James Jackson, the last British ambassacor, an arrogant hoaster, had been sent back to years before. Now the English had selected for the new minister one Augustus John Foster, who came to Washington with no sort of a message, except palliative offers. But the American people had lost their patience and the English representative was given to understand that it was to be either a repeal of the Orders in Council or war. On the 4th of June a resolution declaring war against Great Britain was passed by the House of Representatives. On the 17th of the same month the bill received the sanction of the Senate; and the next day the President issued his proclamation of war. Five days after madison had set his seal to the declaration of war, the Orders in Council were repealed. But before the news reached America the actual contest had begun. Vigorous preparations for the impending conflict were made by Congress. It was ordered to raise twenty-five thousand regular troops and fifty thousand volunteers. At the same time the several States were requested to call out a hundred thousand militia for the defense of the coasts and harbors. A national loan of eleven million dollars was authorized. Henry Dearborn, of Massachusetts, was chosen first major-general and commander-in-chief of the army.

The first movement of the war was made by General William Hull, governor of Michigan Territory. A force of twelve hundred Ohio volunteers, together with three hundred regulars, was organized at Dayton for the purpose of overawing the Indians on the northwestern frontier. Hull was also authorized, should circumstances warrant such a course, to invade and conquer Canada. The march began on the 1st of June; and it was a full month before the army, toiling through more than two hundred miles of forests, reached the western extremity of Lake Erie. Arriving at the Maumee, Hull dispatched his baggage, stores, and official papers in a boat to Detroit. But the British forces posted at Malden had already been informed of the declaration of hostilities; and Hull's boat with everything on board was captured. Nevertheless, the American army pressed on to Detroit, where early in July the general received dispatches informing his of the declaration of war, and directing him to proceed with the invasion of Canada. On the 12th of the month he crossed the Detroit River to Sandwich with the avowed purpose of capturing Malden. And this might easily have been accomplished had not the inefficiency of the general checked the enthusiasm of the army.

Meanwhile, the news came that the American post at Mackinaw had been surprised and captured by the British. This intelligence furnished Hull a good excuse for recrossing the river to Detroit. Here he received intelligence that Major Brush, sent forward by Governor Meigs of Ohio, was approaching with re-enforcements and supplies. Major Van Horne was accordingly dispatched with a body of troops to meet Brush at the river Raisin and conduct him safely to Detroit. But Tecumtha, assisted by some British troops, had cut the lines of communication and laid an ambush for Van Horne's forces in the neighborhood of Brownstown. The scheme was successful; Van Horne ran into the trap and was severely defeated. Any kind of energetic movement on Hull's part would have retrieved the disaster; but energy was altogether wanting; and when, three days later, Colonel Miller with another detachment attacked and routed the savages with great loss, he was hastily recalled to Detroit. The officers and men lost all faith in the commander, and there were symptoms of mutiny.

In the meantime, General Brock, the governor of Upper Canada, arrived at Malden and took command of the British forces. Acting in conjunction with Tecumtha, he crossed the river, and on the 16th of August advanced to the siege of Detroit. The Americans in their trenches outside of the fort were eager for battle, and stood with lighted matches awaiting the order to fire. When the British were within five hundred yars, to the amazement of both armies Hull hoisted a white flag over the fort. There was a brief parley and then a surrender, perhaps the most shameful in the history of the United States. Not only the army in Detroit, but all the forces under Hull's command, became prison of war. The whole of Michigan Territory was surrendered to the British. At the capitulation of the American officers in rage and dispair stamped the ground, broke their swords, and tore off their epaulets. the whole country was humiliated t the disgraceful business. the government gave thirty British prisoners in exchange for Hull, and he was brought before a court-martial charged with treason, cowardice, and conduct unbecoming an officer. He was convicted on the last two charges, and sentenced to be shot; but the President, having compassion on one who had served the country in the Revolution, pardoned him. After all the discussions that have been had on Hull and his campaign, the best that can be said of him is that he was a patriot and a coward.

On the same day Detroit fell, Fort Dearborn, on the present site of Chicago, was invested by an army of Indians. The garrison was feeble, and the commandant proposed a surrender on condition that his men should retire without molestation. This was agreed to, but the savages, finding that the garrison had destroyed the whickey that was in the fort, fell upon the retreating soldiers, killed some of them, and distributed the rest as captives. On the day after the capitulation Fort Dearborn was burned to the ground.

These losses were more than compensated by brilliant victories on the ocean. During the summer of 1812 the American navy won a jut renown. On the 19th of August the frigate Constitution, commanded by Captain Isaac Hull, a nephew of the Michigan governor, overtook the British ship-of-war Guerriere off the coast of Massachusetts. Captain Dacres, who commanded the British vessel, had been boasting of his prowess and sending challenges to American ships to come out and fight; now there was an opportunity to exhibit his valor. The vessels maneuvered for a while, the Constitution closing with her antagonist, until at half-pistol shot she poured in a terrible broadside, sweeping the decks of the Guerriere and deciding the contest. Dacres, after losing fifteen men killed and sixty-three wounded, struck his colors and surrendered his shattered vessel as a prize. The American loss was seven killed and an equal number wounded. On the following morning the Guerriere, being unmanageable, was blown up; and Hull returned to port with his prisoners and spoils.

On the 18th of October the American sloop-of-war Wasp, of eighteen guns, under command of Captain Jones, fell in with a fleet of British merchantmen off the coast of Virginia. The squadron was under convoy of the brig Frolic, of twenty-two guns, commanded by Captain Whinyates, who put his vessel between the merchantmen and the Wasp, and prepared for battle. The sea was running high and the vessels pitched up and down before each other. A terrible engagement ensued, lasting for three-quarters of an hour. Both ships became nearly helpless; but the Sasp closed with her foe and delivered a final broadside which completely cleared the deck. The American crew then boarded the Frolic and struck the British flag; for not a seaman was left above deck to perform that service. Scarcely had the smoke of the conflict cleared away when the Poictiers, a British seventy-four gun ship, bor down upon the scene, captured the Wasp, and retook the wreck of the Frolic. but the fame of Captain Jone's victory was not dimmed by the catastrophe.

Seven days afterward, Commodore Decatur, commanding the frigate United States, of forty-four guns, attacked the British frigate Macedonian, forty-nine guns. The battle was fought a short distance west of the Canary Islands. After a two hours' engagement, in which the United States was but little injured, the Macedonian surrendered, with a loss in killed and wounded of more than a hundred men. On the 12th of December the ship Essex, commanded by Captain Porter, captured the Nocton, a British packet, having on board fifty-five thousand dollars in specie. More important still was the capture of the frigate Java by the Constitution, better known as "Old Ironsides," now under command of Commodore Bainbridge. On the 29th of December the two vessels met off San Salvador, on the coast of Brazil. A furious battle ensued, continuing for two hours, every mast was torn from the British ship, and her hull was burst with round shot. The deck was made slippery with the blood of more than two hundred killed and wounded seamen. The vessel was reduced to a wreck before the flag was struck; then the crew and passengers, numbering upward of four hundred, were transferred to the Constitution, and the hull of the Java was burned at sea. The news of these successive victories roused the enthusiasm of the people to the highest pitch. In the course of the year three hundred British ships, carrying three thousand sailors, and cargoes of immense value, were captured by the American cruisers.

During the summer and autumn of 1812 military operations were active, but not decisive, on the Niagara frontier. The troops in that quarter, consisting of the New York militia, a few regulars, and recruits from other States, were commanded by General Stephen Van Rensselaer. The first movement of the Americans was made against Queenstown, on the Canada side of the river. On the 13th of October a thousand men were enbarked in boats and landed on the western shore. they were resisted at the water's edge, and Colonel Solomon Van Rensselaer, the leader, was wounded. The subordinate officers led the charge, and the British batteries on the heights of Queenstown were carried. The enemy's forces were rallied, however, by General Brock, and returning to teh charge, were a second time repulsed. General Brock fell mortally wounded. The Americans began to intrench themselves, and orders were sent across the river for the remaining division, twelve hundred strong, to hasten to the rescue. But the American militia on the eastern shore declared that they were there to defend the United States, and not to invade Canada. There they stood all afternoon, while their comrades at Queenstown were surrounded by the British, who came with strong re-enforcements from Fort George. The Americans bravely defended themselves until they had lost a hundred and sixty men in killed and wounded, and were then obliged to surrender. General Van Rensselaer, disgusted at the conduct of the New York militia, resined his command, and was succeeded by Geneal Alexander Smyth, of Virginia.

The Americans, numbering between four and five thousand, were now rallied at Black Rock, a few miles north of Buffalo. From this point, on the 28th of November, a company was sent across to the Canada shore; but instead of following with a stronger detachment, General Smyth ordered the advance party to return. A few days afterward another crossing was planned, and the Americans were already embarked, when they were commanded to return to winter quarters. The militia became mutinous. Smyth was charge with cowardice and disloyalty, and after three months was deposed from his command. The only success of the year to the American arms on land was the repulse of seven hundred British at Ogdensburg, New York, by a force under Jacob Brown, a Quaker farmer. Thus ended the military operations of 1812. In the autumn Madison was re-elected President; the choice for Vice-President fell on Elbridge Gerry, of Massachusetts. In the debates at the opening of Congress the policy of the administration was strongly condemned by the opponents of the war; but vigorous measures were adopted for strengthening the army and navy.


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