Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh / 03.07.2018
1 – The Election of 1800
1.1 – The Election of 1800 and the Federalist Legacy
The presidential election of 1800 represented the first peaceful transfer of power between political parties in U.S. history.
1.1.1 – Background to the 1800 Election
In the presidential election of 1800, incumbent President John Adams and his fellow Federalist candidate, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, challenged the Republican duo of incumbent Vice President Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. President Adams faced reelection in the face of crisis abroad, unpopularity at home, and a divided Federalist Party. Vice President Jefferson led a newly galvanized Democratic-Republican Party that was outraged over what it saw as Federalist abuses and enlargements of executive authority, especially in the form of the Alien and Sedition Acts.
1.1.2 – Campaign
The 1800 election campaign was characterized by slander and personal attacks on both sides. Federalists spread rumors that the Democratic-Republicans were radicals who would ruin the country (based on the Democratic-Republican support for the French Revolution). Meanwhile, the Democratic-Republicans accused Federalists of destroying republican values by favoring aristocratic, anti-republican principles. Democratic-Republicans promoted the vision of a decentralized economy that favored yeoman agriculture, minimal and simple federal government, and maximum freedom of mobility and opportunity for white men. In short, Democratic-Republicans stressed the virtues of austerity, individual labor, independence, self-reliance, and (white male) equality, which they pitted against their perceived notions of Federalists as protectors of the wealthy and of commercial and aristocratic interests.
While Democratic-Republicans were firmly aligned behind Jefferson and Burr, the Federalists began to fracture. A faction of so-called “High Federalists” emerged under Alexander Hamilton, who strongly opposed Adams’ reelection. Hamilton, in an attempt to sabotage Adams in favor of electing the vice-presidential candidate Charles Pinckney, wrote a scathing 54 page criticism of Adams that accidentally became public when it landed in the hands of the Democratic-Republicans. Rather than marshal support for Pinckney, Hamilton’s criticism embarrassed Adams and the Federalist party, exposing their internal divisions to the public.
1.1.3 – Election Results
Because each state could choose its own election day, voting lasted from April until October. In the end, Jefferson won a narrow victory over Adams (73 to 65 electoral votes) with New York casting the decisive vote. Many factors led to the defeat of the Federalists, including better organization by the Democratic-Republicans, internal fighting between Adams and Hamilton supporters, and the controversy of the Alien and Sedition Acts. Other decisive factors in the Jefferson victory were Jefferson’s popularity in the South and the effective campaigning of Aaron Burr in New York State, where the legislature (which selected the Electoral College) shifted from Federalist to Democratic-Republican and cast the deciding vote. Jefferson swept the South, helped along by the Three-Fifths Clause of the Constitution, which counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for purposes of assigning electoral votes and gave additional power to the slave states. Jefferson also had strong support in the free states; only New England solidly supported Adams.
Thomas Jefferson: Founding father and third president of the United States.
An unexpected glitch occurred, however, that led to a tie between Jefferson and Burr. Because the framers of the Constitution did not foresee the rise of political parties, the Constitution of 1787 stipulated that the vice president would simply be the person who received the second-most electoral votes. So in order for Jefferson to be elected president and for Burr to be elected vice president, one of the Democratic-Republican electors in the Electoral College would have to abstain. The Democratic-Republicans, however, neglected to have one of their electors abstain from voting for Burr, creating a tie between Jefferson and Burr that threw the election into the Federalist-dominated House of Representatives as dictated by the Constitution.
In order to spite the Democratic-Republicans, a number of congressional Federalists kept Burr’s chances alive. It was only after dozens of ballots that Federalist Alexander Hamilton finally threw his support to Jefferson—viewing Burr as unsteady, unscrupulous, and the lesser evil of the two—and Jefferson was officially elected president. Hamilton’s personal attacks on Burr’s character would eventually lead to their duel and Hamilton’s subsequent death.
1.1.4 – Transfer of Power
In his inaugural address, Jefferson sought to cool partisan tempers, proclaiming that, “we are all Federalists, we are all Republicans.” This was the first peaceful transfer of political power in the history of the republic, and Democratic-Republicans hailed Jefferson’s victory as the “Revolution of 1800.” The transfer of power from the Federalists to the Democratic-Republicans in a peaceful manner was the most significant and surprising outcome of the election and was singled out as a break from European precedent of violent and bloody power transfers.
In part, the peaceful transfer of power was due to the fact that the regime change did not necessarily signal a complete overhaul of Federalist policies. Despite the partisan polarization that occurred in the election of 1800, Jefferson’s early presidency embodied both Federalist and Democratic-Republican policies that facilitated a stable transition of power during an otherwise volatile political period.
In response to the chaos of the election, the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution was adopted in 1804, calling for a “party ticket” consisting of one presidential and one vice presidential candidate. This amendment stipulated that the president and vice president would be elected on separate ballots of the Electoral College, preventing ties in the future.
1.1.5 – Lasting Federalist Influence
The twelve years of Federalism left a long-lasting and important legacy. The assumption of state debts by the federal government, the enactment of protective tariffs to protect domestic manufactures, and the successful suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania proved the strength of the new federal government. Abroad, Washington and then Adams managed to avoid (barely) becoming embroiled in the war raging between Great Britain and Revolutionary France while increasing the country’s naval strength. Overall, the Federalists established that the new constitutional regime was vigorous and capable.
1.2 – The Birth of Political Parties
During the early years of the U.S. government, the new republic saw the firm and unexpected establishment of a two-party political system.
1.2.1 – Introduction
The founders of the Constitution did not foresee the development of political parties. For many, political parties were associated with the corruption and authoritarianism of the British Parliament. It was nearly universally believed that the new republic ought to be free from ” factions.” While the founders envisioned a competition in the new government among competing interests, few foresaw these interests uniting into formal political parties. However, the stresses the new government faced soon exposed different ideas about the direction of the new federal republic.
The first two political parties grew out of the early factions that had formed around the debate over ratification of the Constitutions. The Federalist party, which had grown out of the Federalist faction supporting ratification, favored a powerful central government and an economy based on commerce and manufacturing. The Democratic-Republicans, who arose out of the Anti-Federalist faction opposing ratification, favored a less-powerful central government and an economy that was built around farming and the trades.
The differences exposed during the fight over ratification became even more prominent during President Washington’s administration. The Federalists tended to focus on the financial programs of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, while Democratic-Republican Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson led those who had been prominent in the Anti-Federalist cause. The differences between these two parties were deep, lasting, and of great consequence.
1.2.2 – Analyzing the Parties
Partisan rancor in the first decades of the republic can perhaps be partially explained by the dramatic regional, economic, ideological, and cultural differences between the two political parties. Each pursued visions of a future United States that tended to exclude each other. The Federalists were an urban and commercial party that maintained that the Constitution ought to be loosely interpreted and a powerful central government established. Federalism was concentrated in the bustling maritime towns and cities of New England and in the plantation districts of the Chesapeake Bay and South Carolina. Its members generally came from the upper-middle and upper classes, who opposed political democracy.
In contrast, the Democratic-Republicans were a rural, agrarian party. They agreed that the Constitution ought to be strictly interpreted, fearing that a powerful central government would merely aid those who were already wealthy and influential. Their greatest strength was in farming districts throughout the country and among the working classes of the burgeoning cities. Unlike the Federalists, the Democratic-Republicans were confirmed supporters of political democracy.
The country also was driven by the global conflict between Great Britain and Revolutionary France during the 1790s. Federalists tended toward supporting Britain, while Democratic-Republicans favored France. Conflict between the two parties heightened with the passage by Federalists of the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, which sought to curtail speech against the Federalist government. After the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts, Adams and the Federalists grew increasingly unpopular.
1.2.3 – Transfer of Power in 1800
1800 Federalist poster: At the left a Democrat says, “This Pillar shall not stand I am determin’d to support a just and necessary War” and at the right a Federalists claims, “This Pillar must come down I am a friend of Peace.” Washington (in heaven) warns party men to let all three pillars of Federalism, Republicanism, and Democracy stand to hold up Peace and Plenty, Liberty and Independence.
The election of Thomas Jefferson in 1800 marked a success for the Democratic-Republican party and the decline of the Federalist party. The political fate of the Federalist party was then sealed by the seemingly treasonable behavior of leading Federalists during the War of 1812. After the war, for a brief period, partisan differences seemed to disappear. The disintegration of the Federalist party seemed to leave only the Democratic-Republican party standing. This so-called “Era of Good Feelings” during Monroe’s administration made many wonder if the founders were right to discount parties. However, after Monroe left office, new partisan differences flared up, instituting the Second Party System.
2 – The Jefferson Administration
2.1 – Jefferson’s Domestic Policies
Jefferson’s presidency focused on undoing Federalist policies at home and maintaining American neutrality abroad.
2.1.1 – Agriculture
Thomas Jefferson was a Democratic- Republican, and his election in 1800 marked a shift in power from the previous Federalist administrations. His overriding goal as president was the promotion of political democracy and the physical expansion of the country to provide land for a nation of citizen -farmers. His ideal citizen was a yeoman, or a farmer who owned and lived off his own land, rather than one who relied on wages from an employer. (Jefferson also admired skilled artisans and tradesmen, placing them in a similar category as the yeomen.) For Jefferson, political democracy only could flow from an economically independent citizenry. In pursuit of these goals, he sought to pare down the executive branch—not because of an aversion to government per se, but rather because of his fear that, as had happened in the United Kingdom, a powerful central government would only help those who were already wealthy and powerful.
Over the course of his two terms as president—he was reelected in 1804—Jefferson reversed the policies of the Federalist party by turning away from urban commercial development. Instead, he promoted agriculture through the sale of western public lands in small and affordable lots. Perhaps Jefferson’s most lasting legacy is his vision of an “empire of liberty.” He distrusted cities and instead envisioned a rural republic of land-owning white men, or Republican yeomen. He wanted the United States to be the breadbasket of the world, exporting its agricultural commodities without suffering the ills of urbanization and industrialization. Because American yeomen would own their own land, they could stand up against those who might try to buy their votes with promises of property.
2.1.2 – Limited Government
Jefferson championed the rights of states and insisted on limited federal government as well as limited taxes. This stood in stark contrast to the Federalists’ insistence on a strong, active federal government. Jefferson also believed in fiscal austerity. He pushed for—and Congress approved—the end of all internal taxes, such as those on whiskey and rum. The most significant trimming of the federal budget came at the expense of the military; Jefferson did not believe in maintaining a costly military, and he slashed the size of the navy Adams had worked to build up. Nonetheless, Jefferson responded to the capture of American ships and sailors by pirates off the coast of North Africa by leading the United States into war against the Muslim Barbary States in 1801, the first conflict fought by Americans overseas.
2.1.3 – Education
Jefferson was very passionate about education, and in 1806 he pushed an amendment into congress that would legalize federal support for public education. Congress did not pass it, so Jefferson gave it to his home state of Virginia so it could be used in their constitution. Jefferson made an understandable plan for education that included elementary, high school, and college levels. He had six goals for education that he hoped would make all people “productive and informed voters” by accomplishing the following:
- Allowing people to deal with their own business,
- Giving a people the ability to express their own opinions and ideas in writing,
- Bettering their thoughts and faculties through reading,
- Allowing people to comprehend their duties and the duties of their neighbors,
- Making people aware of their rights and how to use them, and
- Helping people use what they know in their social lives.
2.1.4 – Foreign Policy
Thomas Jefferson: Thomas Jefferson, a Democratic-Republican, was the third president of the United States.
In his foreign policy, Jefferson was torn between his impulse toward expansion and the need to avoid war with France, Britain, and Spain. His administration’s diplomatic and geopolitical position was complicated by the successful slave revolution in Haiti and Napoleon’s attempt to reconquer the island. This led to his government’s purchase of the Louisiana Territory (which included all of the land drained by the Mississippi and its tributaries up to the crest of the Rocky Mountains) from France in 1803. In addition, Jefferson sought unsuccessfully to incorporate Spanish Florida (including the Gulf Coast west to Louisiana) into the Union and engaged in a punitive war with the Barbary States of North Africa.
By his second term, Jefferson’s attention drifted mostly to problems overseas. The global war between Great Britain and Napoleon’s France was hurting American commerce. Jefferson responded with the Embargo Act—a total prohibition on foreign trade imposed in 1807. Despite the unpopularity this caused in maritime communities, especially in New England, Jefferson left office widely regarded as a successful President.
2.2 – Judicial Review
2.2.1 – Marbury v. Madison
Marbury v. Madison (1803) is a landmark case in U.S. law that laid the foundation for the exercise of judicial review under Article III of the Constitution. Its outcome helped define the boundary between the American government’s constitutionally separate executive and judicial branches.
The case resulted from a petition to the Supreme Court by William Marbury, who President John Adams had appointed as justice of the peace in the District of Columbia, but whose commission was not subsequently delivered. Marbury implored the Supreme Court to force Secretary of State James Madison to deliver the documents. The Court acknowledged that Madison’s refusal to send forth the commission was both illegal and remediable. However, it deemed the Judiciary Act of 1789, which enabled Marbury to bring his claim to the Supreme Court, to be unconstitutional. The petition was therefore denied.
2.2.2 – The Judiciary Act of 1801
In the presidential election of 1800, Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson defeated incumbent Federalist John Adams and became the third president of the United States. Although the election was decided on February 17, 1801, Jefferson did not take office until March 4, 1801, leaving outgoing president Adams and the predominantly Federalist sixth Congress in power for nearly a month. During this month, Adams and the Federalist Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1801. This Act modified the Judiciary Act of 1789 by establishing ten new district courts, expanding the number of circuit courts from three to six, and adding additional judges to each circuit (giving the president the authority to appoint federal judges and justices of the peace). The act also reduced the number of Supreme Court justices from six to five, effective upon the next vacancy in the Court.
2.2.3 – The “Midnight Judges”
On March 3, just before the end of his term, Adams took advantage of the newly modified Judiciary Act by appointing 16 Federalist circuit judges and 42 Federalist justices. This was a clear attempt on Adams’ part to stymie Jefferson and the incoming Democratic-Republican Congress. The appointees, infamously known as the “Midnight Judges,” included William Marbury. An ardent Federalist and vigorous supporter of the Adams presidency, Marbury was appointed justice of the peace in the District of Columbia.
On the following day, the Senate approved the appointments en masse. In order for the appointments to go into effect, however, the commissions had to be delivered to those appointed. This task fell to John Marshall, who, despite being appointed chief justice of the United States, continued serving as the acting secretary of state at President Adams’ personal request.
While a majority of the commissions were delivered, it proved impossible to deliver all of them before Adams’ term expired. According to Marshall, the appointments, “… had been properly submitted and approved, and were therefore legally valid documents.” Because the appointments were routine in nature, Marshall assumed that new Secretary of State James Madison would ensure their delivery. When Jefferson was sworn in as president on March 4, however, he ordered Levi Lincoln, the new administration’s attorney general and acting secretary of state until Madison’s arrival, to withhold the remaining appointments. Without the commissions, the appointees were unable to assume their appointed offices. In Jefferson’s opinion, any commissions that were not delivered were void.
2.2.4 – The Judiciary Act of 1802
The newly sworn-in Democratic-Republican seventh Congress immediately nullified the Judiciary Act of 1801 with their own Judiciary Act of 1802. This new act reestablished that the judicial branch would once again operate under the dictates of the original Judiciary Act of 1789. Additionally, it replaced the Supreme Court’s two annual sessions with one session to begin on the first Monday in February and canceled the Court term scheduled for June of that year, with the hope of delaying a ruling on the constitutionality of the repeal act until months after the new judicial system was in place.
2.2.5 – Court Ruling and Judicial Review
In deciding the case of Marbury v. Madison in 1803, Chief Justice John Marshall agreed that Marbury had the right to a legal remedy, establishing that individuals had rights even the president of the United States could not abridge. However, Marshall also found that Congress’s Judicial Act of 1789, which would have given the Supreme Court the power to grant Marbury remedy, was unconstitutional because the Constitution did not allow for cases such as Marbury’s to come directly before the Supreme Court. Thus, Marshall established the principle of judicial review, which strengthened the court by asserting its power to assess (and possibly nullify) the actions of Congress and the president. Jefferson was not pleased, but regardless, Marbury did not get his commission.
Many legal scholars argue that the power of judicial review in the United States predated Marbury v. Madison and that this case was merely the first Supreme Court case to exercise an already existing power. Nothing in the text of the Constitution, however, had explicitly authorized the power of judicial review prior to this monumental case. As such, the case set an important precedent for the future of the U.S. government and further established the system of checks and balances between the branches of government.
2.3 – The Louisiana Purchase
2.3.1 – Introduction
The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States overnight and marked a major invasion into American Indian territory.
The Louisiana Purchase: The modern United States, with Louisiana Purchase overlay
The Louisiana Purchase, often considered Jefferson’s greatest achievement as president, involved the purchase of the entire Mississippi basin from Napoleonic France in 1803. The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States overnight, provided an outlet to the sea for the products of the western states, and ensured a place for the United States among the world’s largest powers.
2.3.2 – Connection to the West
New western states of America were only loosely tied to the centers of national power in the East. The Appalachian Mountains separated the Atlantic seaboard from the Mississippi Valley and the Great Lakes, so in order to bring crops to market, western farmers and traders—the “men of the western waters,” as they were called—rafted down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and their tributaries to sell their goods in New Orleans, which is near the mouth of the Mississippi.
2.3.3 – The Wilderness Road
For more than fifty years, European-American settlers used the Wilderness Road as the primary route to reach Kentucky from the eastern seaboard. Because the Appalachian Mountains formed a natural barrier and made passage to the West nearly impossible, Daniel Boone established the Wilderness Road in 1775, when he created a trail for the Transylvania Company from Virginia through central Kentucky. The Wilderness Road was steep and rough, and it only could be traversed on foot or horseback, making passage difficult.
Despite these dangerous and adverse conditions for westward travel, the high number of immigrants from Europe (particularly the Scots-Irish from Ulster) were motivated to move west in search of land to settle. In the span of a few decades, more than 200,000 settlers and invaders traveled via the Wilderness Road. The Road also served as the primary means of commercial transport for the early settlers in Kentucky: Horses, cattle, sheep, and hogs found a waiting market in the Carolinas, Maryland, and Virginia. By 1840, the Wilderness Road was largely abandoned, although modern highways still follow much of its original route.
2.3.4 – Jefferson’s Agrarian Vision
The Jeffersonians believed in democracy and equality of political opportunity (for white male citizens), and prioritized the yeoman way of life. Yeoman agriculture, as depicted by the Democratic- Republicans, was a system of farming in which an independent (white male) farmer owned his own land and the fruits of his labor (and therefore, could impartially participate in the political process). Democratic-Republicans considered the yeoman to be the backbone of American society because he emulated the values of independent farming, land ownership, and control of one’s labor. The frugality, austerity, and self-reliance of the yeoman were virtues they believed should be emulated by the federal government. Jeffersonians hoped to embody a decentralized system of limited government and maximum individual liberty in order to circumscribe tyrannical powers.
Because of these values, Jeffersonians welcomed opportunities for the territorial expansion of the United States, believing it would produce new farm lands for yeomen. They also considered expansion an effective way of forcing western American Indian tribes to integrate into American society.
2.3.5 – French Influence in the Americas
The city of New Orleans, originally French, had been governed by Spain since the end of the French and Indian War (1754–1763), when France ceded Louisiana to Spain. At the turn of the century, the war between France and Britain raged on. The revolutionary shockwaves that echoed from America to France also resounded in Saint-Domingue (near present-day Haiti), France’s largest and wealthiest Caribbean colony, where a successful slave revolt had allowed those rebelling to take control of the island. Napoleon, temporarily at peace with Britain, decided to reconquer the island and, hoping to restore France’s empire in the New World, convinced Spain to cede Louisiana back to France in the Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1800.
While Spain’s sale of the territory back to France in 1800 went largely unnoticed, fear of an eventual French invasion spread throughout the United States when, in 1801, Napoleon sent a military force to secure New Orleans. In January 1802, France also sent General LeClerc to Saint-Domingue to reestablish slavery, reduce the rights of free people of color, and take back control of the island from slave rebels. This colony had been France’s wealthiest in the Caribbean, and Napoleon wanted its productivity restored.
Alarmed by the French actions and its intention to reestablish an empire in North America, Jefferson declared neutrality in relation to the Caribbean, refusing credit and other assistance to the French but allowing war contraband to get through to the rebels to prevent France from getting a foothold again. Southerners also feared Napoleon would free all of the slaves in Louisiana, which could prompt slave uprisings elsewhere. Though Jefferson urged moderation, Federalists sought to use this against Jefferson and called for hostilities against France.
2.3.6 – Negotiating the Louisiana Purchase
Jefferson disliked the idea of purchasing Louisiana from France: He believed that a U.S. president did not have the authority to make such a deal, as it was not specified in the Constitution. He also thought that to do so would erode states’ rights by increasing federal executive power. On the other hand, he was aware of the potential threat that France could pose in that region and was prepared to go to war to prevent a strong French presence there.
Jefferson empowered his diplomats to approach the French with an offer to buy New Orleans for $10 million. The French armies were quickly wilting from tropical fevers and had been unable to defeat the skillful Haitian revolutionaries. Napoleon, hoping to cut his losses, decided to abandon the New World entirely and concentrate his attentions on a planned invasion of England. Desperate for revenue, he countered Jefferson’s offer with an offer of $15 million for all of Louisiana, rather than just New Orleans. The Louisiana Territory was vast, stretching from the Gulf of Mexico in the south to Rupert’s Land in the north, and from the Mississippi River in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west.
Acquiring the territory would double the size of the United States at a sum of less than 3 cents per acre. The American delegates, dumbfounded by the offer, thought Napoleon might change his mind, and so they quickly agreed and signed the Louisiana Purchase Treaty on April 30, 1803. Jefferson, too, set aside his strict constructionist principles and worked to get Republicans in Congress to approve the deal. The U.S. border moved a thousand miles to the west, and the United States took possession of the old French-speaking towns of St. Louis and New Orleans. All of these transactions were completed with little regard or respect for the indigenous peoples who had inhabited the lands for centuries.
2.3.7 – Incorporating Louisiana
Louisiana was incorporated into the Union in a fashion similar to that of the Old Southwest (Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama) and, to a lesser extent, to that of the Old Northwest (Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota). Territorial governments were established in which a governor was appointed in Washington and presided over a legislature elected by settlers. A territory could be proclaimed when its population reached 5,000 settlers.
Unlike the Old Northwest, where the Northwest Ordinance prohibited slavery, Louisiana already boasted an active plantation regime in its southern tier. All slave societies enacted codes to regulate the behavior of enslaved peoples, and with the transfer of power from the French to the Americans, the old French Code Noir, or Black Law, was replaced by the more restrictive Slave Laws of the Deep South. Louisiana would soon become home to some of the wealthiest and most exploitative plantation regimes. The question of slavery in the Louisiana Territory was left ambiguous in the North, and in later decades, this ambiguity would dominate American life.
2.3.8 – Effects of the Purchase
Despite Jefferson’s adherence to the ideal of a limited central government (which would not be empowered to negotiate such an expansive land deal) and his own commitment to policies for federal debt reduction (the United States paid France $15 million for the territory), the Louisiana Purchase symbolized the success of Jeffersonian democracy in several ways. Jefferson’s vision of a decentralized agricultural society, in which yeomen acquired land across vast amounts of territory, seemed a possibility in 1803 with such a large amount of land being opened for settlement. With the Louisiana Purchase, new resources, trading routes, and extensive contact with other territories and provinces allowed for unprecedented opportunities for American farmers to cement their “independence” by populating western regions, regardless of the peoples who inhabited them.
Although the Louisiana Purchase brought new opportunities for U.S. expansion, it marked a major invasion into American Indian lands in the western part of the continent. With the Louisiana Purchase, American Indian tribes were forcibly removed to westernmost areas—facilitating the massive and coercive redistribution of American Indian land over the course of the nineteenth century. The purchase also had several long-term detrimental effects on the United States. State-formation out of the Louisiana territory would become a major issue for the federal government toward the mid-nineteenth century, as debates over the establishment of free versus slave states initiated a sectarian divide in Congress that eventually led to the Civil War.
2.4 – The Lewis and Clark Expedition
After the purchase of the Louisiana Territory, Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark to lead an expedition called the “Corps of Discovery.”
2.4.1 – Background
President Jefferson had long been interested in the trans-Mississippi West. Despite three centuries of European emigration, North America beyond the Mississippi River had remained largely untouched. Only a few French-Canadian trappers had ventured that far west. Jefferson was highly interested in surveying the flora, fauna, geology, and ethnography of the vast territory west of the Mississippi River. Thus, in 1804, he commissioned his personal secretary, Meriwether Lewis, to join frontiersman and soldier Captain William Clark in recruiting a “Corps of Discovery.” Their mission, in addition to surveying and recording the geography and observing the native peoples of the region, was to find a passage to the Pacific Ocean in order to facilitate trade with Asia.
Jefferson wanted to improve the ability of American merchants to access the ports of China. Establishing a river route from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean was crucial to capturing a portion of the fur trade that had proven so profitable to Great Britain. He also wanted to legitimize American land claims to rivals such as Great Britain and Spain. Establishing an overland route to the Pacific also would bolster U.S. claims to the Pacific Northwest. Lewis and Clark were thus instructed to map the territory through which they would pass and to explore all tributaries of the Missouri River.
2.4.2 – The Expedition
Having gathered woodsmen from across the country for the expedition, Lewis and Clark set out from St. Louis in the summer of 1804, rowing and sailing in long-boats up the Missouri River. Here, the easterners, accustomed to a forested landscape, were amazed to discover the vastness of the great prairies and plains of central North America.
The corps wintered among the Mandan Indians at the falls of the Missouri, in what is today North Dakota, where they met a French fur trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau. When the corps left in the spring of 1805, Charbonneau accompanied them as a guide and interpreter, bringing along his teenage Shoshone wife, Sacagawea, and their newborn son. Charbonneau knew the land better than the Americans, and Sacagawea proved invaluable as an interpreter and a guide; in addition, the presence of a young woman and her infant convinced many groups that the men were not a war party and meant no harm.
2.4.3 – Relations with Native Americans
The corps set about making friends with American Indian tribes while simultaneously attempting to assert American power over the territory. In an effort to assert control, Lewis would let out a blast of his air rifle, a relatively new piece of technology the American Indians had never seen. The corps followed native custom by distributing gifts—including shirts, ribbons, and kettles—as a sign of goodwill. The explorers presented American Indian leaders with medallions, many of which bore Jefferson’s image, and invited them to visit their new “ruler” in the East. These medallions, or peace medals, were meant to allow future explorers to identify friendly American Indian tribes.
Not all efforts to assert U.S. dominance were peaceful, however, and several American Indian tribes rejected the expedition’s intrusion onto their land. An encounter with the Blackfoot turned hostile, for example, and members of the corps killed two Blackfoot men.
2.4.4 – Reaching the Pacific
Lewis and Clark Expedition: This map illustrates the route of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, through the Louisiana Territory and across the present-day Pacific Northwest to the Pacific Ocean.
After spending eighteen long months on the trail and nearly starving to death in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana, the Corps of Discovery finally reached the Pacific Ocean in 1805 and spent the winter of 1805–1806 in Oregon. They returned to St. Louis later in 1806 having lost only one man, who had died of appendicitis. Upon their return, Meriwether Lewis was named governor of the Louisiana Territory. He died only three years later under circumstances that are still disputed, before he could write a complete account of what the expedition had discovered.
2.4.5 – Effects of the Expedition
The Corps of Discovery accomplished many of the goals Jefferson had set. The men traveled across the North American continent and established relationships with many American Indian tribes, paving the way for fur traders and the establishment of trading posts, which later solidified U.S. claims to Oregon. Delegates of several American Indian tribes went to Washington to meet the president. The expedition collected hundreds of plant and animal specimens, several of which were named for Lewis and Clark in recognition of their efforts.
The information the expedition brought back proved invaluable, not only from a scientific standpoint, but also for purposes of colonization. With the territory now more accurately mapped, the United States felt more internal justification for its illegal claim over the western lands of the American Indians.
2.5 – The Barbary Wars
2.5.1 – Introduction
The Barbary Wars were two wars fought at different times between the United States and the Barbary States of North Africa in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. At issue was the Barbary pirates ‘ demand for tribute from American merchant vessels in the Mediterranean Sea. If ships of a given country failed to pay, pirates would attack the vessels and take their goods, often enslaving crew members or holding them for ransom. The administrations of both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison undertook actions against the Barbary States at different times. Jefferson led the first campaign, from 1801 to 1805, against pirates’ cities in what are today Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria. Madison directed forces for the second war in 1815.
2.5.2 – The First Barbary War
The First Barbary War (1801–1805), also known as the Tripolitan War or the Barbary Coast War, was the first of the two wars fought between the United States and the Northwest African Berber Muslim states, known collectively as the Barbary States. These included Tripoli, Tunis, and Algiers, which were quasi-independent entities nominally belonging to the Ottoman Empire, along with (briefly) the independent Sultanate of Morocco. Pirate ships and crews from the Barbary States regularly attacked and captured ships in the Mediterranean, extorting ransom for the lives of captured sailors and demanding tribute from various countries to avoid further attacks.
The war began when Thomas Jefferson became president of the United States in 1800 and refused to pay the Barbary States a tribute, the amount of which was greatly increased upon his election. Upon Jefferson’s refusal, Yusuf Karamanli, the Pasha (or Bashaw) of Tripoli, declared war on the United States; however, Algiers and Tunis did not follow their ally in Tripoli. In response, Jefferson sent a U.S. naval fleet to the Mediterranean on May 13, 1801, under the command of Commodore Richard Dale. Throughout the war, the U.S. navy bombarded the various fortified cities along the coast and maintained a blockade in Tripoli’s harbor. After a stunning defeat at Tripoli and wearied from the blockade and raids, Yussif Karamanli signed a treaty ending hostilities on June 10, 1805, and the United States was given fair passage through the Mediterranean.
2.5.3 – The Second Barbary War
Burning of the USS Philadelphia: This painting depicts the USS Philadelphia, previously captured by the Tripolitans, ablaze after she was boarded by Stephen Decatur and 60 men and set afire, making their escape in the ketch Intrepid, depicted in the foreground.
After the First Barbary War, the United States found its attention diverted to its deteriorating relationship with Great Britain over trade with France, which culminated in the War of 1812. The Barbary pirate states took this opportunity to resume their practice of attacking American and European merchant vessels in the Mediterranean Sea and holding their crews and officers for ransom.
The Second Barbary War, also known as the Algerine or Algerian War, occurred in 1815 under President Madison’s administration. At the conclusion of the War of 1812, the United States returned to the problem of Barbary piracy, and on March 3, 1815, Congress authorized deployment of naval power against Algiers. By the final week of June, the U.S. navy had won several battles at sea and reached the coast of Algiers. The United States initiated negotiations and made demands for compensation, and the Algerians signed a treaty under which they agreed to return all American captives and pay $10,000 for seized shipping. The treaty guaranteed no further tributes by the United States and granted the United States full shipping rights in the Mediterranean Sea.
2.6 – Slavery and Politics
Although Jeffersonians extolled the virtues of the independent yeoman, they also were strongly in favor of slavery.
2.6.1 – Jeffersonian Democracy and Slavery
Unlike the majority of the northeastern Federalists, many Democratic- Republicans holding federal office during President Jefferson’s era were plantation slaveowners. In the minds of Jeffersonians, yeomen only could be white (and male). It was thought that because these white men had been born and raised in a system of freedom and republicanism, they had cultivated the virtues necessary to manage their own liberties. Slaves, on the other hand, were considered uneducated, unenlightened, and simple people who could not be expected to understand the virtues of self-reliance or political freedom; they instead needed the guidance of the white farmer to manage their lives and affairs. In the minds of the Democratic-Republicans, this paradoxical cycle of master-slave relations was in no way antithetical to republican principles and individual freedom.
Jefferson considered slavery culturally important—as it was in democratic Greece and other societies of antiquity—and viewed it as central to the “Southern way of life.” In agreement with many of his contemporaries, Jefferson believed slavery served to protect black people, whom he viewed as inferior or incapable of taking care of themselves. His republican worldview stressed the austerity, self-reliance, and independence engendered by small-scale agricultural farming but neglected to highlight and justify the brutal and coercive system of chattel slavery that formed the basis for large-scale plantation production. His worldview was further complicated by his personal intimate relationship with Sally Hemings, one of his household slaves.
2.6.2 – The Haitian Revolution
The Haitian Revolution (1791–1804) began as a slave insurrection in the French colony of Saint-Domingue and culminated in the abolition of slavery in the French Antilles and the founding of the Haitian republic. It is generally considered the most successful slave rebellion to have occurred in the Americas and was a defining moment in the history of Africans in the “New World.”
Portrait of General Toussaint Louverture: General Toussaint Louverture is the most widely known leader of the Haitian Revolution.
Jeffersonians resisted antislavery and abolition vigorously, pointing to the violence of the revolution in Haiti as justification for keeping Africans enslaved in the United States. In fact, after a slave revolt in Saint-Domingue in 1801, Jefferson supported French plans to retake the island and loaned France $300,000 “for relief of whites on the island.” By offering aid to France, Jefferson demonstrated his firm support of the institution, proved the government’s willingness to protect slaveowners’ human property, and helped alleviate the worry of Southern slave owners in the United States who feared a rebellion similar to the one in Haiti.
After Haiti achieved independence in 1804, Jefferson grappled with Southern and congressional hostility toward the new black republic under the leadership of Haitian revolutionary, Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Jefferson shared planters ‘ fears that the success of the rebellion in Haiti would encourage similar slave rebellions and widespread violence in the South. The United States officially joined with other European nations in a policy of nonrecognition of Haiti and a boycott on Haitian trade after Dessalines declared himself emperor 1804. Jefferson also discouraged the emigration of free blacks in America to Haiti.
2.6.3 – Modification of the Virginia Emancipation Law
In 1806, with concern developing over the rise in the number of free black people in the United States and the success of the Haitian Revolution, the Virginia General Assembly modified the 1782 slave law to permit the re-enslavement of freedmen who remained in the state for more than twelve months after manumission. This discouraged free blacks from living in the state, thereby forcing them to leave enslaved kin behind. To gain permission for manumitted freedmen to stay in the state, slaveholders were required to petition the legislature directly. This new law led to an overall decline in manumissions in the state.
2.6.4 – End of the U.S. Slave Trade
In March of 1807, Jefferson signed a bill ending the importation of slaves into the United States. By 1808, every state but South Carolina had followed Virginia’s lead in banning the importation of slaves. With the growth of the domestic slave population contributing to the development of a large internal slave trade, slaveholders did not mount much resistance to the new law. Most slave owners also believed that a domestic slave population was less dangerous than an imported one; captured Africans appeared more openly rebellious than African Americans who were born in American bondage and molded from birth in the Southern plantation slave system.
During the next few decades, as vast new lands in the Southwest were developed for the farming of short-staple cotton (a commodity made viable by the invention of the cotton gin), the demand for—and value of—domestic slaves in the United States increased. More than one million African-American slaves would be sold and transported from the Upper South and coastal areas to the Deep South, and such forced migrations frequently broke enslaved families apart.
3 – Divisions in the Republican Party
3.1 – John Randolph and the Old Republicans
When Virginia congressman John Randolph broke with Jefferson in 1806, his political faction became known as the “Old Republicans,” or “quids.”
3.1.1 – Introduction
Virginia congressman John Randolph of Roanoke was the leader of the ” Old Republican ” faction of Democratic-Republicans that insisted on a strict adherence to the Constitution and opposed any innovations. He summarized Old Republican principles as the following: “love of peace, hatred of offensive war, jealousy of the state governments toward the general government, a dread of standing armies, a loathing of public debts, taxes, and excises; tenderness for the liberty of the citizen; jealousy, Argus-eyed jealousy of the patronage of the President.”
3.1.2 – John Randolph
John Randolph was a planter and a congressman from Virginia, serving in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and also as minister to Russia throughout his career.
John Randolph: Photograph at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington of John Randolph of Roanoke, VA.
Randolph was committed to republicanism and advocated for a commercial agrarian society throughout his three decades in Congress. His conservative stance, which was well-displayed in his arguments against debt and for the rights of the landed gentry, has been attributed to his ties to his family estate and the elitist values of his home in Southside Virginia. Randolph, who vehemently opposed the War of 1812 and the Missouri Compromise of 1820, was active in debates about tariffs, manufacturing, and currency. With mixed feelings about slavery, he was one of the founders of the American Colonization Society in 1816, which aimed to send free blacks to a colony in Africa. While opposed to the slave trade, Randolph remained dependent on hundreds of slaves to work his tobacco plantation. In his will, he provided for their manumission and resettlement in Ohio.
Followers of Randolph enjoyed both his fiery character and his lively electioneering methods. Randolph appealed directly to yeomen farmers, using entertaining and enlightening oratory, sociability, and a community of interest—particularly in agriculture—that led to an enduring voter attachment to him, regardless of his personal deficiencies. His defense of limited government continued to appeal to modern and contemporary conservatives, most notably Russell Kirk (1918–1994).
3.1.3 – The Old Republicans
After serving as President Thomas Jefferson’s spokesman in the House, Randolph broke with Jefferson in 1806 and became the leader of the Old Republicans, also known as “quids.” This faction of of the Democratic-Republican party was an extreme vanguard of states’ rights who wanted to restrict the role of the federal government. The group called for a return to the Principles of 1798 and renounced what it saw as creeping nationalism. Specifically, Randolph promoted the proclamation from the Principles that declared that individual states could judge the constitutionality of central government laws and decrees and could refuse to enforce laws deemed unconstitutional.
Randolph made no effort to build a third party at the federal level. He supported James Monroe against Madison during the run up to the presidential election of 1808 and denounced the Yazoo Purchase compromise of 1804 as totally corrupt. He refused to help fund Jefferson’s secret purchase of Florida from Spain. Increasingly, Randolph felt that Jefferson was adopting Federalist policies and betraying the true party spirit.
John Randolph of Roanoke: Autographed portrait of John Randolph.
Other “quid” factions existed in other states, and many had little or no connection at the federal level. The term was first used in 1804, referring to moderates in Pennsylvania and especially a faction of the Democratic-Republican party calling itself “The Society of Constitutional Republicans.” Between 1801 and 1806, rival factions of Jeffersonian Republicans in Philadelphia engaged in intense public debate and vigorous political competition that pitted radical democrats against moderates, who defended the traditional rights of the propertied classes. The radicals, led by William Duane, publisher of the Jeffersonian publication the Aurora, pushed for legislative reforms that would increase popular representation and the power of the poor and laboring classes. Moderates successfully outmaneuvered their radical opponents and kept the Pennsylvania legislature friendly to emergent liberal capitalism.
In New York state, the term “quid” was applied to the Democratic-Republican faction that remained loyal to Governor Morgan Lewis after he was repudiated by the Republican majority led by DeWitt Clinton. The New York and Pennsylvania “quid” factions had no connection with one other at the federal level; both supported President Thomas Jefferson.
3.2 – The Burr Conspiracy
3.2.1 – Introduction
Aaron Burr: Third vice president of the United States under Thomas Jefferson.
The Burr Conspiracy of 1807 was a suspected act of treason among planters, politicians, and army officers led by former U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr. According to the accusations against him, Burr’s goal was to create an independent nation in the center of North America and/or in the American Southwest and parts of Mexico. Burr’s defense was that he wanted to take possession of and farm 40,000 acres in the Texas Territory leased to him by the Spanish. When the expected war with Spain broke out, he would fight with his armed “farmers” to seize and conquer land.
U.S. President Thomas Jefferson and others had Burr arrested and indicted for treason despite having no firm evidence. Burr’s true intentions are still unclear to historians. Burr was acquitted of treason, but the trial destroyed his already faltering political career.-
3.2.2 – Contact with the British
In 1804, while Burr was still vice president, he met with Anthony Merry, the British minister to the United States. As Burr told several of his colleagues, he suggested to Merry that the British might regain power in the Southwest if they contributed guns and money to his expedition. Burr offered to detach Louisiana from the Union in exchange for a half a million dollars and a British fleet in the Gulf of Mexico. However, this never came to fruition, and Merry was recalled to Britain on June 1, 1806.
3.2.3 – Travels in Louisiana
In 1805, Burr conceived plans to emigrate out of the United States, which he claimed was for the purpose of taking possession of land in the Texas Territory leased to him by the Spanish. He traveled throughout Louisiana that year, and in the spring, Burr met with Harman Blennerhassett, who provided access to an island he owned on the Ohio River. Burr and his co-conspirators used this island as a space for gathering men and supplies, and Burr tried to recruit volunteers to enter Spanish territories. Reports of Burr’s plans first appeared in newspaper reports in August of 1805, suggesting that Burr intended to raise a western army and “to form a separate government.”
Burr returned to the West later in 1806 to recruit more volunteers for a military expedition down the Mississippi River. He continued to gather men and supplies on Blennerhasset’s island in the Ohio River. The Governor of Ohio grew suspicious of the activity there and ordered the state militia to raid the island and seize all supplies. Blennerhasset escaped with one boat and met up with Burr at the operation’s headquarters on the Cumberland River. With a significantly smaller force, the two headed down the Ohio to the Mississippi River and New Orleans. Commanding General of the Army James Wilkinson had vowed to supply troops to Burr at New Orleans; however, he had concluded that the conspiracy was bound to fail, and rather than providing troops, Wilkinson revealed Burr’s plan to President Jefferson.
3.2.4 – Arrest and Trial
Jefferson was warned several times of Burr’s possible conspiratorial activities by Joseph Hamilton Davies, the federal District Attorney for Kentucky. However, it was not until mid-1806 when Jefferson and his cabinet began to take more notice of reports of political instability in the West. Their suspicions of Burr were confirmed after Wilkinson’s revelation. Convinced of Burr’s guilt, Jefferson ordered his arrest.
Burr was charged with treason due to the alleged conspiracy and stood trial in Richmond, Virginia. He was acquitted due to lack of evidence, as Chief Justice Marshall did not consider conspiracy without actions sufficient for conviction. Burr—Revolutionary War hero, U.S. Senator, New York State attorney general and assemblyman, and finally, vice president under Jefferson—adamantly denied all charges against his honor, his character, and his patriotism.
Burr’s trial brought into question the ideas of executive privilege, state secrets privilege, and the independence of the executive branch of government. Burr’s lawyers, including John Wickham, asked Chief Justice John Marshall to subpoena Jefferson, claiming that they needed documents from Jefferson to accurately present their case. Jefferson proclaimed that as president, he reserved the right to decide, “what papers coming to him as President, the public interests permit to be communicated [and] to whom.” He insisted that all relevant papers had been made available and that he was not subject to this writ because he held executive privilege. He also argued that he should not be subject to the commands of the judiciary because the Constitution guaranteed the executive branch’s independence from the judicial branch. Chief Justice Marshall decided that the subpoena could be issued despite Jefferson’s presidency. Though Marshall vowed to consider Jefferson’s office and avoid “vexatious and unnecessary subpoenas,” his ruling was significant because it suggested that, like all citizens, the president was subject to the law.
4 – The War in Europe
4.1 – Harassment by Britain
4.1.1 – Introduction
The Royal British Navy’s practice of impressment led to increasing tensions between Britain and the United States.
The origins of the War of 1812, often referred to as the Second War of American Independence, are found in the unresolved issues between the United States and Great Britain. One major cause of conflict that remained unresolved by Jay’s Treaty in 1794 was the British practice of impressment, whereby American sailors were taken at sea and forced to fight on British warships. In addition, the British in Canada supported American Indians in their fight against further U.S. expansion in the Great Lakes region. Though Jefferson wanted to avoid what he called “entangling alliances,” staying neutral would eventually prove impossible.
4.1.2 – Impressment by the Royal British Navy
Impressment at sea: A British naval officer looks for deserters among a surly American crew in this 1884 drawing.
Impressment refers to the act of taking men into a navy by force and without notice. Beginning in 1664, the Royal British Navy used this practice in wartime, and during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, impressment allowed the British to crew their warships. Although Britain practiced impressment before, during, and after the American Revolution, it most significantly affected the course of American history in the first decades of the republic.
Jay’s Treaty, which went into effect in 1795, addressed many issues left unresolved after the American Revolution and helped avert a renewed conflict. However, many disapproved of the treaty’s failure to address British impressment of sailors from American ships and ports. While non-British subjects were never impressed, Britain did not recognize naturalized American citizenship and therefore treated anyone born a British subject as British. As a result, the Royal Navy impressed more than 9,000 sailors who claimed American citizenship.
4.1.3 – Increasing Tensions
During the United Kingdom’s wars with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France (1793 to 1815), the Royal Navy aggressively reclaimed British deserters on board ships of other nations, both by halting and searching merchant vessels and, in many cases, by searching American port cities. Although this was illegal, Thomas Jefferson ignored the actions to remain on good terms with Britain as he was negotiating to obtain East and West Florida. This changed in 1805, however, when the British began seizing American merchantmen trading with the West Indies, claiming the ships and their cargoes as a prize, and enforcing impressment on the vessels’ crews. This eventually resulted in the blockade of New York Harbor by two British frigates, the HMS Cambrian and the HMS Leander, which provoked public demonstrations. Over the following year, scores of American ships were condemned in admiralty courts and American seamen were impressed with increasing frequency.
4.1.4 – The Chesapeake-Leopard Affair
The Chesapeake-Leopard Affair was a naval engagement that occurred off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia, on June 22, 1807, between the British warship HMS Leopard and the American frigate USS Chesapeake. The crew of the HMS Leopard pursued, attacked, and boarded the American frigate looking to impress deserters from the Royal Navy. The USS Chesapeake was caught unprepared, and after a short battle involving broadsides from the HMS Leopard, Commander James Barron surrendered his vessel to the British after firing only one shot. Of the four crew members removed from the American vessel and tried for desertion, one was subsequently hanged.
The Chesapeake-Leopard Affair created an uproar among Americans and strident calls for war with Great Britain, but these quickly subsided. President Thomas Jefferson initially attempted to use this widespread attention to diplomatically threaten the British government into settling the matter. However, when British envoys showed no contrition for the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair and delivered proclamations reaffirming impressment, the U.S. Congress backed away from armed conflict.
Jefferson’s political failure to coerce Great Britain led him toward economic warfare in the form of the Embargo of 1807. The festering crisis of impressment and the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair contributed to the eventual outbreak of the War of 1812 and triggered serious diplomatic tensions that helped turn American public opinion against Britain.
4.2 – The Embargo Act of 1807
4.2.1 – Introduction
Although unsuccessful, the United States pursued an embargo to avoid war and compel Great Britain and France to respect American sovereignty.
The Embargo Act of 1807 was a general embargo enacted by the U.S. Congress prohibiting all foreign commerce. It was primarily directed toward Great Britain and France during the Napoleonic Wars.
4.2.2 – Background
The embargo was imposed in response to flagrant violations of U.S. neutrality, in which American merchantmen and their cargoes were seized as contraband of war by the British and French Navies. The British Royal Navy, in particular, resorted to the practice of impressment, forcing thousands of American seamen into service on their warships. Both Great Britain and France, in the midst of a war for control of Europe, justified the plunder of U.S. shipping as incidental to war and necessary for their success. The official orders issued in support of these actions by European powers were widely recognized in the United States as grounds for a U.S. declaration of war.
4.2.3 – “Peaceful Coercion”
As these attacks on U.S. merchant ships mounted, President Thomas Jefferson weighed public support for retaliation. He recommended that Congress respond with commercial warfare, rather than with military mobilization. Both Jefferson and Madison viewed war as particularly fatal to republican government, and Jefferson sought to avoid war in favor of what he called “peaceful coercion.” By restricting trade in crucial raw materials, Jefferson hoped to bring the British and French economies and their respective war machines to a halt, after which (he assumed) the European powers would show greater respect for the rights of American shipping. To this end, Jefferson signed the Embargo Act into law on December 22, 1807, after passage by the Republican-dominated Congress.
4.2.4 – Implications
1807 embargo cartoon: This 1807 political cartoon satirizes the Embargo Act. Here, a turtle named “Ograbme” (“Embargo” spelled backward) bites a merchant/smuggler.
The embargo, which lasted from December 1807 to March 1809, turned out to be impractical as a coercive measure and was a failure both diplomatically and economically. The legislation inflicted devastating burdens on the U.S. economy and the American people, effectively throttling American overseas trade. All areas of the United States suffered: In commercial New England and the Middle Atlantic states, ships rotted at the wharves, and in the agricultural areas, particularly in the South, farmers and planters could not sell their crops on the international market. For New England, and especially for the Middle Atlantic states, there was some consolation, for the scarcity of European goods stimulated the development of American industry.
At the same time, the British were still able to export goods to America: Initial loopholes overlooked coastal vessels from Canada smuggling goods, whaling ships, and privateers from overseas. Widespread disregard of the law meant enforcement was difficult, and the embargo became a financial disaster for the United States.
The embargo also undermined national unity in the United States, provoking bitter protests, especially in New England commercial centers. The issue vastly increased support for the Federalist Party and led to huge gains in its representation in Congress and in the electoral college in 1808. Thomas Jefferson’s doctrinaire approach to enforcing the embargo violated a key Democratic-Republican precept: commitment to limited government. Many Democratic-Republicans felt that Jefferson’s authorization of heavy-handed enforcement by federal authorities violated both sectional interests and individual liberties.
Despite its unpopular nature, the Embargo Act did have some limited, unintended benefits. For example, fledgling capitalist workers responded by bringing in fresh capital and labor to New England textile and other manufacturing industries, decreasing American reliance on British imports.
After 15 months, the embargo was revoked on March 1, 1809, in the final days of Jefferson’s presidency. It was replaced by the Non-Intercourse Act of 1809, which lifted all embargoes on American shipping except for those bound for British or French ports. The intent was to damage the economies of the United Kingdom and France. Like its predecessor, the Non-Intercourse Act was mostly ineffective and contributed to the outbreak of the War of 1812.
4.3 – Madison and the Pressure for War
In the early nineteenth century, President James Madison faced pressure from Democratic-Republican “war hawks” to go to war with Britain.
4.3.1 – Growing Pressure for War
President James Madison, who was elected as Thomas Jefferson ‘s successor in 1808, was pressured by a faction of young Democratic-Republican congressmen from the South and West of the United States to go to war with Great Britain.
4.3.2 – War Hawks
Portrait of Henry Clay by Matthew Harris Jouett, 1818: A portrait of Henry Clay, the leader of the war hawks’ western faction, painted after the War of 1812.
The term “war hawks” was a name used for a historical group of Democratic-Republicans in the early nineteenth century who pushed for war with Great Britain. The war hawks were primarily from southern and western states of the United States. The American West then consisted of the trans-Appalachian states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio, as well as territories in the Old Northwest (i.e., the Great Lakes states that did not yet have votes in Congress).
The term “hawk” was coined by the prominent Virginia congressman and Old Republican, John Randolph (of Roanoke), a staunch opponent to the entry into war. There was never any official roster of war hawks, and no universally acknowledged list exists. Most historians use the term to describe about a dozen members of the Twelfth Congress under President Madison. The primary leaders of the group were Speaker of the House Henry Clay of Kentucky and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, both of whom would become major players in American politics for the next several decades. Other notable members included Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky, William Lowndes and Langdon Cheves of South Carolina, Felix Grundy of Tennessee, and William W. Bibb of Georgia.
4.3.3 – Arguments for Going to War
The war hawks advocated going to war with Britain for reasons related to the interference of the British Royal Navy in American shipping, which was hurting the American economy and, the war hawks believed, injuring American prestige. War hawks from the western states also believed that the British were instigating American Indians on the frontier to attack American settlements, and so the war hawks called for an invasion of British Canada to punish the British and end this threat. War hawks in both the South and the West also anticipated an easy opportunity for increasing the size of the new republic in the event of war: They hoped for the incorporation of British North America (present-day Canada) into the republic.
4.3.4 – Opposition to War
Opposition to war came from Federalists, especially those in the Northeast, who knew conflict would disrupt the maritime trade on which they depended. The older members of the Democratic-Republican Party, led by President James Madison and Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin, also tried unsuccessfully to defeat the war hawks movement, believing that the United States was not prepared for war—which in the end turned out to be true. In a narrow vote, Congress authorized the president to declare war against Britain in June 1812.
5 – The Madison Administration
5.1 – Madison’s Presidency
5.1.1 – Introduction
James Madison’s presidency was characterized by his policies toward American Indians, his economic plans, and the War of 1812,
In 1808, Thomas Jefferson ‘s secretary of state, James Madison, was elected president of the United States. His term was dominated by increasing tensions with Britain that eventually contributed to the War of 1812 on the year of his reelection.
5.1.2 – Madison’s Native American Policy
Upon assuming office on March 4, 1809, James Madison, in his first Inaugural Address to the nation, stated that the federal government’s duty was to convert the American Indians by the, “participation of the improvements of which the human mind and manners are susceptible in a civilized state.” Like his predecessor Jefferson, Madison had a paternalistic and discriminatory attitude toward American Indians, encouraging the men to give up hunting and become farmers. Although there are scant details, Madison often met with Southeastern and Western American Indians, including the Creek and Osage.
As European settlers moved west, they encroached on large tracts of Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, and Chickasaw territory. Madison ordered the U.S. Army to protect some of the American Indian lands from intrusion by settlers, much to the chagrin of his military commander, Andrew Jackson, who resisted carrying out the president’s order. In the Northwest Territory after the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, American Indians were pushed off of their tribal lands and replaced entirely by white settlers. By 1815, there were 400,000 European-American settlers in Ohio, and the American Indians’ rights to their lands had effectively become null and void.
5.1.3 – Economic Policies
James Madison: An engraving of James Madison by David Edwin from between 1809 and 1817.
Economically, Madison sought to continue Jefferson’s agenda—in particular the dismantling of the system left behind by the Federalists under presidents Washington and Adams. One of the most pressing issues Madison confronted was the first Bank of the United States. Its twenty-year charter was scheduled to expire in 1811, and while Madison’s secretary of the treasury said that the bank was a necessity, Congress failed to re-authorize it. After the outbreak of the War of 1812, the absence of a national bank made war with Britain very difficult to finance, and in 1814, Congress passed a bill chartering a second national bank. Madison vetoed this bill, and in 1816, Congress passed another bill for the same purpose. By this time, Madison had learned that such a bank, despite its Federalist origins, was necessary for financing war, and he signed the bill to establish a new national bank.
Madison also implemented an effective taxation system based on tariffs, a standing professional military, and the internal improvements championed by Henry Clay under his American System. However, in his last act before leaving office, Madison vetoed the Bonus Bill of 1817, which would have financed more internal improvements, including roads, bridges, and canals.
5.1.4 – The War of 1812
War of 1812: Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry defeats British Navy at the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813. Painting by William Henry Powell, 1873.
The United States entered the War of 1812 due to increased aggression by the British Navy on the open seas. At the time, Britain used its navy to prevent American ships from trading with France—an act the United States considered a violation of international law. The British Royal Navy boarded American ships on the high seas and impressed their seamen, forcing them to serve on the Royal Navy’s ships. The United States looked upon this as an affront to American sovereignty no different than if the British had invaded American soil. Britain also armed American Indian tribes in the Northwest Territory and encouraged them to attack American settlers, even though Britain had ceded this territory to the United States in the treaties of 1783 and 1794.
5.1.5 – Opposition to the War
Madison called on Congress to put the country, “into an armor and an attitude demanded by the crisis”: He specifically recommended enlarging the army, preparing the militia, finishing the military academy, stockpiling munitions, and expanding the navy. Madison faced formidable obstacles, however—a divided cabinet, a factious party, a recalcitrant Congress, obstructionist governors, and incompetent generals, together with militia who refused to fight outside of their states. Most serious was the lack of unified popular support. There were serious threats of disunion from New England, which engaged in extensive smuggling with Canada and refused to provide financial support or soldiers for the purposes of war.
The problems were exacerbated by Jefferson’s and Madison’s dismantling of the systems put in place by Hamilton and the Federalists: They had reduced the military, closed the First National Bank, and narrowed the tax system. They distrusted standing armies and banks, and the dismantling of the Federalist taxation system meant they could not finance the quick hiring of mercenaries. By the time the war began, Madison’s military force consisted mostly of poorly trained militia members. The war went very badly for the United States at first, and it was especially unpopular in New England because it inflicted further economic harm on a region dependent on maritime commerce.
5.1.6 – End of the War
When the war between Britain and France ended in Europe, Britain was eager to end the conflict in the Americas as well. In 1814, British and U.S. diplomats met in Flanders, in northern Belgium, to negotiate the Treaty of Ghent. To most Americans, the quick succession of events at the end of the war made it appear as though American valor at the final battle of New Orleans had forced the British to surrender after almost winning. This view, while inaccurate, strongly contributed to the post-war euphoria that persisted for a decade. Madison’s final years began an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity, which became known as the “Era of Good Feelings.” Madison’s reputation as president improved, and Americans finally believed that the United States had established itself as a world power.
5.1.7 – Dolley Madison
Dolley Madison, wife of James Madison, was renowned for her social graces and hospitality and contributed to her husband’s popularity as president. During the war, the invading British army neared the president’s home in Washington in 1814. Dolley Madison ordered the Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington to be removed as the White House staff hurriedly prepared to flee. After the U.S. government officials fled, the First Lady remained behind to organize the slaves and staff to save valuables from the British. Her role increased her popularity, even as newspapers embellished it. When the British soldiers finally arrived, they burned the president’s house, and added fuel to the fires that night to ensure they would continue burning into the next day. The thick sandstone walls of the White House and Capitol survived, and they were later rebuilt in Washington.
5.2 – Territorial Expansion under Madison
James Madison’s presidency saw the continuation of the American Indian Wars as the United States expanded into and invaded indigenous territory.
5.2.1 – Introduction
President Madison’s policies toward American Indians: This image illustrates Benjamin Hawkins teaching Creek men how to use a plow in 1805. Madison believed that learning European-style agriculture would help force the Creek to adopt the values of British-American civilization.
In his first Inaugural Address upon assuming office on March 4, 1809, James Madison stated that the federal government’s duty was to convert the American Indians by the, “participation of the improvements of which the human mind and manners are susceptible in a civilized state.” Like most American leaders at the time, Madison had a paternalistic and discriminatory attitude toward American Indians. He encouraged American Indian men to give up hunting and become farmers and supported the conversion of American Indians to a European way of life. Although there are scant details, Madison often met with Southeastern and Western American Indians, including the Creek and Osage.
5.2.2 – Continuation of the American Indian Wars
As European settlers moved west, encroaching on large tracts of Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, and Chickasaw territory, Madison ordered the U.S. Army to protect some of the American Indian lands from intrusion. His military commander, Andrew Jackson, however, disagreed with this order and resisted carrying it out. As U.S. expansion continued, American Indians resisted settlers’ encroachment in several regions of the new nation, from the Northwest to the Southeast and into the West, as settlers encountered the tribes of the Great Plains.
5.2.3 – Tecumseh’s War
East of the Mississippi River in the Indiana Territory, an intertribal confederacy led by Tecumseh, a Shawnee chief, fought a number of engagements in the Northwest during the period of 1811 to 1812. These conflicts became known as Tecumseh’s War. In the latter stages, Tecumseh’s group allied with the British forces in the War of 1812 and was instrumental in the conquest of Detroit.
Many consider Governor William Henry Harrison ‘s victory over the American Indian confederacy at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811 the climax of the war. However, Tecumseh’s War continued into the War of 1812 and is frequently considered a part of that larger struggle. The war lasted until the fall of 1813, when Tecumseh died fighting Harrison’s Army of the Northwest at the Battle of the Thames (near present-day Chatham, Ontario) and his confederacy disintegrated. Tecumseh’s War is viewed by some academic historians as being the final conflict of a longer-term military struggle for control of the Great Lakes region of North America; it encompassed a number of wars over several generations and was referred to as the “Sixty Years’ War.”
In the Northwest Territory after the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, American Indians were pushed off of their tribal lands and replaced entirely by white settlers. By 1815, 400,000 European settlers lived in Ohio, and American Indians’ rights to their lands had effectively become null and void.
5.2.4 – The Creek War
During his presidency, Madison’s also saw conflicts with the American Indians in the Southeast. The Creek War, also known as the “Red Stick War” and the “Creek Civil War,” was a regional war among opposing Creek factions, European empires, and the United States, taking place largely in Alabama and along the Gulf Coast. It is usually considered part of the War of 1812 because of its connection to Tecumseh’s War in the Old Northwest and because the Red Stick Creeks sought support from the British and later aided British advances toward New Orleans.
The Creek War began as a conflict within the Creek Confederation, but U.S. armies quickly became involved. British traders and the Spanish government provided supplies to the Red Stick majority due to their shared interest in preventing the expansion of U.S. territory. The war effectively ended with the Treaty of Fort Jackson (August 1814), in which General Andrew Jackson insisted that the Creek confederacy cede more than 21 million acres of land from southern Georgia and central Alabama. These lands were taken from allied Creek as well as Red Sticks.
5.2.5 – The Seminole Wars
The Seminole Wars, also known as the “Florida Wars,” were three conflicts in Florida between the Seminole—the collective name given to the amalgamation of various groups of Native Americans and African Americans who settled in Florida in the early eighteenth century—and the U.S. Army. The First Seminole War (1816–1819) arose out of tensions relating to General Andrew Jackson’s invasions into northern Spanish Florida and offensives against the Seminoles beginning in 1816. The governments of Britain and Spain both expressed outrage over the “invasion”; however, the Spanish Crown ultimately agreed to cede Florida to the United States in the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819 (after Madison’s presidency had ended). According to the Treaty of Moultrie Creek of 1823, the Seminoles were required to leave northern Florida and were confined to a large reservation in the center of the Florida peninsula.
5.3 – The Hartford Convention
5.3.1 – Introduction
The Hartford Convention was an event in 1814–1815 in the United States in which New England Federalists met to discuss their grievances concerning the ongoing War of 1812, as well as the political problems arising from the domination of the federal government by presidents from Virginia. Despite many outcries in the Federalist press for New England secession and a separate peace with Great Britain, moderates dominated the Convention, and such extreme proposals were not a major focus of the Convention’s debate.
5.3.2 – Background
The War of 1812 was very unpopular in New England because it inflicted further economic harm on a region dependent on maritime commerce. This unpopularity caused a resurgence of the Federalist Party in New England. Many Federalists deeply resented the power of the slaveholding Virginian presidents Jefferson and then Madison, who appeared indifferent to their region. The depth of the Federalists’ discontent became evident when twenty-six Federalists met in Connecticut in December of 1814 for the Hartford Convention.
In response to the war crisis, Governor Strong of Massachusetts called the newly elected General Court to a special session on October 5, 1814. Strong’s message to the legislature was referred to a joint committee headed by Harrison Gray Otis, who was considered a moderate. His report, delivered three days later, called for resisting any British invasion, criticized the leadership that had brought the nation close to disaster, and called for a convention of New England states to deal with their common grievances and common defense. Otis’ report was passed by the state Senate on October 12 and by the House on October 16.
5.3.3 – The Convention
The Hartford Convention met between December 1814 and early 1815 and included delegates from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. The Convention discussed removing the three-fifths compromise, which gave slave states more power in Congress; they also discussed requiring a two-thirds super majority in Congress for the admission of new states, declarations of war, and laws restricting trade. The Federalists discussed their grievances with the Louisiana Purchase and the Embargo of 1807. Some attendees issued calls for New England to secede from the United States.
The convention ended with a report and resolutions, signed by the delegates present and adopted on the day before final adjournment. The report said that New England had a “duty” to assert its authority over unconstitutional infringements on its sovereignty—a doctrine that echoed the policy of Jefferson and Madison in 1798 in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions.
The Hartford Convention’s final report proposed several amendments to the U.S. Constitution. These attempted to combat the policies of the ruling Democratic-Republicans by accomplishing the following:
- Prohibiting any trade embargo lasting more than 60 days;
- Requiring a two-thirds Congressional majority for declaration of offensive war, admission of a new state, or interdiction of foreign commerce;
- Removing the three-fifths representation advantage of the South;
- Limiting future presidents to one term; and
- Requiring each president to be from a different state than his predecessor. (This provision was aimed directly at Virginia’s dominance of the presidency since 1800.)
5.3.4 – Negative Reception
Proceedings of the Hartford Convention: This image shows a page from Theodore Lyman’s 1823 book on the Hartford Convention that lists the names of New England delegates who attended the meeting.
These arguments for disunion during wartime, combined with the Convention’s condemnation of the government, made Federalists appear unpatriotic to the Democratic-Republicans. Just weeks after the Convention’s end, news of Andrew Jackson ‘s overwhelming victory over the British in New Orleans (though exaggerated) swept over the Northeast, and the War of 1812 came to an end. This changed public sentiment toward the current administration and discredited the complaints of the Federalists, contributing to their final downfall as a major national political force.
6 – The War of 1812
6.1 – Introduction
6.1.1 – Overview
The War of 1812 arose from unfinished business of the Revolutionary War and pressures stemming from Britain’s war with France.
The War of 1812 (1812–1815) was fought between the United States and the British Empire as well as Britain’s American Indian allies. It was chiefly fought on the Atlantic Ocean and on the land, coasts, and waterways of North America. The conflict stemmed from the unfinished business of the American Revolution and the pressures resulting from Great Britain’s struggle with France.
6.1.2 – British Impressment and the Embargo Act of 1807
The USS Chesapeake painted by F. Muller: The Leopard-Chesapeake Affair of 1807 heightened British-American tensions when the HMS Leopard fired on and boarded the American warship, USS Chesapeake.
The origins of the War of 1812, often called the “Second War of American Independence,” are found in the unresolved issues between the United States and Great Britain. One major cause was the British practice of impressment, whereby American sailors were taken at sea and forced to fight on British warships; this issue was left unresolved by Jay’s Treaty in 1794. France and England, engaged in the Napoleonic Wars (which raged between 1803 and 1815), both openly seized American ships at sea. England was the major offender: The Royal Navy, following a time-honored practice, “impressed” American sailors by forcing them into British service.
The issue came to a head in 1807 when the HMS Leopard, a British warship, fired on a U.S. naval ship, the Chesapeake, off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia. The British then boarded the ship and took four sailors. After the Leopard-Chesapeake affair, Jefferson chose what he thought was the best of his limited options and responded to the crisis through economic means. He initiated a sweeping ban on trade, known as the Embargo Act of 1807. This law prohibited American ships from leaving their ports until Britain and France agreed to stop seizing them at sea. The embargo, however, caused far more damage to America’s economy than to Britain’s. The embargo was difficult to enforce and smuggling became common. Jefferson’s embargo was particularly unpopular in New England, where merchants preferred the indignities of impressment to the halting of overseas commerce, and tension among American citizens grew.
At the very end of his second term, Jefferson signed the Non-Intercourse Act of 1809, which lifted all embargoes on American shipping except for those vessels bound for British or French ports. As this proved to be unenforceable, Macon’s Bill Number 2 replaced the Non-Intercourse Act in 1810. This lifted all embargoes but stated that if either France or Great Britain were to cease their interference with American shipping, the United States would reinstate an embargo on the other nation. Napoleon, seeing an opportunity to make trouble for Great Britain, promised to leave American ships alone, and the United States reinstated the embargo with Great Britain, moving closer to a declaration of war.
6.1.3 – American Expansionism
Disputed territories in the War of 1812: This map illustrates the states and territories of the United States from May 1812 to June 1812. On May 12, 1812, the federal government assigned its annexed land of West Florida to the Mississippi Territory. On June 4, 1812, to minimize confusion, the Louisiana Territory was renamed “Missouri Territory.”
Another underlying cause of the War of 1812 was British support for American Indian resistance to U.S. western expansion. For many years, European-American settlers in the western territories had besieged the American Indians living there. Under President Jefferson, two American Indian policies existed: one that forced American Indians to adopt American ways of agricultural life, and another that sought to aggressively drive them into debt in order to force them to sell their lands.
The Algonquian and Iroquoian nations of the Great Lakes and the Ohio Country organized in opposition to U.S. invasion and were supplied with weapons by British traders in Canada. Although the British had technically ceded the area to the United States in the Treaty of Paris in 1783 (a treaty that ignored any rights of the American Indians already living there), it was in the best interest of the British to prevent further American growth.
6.1.4 – Economic Motivations and Tension at Home
The failure of Jefferson’s embargo led to increasing pressure from Americans to go to war with England. Farmers from the West and the South were suffering from an economic depression that made them demand war. Though Jefferson wanted to avoid what he called “entangling alliances,” staying neutral proved impossible.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, a group of young Democratic-Republicans known as the “war hawks” came to the forefront in 1811. The group, led by Henry Clay from Kentucky and John C. Calhoun from South Carolina, would not tolerate British insults to American honor and advocated going to war against Great Britain. Opposition to the war came from Federalists, especially those in the Northeast, who knew war would disrupt the maritime trade on which they depended.
On June 1, 1812, President James Madison gave a speech to the U.S. Congress, recounting American grievances against Great Britain but not specifically calling for a declaration of war. After Madison’s speech, Congress authorized the president to declare war against Britain by a narrow vote. The conflict formally began on June 18, 1812, when Madison signed the measure into law.
6.2 – The War in the North
6.2.1 – Introduction
The War of 1812’s primary theater on land was along the northern border of the United States.
The seizure of American ships and sailors, combined with the British support of American Indian resistance, led to strident calls for war against Great Britain. In a narrow vote, Congress authorized the president to declare war against Britain in June 1812, beginning the War of 1812.
Although the outbreak of the war had been preceded by years of angry diplomatic dispute, neither side was ready for war when it came. Britain was heavily engaged in the Napoleonic Wars, most of the British Army was deployed in the Peninsular War (in Spain), and the Royal Navy was compelled to blockade most of the coast of Europe. The number of British regular troops present in Canada (and supported by Canadian militia ) in July 1812 was officially stated to be 6,034. Throughout the war, the British secretary of state for war and the colonies was the Earl of Bathurst. For the first two years of the war, he could spare few troops to reinforce North America and urged the commander in chief in North America, Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost, to maintain a defensive strategy. The naturally cautious Prevost followed these instructions, concentrating on defending Lower Canada at the expense of Upper Canada, which was more vulnerable to American attacks, and allowing few offensive actions. Throughout the war, Britain was able to successfully defend Canada.
6.2.2 – Early Defeats
The War of 1812’s primary theater on land was along the northern border of the United States. The war went very badly for the United States at first. The British scored an important early success when their detachment at St. Joseph Island, on Lake Huron, learned of the declaration of war before the nearby American garrison at the important trading post at Mackinac Island in Michigan. A scratch force landed on the island on July 17, 1812, and mounted a gun overlooking Fort Mackinac. After the British fired one shot, the Americans, taken by surprise, surrendered. This early victory encouraged American Indian resistance, and large numbers moved to help the British at Amherstburg (near the western end of Lake Erie).
6.2.3 – Detroit
On July 12, 1812, General William Hull led an invading American force of about 1,000 untrained, poorly-equipped militia across the Detroit River and occupied the Canadian town of Sandwich, now a neighborhood of Windsor, Ontario. Once on Canadian soil, Hull issued a proclamation ordering all British subjects to surrender. He also threatened to kill any British prisoner caught fighting alongside an American Indian. The proclamation helped stiffen resistance to the American attacks. Hull’s army was too weak in artillery, however, and by August, Hull and his troops retreated to Detroit.
The senior British officer in Upper Canada, Major General Isaac Brock, felt that he should take bold measures to calm the settler population in Canada and to convince the American Indians who were needed to defend the region that Britain was strong. He moved rapidly to Amherstburg with reinforcements, and, along with Shawnee leader Tecumseh, immediately attacked Detroit. Hull and his troops surrendered Detroit without a fight on August 16. The surrender not only cost the United States the village of Detroit, but also control over most of the Michigan territory.
Knowing of British-supported attacks from American Indians in other locations, Hull ordered the evacuation of the inhabitants of Fort Dearborn (Chicago) to Fort Wayne. During evacuation, the inhabitants (soldiers and civilians) were attacked by Potowatomis on August 15 in what is known as the “Battle of Fort Dearborn.” The fort was subsequently burned.
6.2.4 – Battle of Queenston Heights
Several months later, the United States launched a second invasion of Canada against the Niagara Peninsula. On October 13, U.S. forces were again defeated at the Battle of Queenston Heights. Brock was killed during the battle, however, and British leadership suffered after his death.
6.2.5 – Battle of Ogdensburg
By the end of the year, the British controlled half the Northwest. The British were potentially most vulnerable over the stretch of the St. Lawrence River where it formed the frontier between Upper Canada and the United States. During the early days of the war, there was illicit commerce across the river. Over the winter of 1812 and 1813, the Americans launched a series of raids from Ogdensburg on the American side of the river, which hampered British supply traffic up the river. On February 21, Sir George Prevost passed through Prescott on the opposite bank of the river with reinforcements for Upper Canada. When he left the next day, the reinforcements and local militia attacked. At the Battle of Ogdensburg, the Americans were forced to retire.
Military and civilian leadership remained a critical American weakness until 1814. The early disasters were brought about chiefly by American unpreparedness, and a lack of leadership drove U.S. Secretary of War William Eustis from office. His successor, John Armstrong, Jr., attempted a coordinated strategy late in 1813 with 10,000 men, aimed at capturing Montreal; however, he was thwarted by logistical difficulties, uncooperative and quarrelsome commanders, and ill-trained troops. After losing several battles to inferior forces, the Americans retreated in disarray in October 1813.
6.2.6 – Battle of Lake Erie
Olivar Perry and the Battle of Lake Erie: Oliver Hazard Perry’s message to William Henry Harrison after the Battle of Lake Erie began with what would become one of the most famous sentences in American military history: “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” This 1865 painting by William H. Powell shows Perry transferring to a different ship during the battle.
By the middle of 1814, U.S. generals, including Major Generals Jacob Brown and Winfield Scott, had drastically improved the fighting abilities and discipline of the army, and U.S. forces scored several victories. A decisive use of naval power came on the Great Lakes and depended on a contest of building ships. The United States started a program of building warships at Sackets Harbor on Lake Ontario, where 3,000 men were recruited, many from New York City, to build eleven warships early in the war. In 1813, American Captain Oliver Hazard Perry and his naval force won control of Lake Erie in the Battle of Lake Erie, cutting off British and American Indian forces in the west from their supply base.
6.2.7 – Battle of the Thames
The British also were decisively defeated by General William Henry Harrison ‘s forces on their retreat toward Niagara at the Battle of the Thames in October 1813. Tecumseh was counted among the dead, and American Indian resistance began to ebb as his confederacy disintegrated. Control of Lake Ontario changed hands several times, with both sides unable and unwilling to take advantage of the temporary superiority.
6.3 – The War in Chesapeake
6.3.1 – The Chesapeake Bay
The strategic location of the Chesapeake Bay near America’s capital made it a prime target for the British during the War of 1812. Starting in March of 1813, a squadron under British Rear Admiral George Cockburn started a blockade and raided towns along the bay from Norfolk to Havre de Grace.
On July 4, 1813, Joshua Barney, a Revolutionary War naval hero, convinced the Navy Department to build the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla, a squadron of twenty barges to defend the Chesapeake Bay. Launched in April of 1814, the squadron was quickly cornered in the Patuxent River; while successful in harassing the Royal Navy, the squadron was powerless to stop the British campaign that ultimately led to the burning of Washington.
6.3.2 – The Burning of Washington, D.C.
Burning of Washington D.C.: This drawing shows the capture and burning of Washington, D.C. by the British in 1814. 1876 publication.
The expedition against Washington, led by Cockburn and General Robert Ross, was carried out between August 19 and 29, 1814, as the result of the hardened British policy of 1814. British and American commissioners had convened for peace negotiations at Ghent in June of that year; however, Admiral Warren had been replaced as commander in chief by Admiral Alexander Cochrane, with reinforcements and orders to coerce the Americans into a favorable peace.
Governor-in-Chief of British North America Sir George Prevost had written to the admirals in Bermuda, calling for retaliation for destructive American raids into Canada, most notably the Americans’ burning of York in 1813. A force of 2,500 soldiers under General Ross had recently arrived in Bermuda aboard the HMS Royal Oak, three frigates, three sloops, and ten other vessels. Released from the Peninsular War in Europe by British victory, the British intended to use these ships for diversionary raids along the coasts of Maryland and Virginia. In response to Prevost’s request, the British decided to employ this force, together with the naval and military units already on the station, to strike at Washington, D.C.
On August 24, U.S. Secretary of War John Armstrong insisted that the British would attack Baltimore rather than Washington, even when the British Army was obviously on its way to the capital. The inexperienced U.S. militia, which had congregated in Maryland to protect the capital, was routed in the Battle of Bladensburg, opening the route to Washington. After the U.S. government officials fled from Washington, First Lady Dolley Madison remained behind to organize the slaves and staff to save valuables from the British. Although she was able to save valuables from the presidential mansion, both she and President James Madison were forced to flee to Virginia.
Upon arriving, the British commanders ate the supper that had been prepared for the president before they burned the presidential mansion. A furious storm swept into Washington, D.C. later that same evening, sending tornadoes into the city that caused even more damage but finally extinguished the fires with torrential rains. The naval yards were set afire at the direction of U.S. officials to prevent the capture of naval ships and supplies. The British left Washington, D.C. as soon as the storm subsided. The successful British raid on Washington, D.C., dented American morale and prestige.
6.3.3 – The Battle of Baltimore
Having destroyed Washington’s public buildings, including the president’s mansion and the Treasury, the British Army next moved to capture Baltimore, a busy port and a key base for American privateers. The subsequent Battle of Baltimore began with the British landing at North Point, where they were met by American militia. An exchange of fire began, with casualties on both sides. General Ross was killed by an American sniper as he attempted to rally his troops. The sniper himself was killed moments later, and the British withdrew. The British also attempted to attack Baltimore by sea on September 13 but were unable to reduce Fort McHenry at the entrance to Baltimore Harbor, due to recent fortifications.
6.3.4 – The Battle of Fort McHenry
The bombardment of Fort McHenry: A contemporary rendering of the engagement that provided the inspiration for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The Battle of Fort McHenry was no battle at all. British guns and rockets bombarded the fort and then moved out of range of the American cannons, which returned no fire. Admiral Cochrane’s plan was to coordinate with a land force, but from that distance, coordination proved impossible. The British called off the attack and left.
All the lights were extinguished in Baltimore the night of the attack, and the fort was bombarded for 25 hours. The only light was given off by the exploding shells over Fort McHenry, illuminating the flag that was still flying over the fort. The defense of the fort inspired the American lawyer Francis Scott Key to write a poem that would eventually provide the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
6.4 – The War in the South
In the South, the War of 1812 manifested itself as the Creek Wars and culminated in the Battle of New Orleans.
6.4.1 – The Creek War and the War of 1812
The War of 1812 included attacks against American Indians by the United States on the nation’s western and southern borders. The American Indian tribes south of the Appalachians played an important role in the War of 1812, and American Indian resistance to European-American expansion intensified into the Creek War. European-American historians often discuss the Creek War as part of the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain, as tribal tensions were exacerbated during this war.
6.4.2 – Origins of the Creek War
The Creek War (1813–1814), also known as the “Red Stick War,” began as a civil war within the Creek (Muscogee) nation. A faction of younger men from the Upper Creek villages, known as “Red Sticks,” sought aggressively to return their society to a traditional way of life, culturally and religiously. Red Stick leaders such as William Weatherford (Red Eagle), Peter McQueen, and Menawa were all allies of the British. They clashed violently with other Creek chiefs over European-American territorial encroachment.
Before the Creek Civil War, in February of 1813, Tecumseh, leader of the Shawnees, came to the Southeast to encourage the Creek to join his movement to throw the European-Americans out of American Indian territories. After the Revolutionary War, Tecumseh had united tribes in the Northwest (including Ohio and related territories) to fight against U.S. settlers. Many of the Upper Creek were influenced by the prophecies of Tecumseh’s brother, Tenskwatawa, which, echoing those of their own spiritual leaders, predicted the extermination of the European Americans.
The Red Sticks aggressively resisted the civilization programs administered by the U.S. Indian Agent, Benjamin Hawkins, who had stronger alliances among the Lower Creek. Lower Creek towns had been under more pressure from European-American settlers in present-day Georgia and had been persuaded to cede land for hunting grounds in 1790, 1802, and 1805. However, European settlers had ruined the hunting, and as the wild game disappeared, the Creek began to adopt American farming practices.
In February of 1813, a small war party of Red Sticks, returning from Detroit and led by Little Warrior, killed two families of settlers along the Ohio River. Benjamin Hawkins learned of this, and demanded that the Creek turn over Little Warrior and his six companions to the U.S. government. Instead of complying, old Creek chiefs, led by Big Warrior, decided to execute the war party themselves. This decision ignited civil war in the Creek Nation. In the months that followed, warriors of Tecumseh’s party began to attack the property of their enemies, burning plantations and destroying livestock.
6.4.3 – United States Involvement
Creek land cessions: This map illustrates the land the Creek ceded after the Creek Wars, consisting of half of Alabama and part of southern Georgia.
U.S. forces became involved in the conflict by attacking a Creek party in present-day southern Alabama at the Battle of Burnt Corn. After Burnt Corn, U.S. Secretary of War John Armstrong notified General Thomas Pinckney that the United States was prepared to take action against the Creek Nation. Further, if Spain were found to be supporting the Creeks, a strike against Pensacola (in Spanish Florida) would occur.
Although Jackson’s mission was to defeat the Creek and expand U.S. territory, his larger objective was to move south, build roads, and stage an attack on Pensacola. He faced two problems, however: logistics and short enlistments. When Jackson began his advance, the Tennessee River was low, making it difficult to move supplies, and there was little forage for his horses. Jackson spent the next month building roads and training his force. In mid March, he moved against the Red Stick force concentrated on the Tallapoosa at Tohopeka (Horseshoe Bend).
6.4.4 – Horseshoe Bend and the Treaty of Fort Jackson
The war ended after Jackson commanded a force of combined state militias, Lower Creek, and Cherokee to defeat the Red Sticks at Horseshoe Bend. The Battle of Horseshoe Bend, which occurred on March 27, was a decisive victory for Jackson, effectively ending the Red Stick resistance. On August 9, 1814, Andrew Jackson forced headmen of both the Upper and Lower Towns of Creek to sign the Treaty of Fort Jackson. Despite protests from the Creek chiefs who had fought alongside Jackson, the Creek Nation was forced to cede 23 million acres of land—half of Alabama and part of southern Georgia—to the United States government. Jackson recognized no difference between his Lower Creek allies and the Red Sticks who fought against him, forcing both to cede their land.
6.4.5 – The Battle of New Orleans
With the Red Sticks subdued, Jackson turned his focus on the Gulf Coast region in the War of 1812. On his own initiative, he invaded Spanish Florida and drove a British force out of Pensacola. The Battle of New Orleans took place on January 8, 1815; it was the final major battle of the War of 1812 and is widely regarded as the greatest American land victory of the war. American forces, commanded by Major General Andrew Jackson, defeated an invading British Army intent on seizing New Orleans and the vast territory the United States had acquired with the Louisiana Purchase.
Due to slow communication, word of the Treaty of Ghent, which had been signed on December 24, 1814, and called for the end of the war, had not yet reached New Orleans. Andrew Jackson had distinguished himself in the war by defeating the Creek before invading Florida in May of that year. After taking Pensacola, he moved his force of Tennessee fighters to New Orleans to defend the strategic port against British attack.
On January 8, 1815 (despite the official end of the war), a force of battle-tested British veterans of the Napoleonic Wars attempted to take the port. Jackson’s forces devastated the British, killing more than 2,000. New Orleans and the vast Mississippi River Valley had been successfully defended, ensuring the future of American settlement and commerce. The Battle of New Orleans immediately catapulted Jackson to national prominence as a war hero, and in the 1820s, he emerged as the head of the new Democratic Party. United States nationalism soared after the victory at the Battle of New Orleans. In 1818, Jackson again invaded Florida, where some of the Red Stick leaders had fled, in an event known as the “First Seminole War.”
6.5 – The Treaty of Ghent
6.5.1 – Introduction
The Treaty of Ghent was the peace treaty that ended the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain. Signed on December 24, 1814, the treaty was ratified by the British on December 30 and arrived in Washington on February 17, where it was quickly ratified and went into effect, thus finally ending the war. The treaty largely restored relations between the two nations to status quo ante bellum (as they were before the war), with no loss of territory on either side. The terms called for all occupied territory to be returned, the prewar boundary between Canada and the United States to be restored, and the Americans to gain fishing rights in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.
Because of the era’s slow communications, it took weeks for news of the peace treaty to reach the United States, and the Battle of New Orleans was fought after it was signed. News of the treaty finally reached the United States after the American victory in New Orleans and the British victory in the Second Battle of Fort Bowyer, but before the British assault on Mobile, Alabama. The treaty did not go into full effect until it was ratified by both sides on February 17. Skirmishes continued to occur between U.S. troops and British-allied American Indians along the Mississippi River frontier for months after the treaty, including the Battle of the Sink Hole in May 1815.
6.5.2 – Terms of the Treaty
The treaty released all prisoners and restored all war lands and boats. The treaty made no major changes to the pre-war situation, and most land that had been taken during the war was returned. Approximately 10 million acres of territory near Lakes Superior and Michigan, in Maine, and on the Pacific coast were returned to the United States, and American-held areas of Upper Canada (present-day Ontario) were returned to British control. Britain also promised to return the freed black slaves they had encouraged to escape to British territory. In practice, however, Britain later paid the United States $350,000 for the slaves rather than having them returned. After the disintegration of the American Indian confederacy under Tecumseh, the British proposal to create an American Indian buffer zone in Ohio and Michigan collapsed.
6.5.3 – Losses and Compensation
British losses in the war were about 1,600 killed in action and 3,679 wounded; 3,321 British died from disease. American losses were 2,260 killed in action and 4,505 wounded. While the number of Americans who died from disease is not known, it is estimated that about 15,000 died from all causes directly related to the war. These figures do not include deaths among Canadian militia forces or losses among American Indian tribes. There have been no estimates of the cost of the American war to Britain, but it did add some £25 million to the national debt. In the United States, the cost was $105 million, and the national debt rose from $45 million in 1812 to $127 million by the end of 1815.
In addition, at least 3,000 American slaves escaped to British territories because of Britain’s offer of freedom—the same offer Britain had made during the American Revolution. Many other slaves simply escaped in the chaos of war and achieved freedom on their own. The British settled some of the newly freed slaves in Nova Scotia, and 400 freedmen were settled in New Brunswick. The United States protested that Britain’s failure to return the slaves violated the Treaty of Ghent. After arbitration by the Tsar of Russia, the British paid $1,204,960 in damages to Washington, which reimbursed the slaveowners.
6.5.4 – Long-Term Consequences
“The Signing of the Treaty of Ghent, Christmas Eve, 1814”: This painting by Amédée Forestier depicts the signing of the Treaty of Ghent.
The war between Britain and the United States resulted in no geographical changes and no major policy changes. However, all of the factors that had contributed to the war had disappeared with the end of the war between Britain and France and with the destruction of the power of American Indian tribes. The United States’ fears of the American Indians ended, as did British plans to create a buffer American Indian state. After Napoleon’s defeat in 1814, Britain was no longer at war with France, and there were no restrictions on neutral trade; the British suspended their policy of impressment of American sailors, and never resumed it—but they insisted they still had the right to. Americans regained their sense of honor and proclaimed victory in what they called a “second war of independence,” and the decisive defeat of the British in New Orleans seemed to prove that Britain could never regain control of America. Finally, the threat of secession by New England ended with the failure of the Hartford Convention.
The War of 1812 was highly significant in Britain’s North American colonies. In British colonies in Canada, the war was portrayed as a successful fight for national survival against an American democratic force that threatened the peace and stability the Canadians desired. In England, in contrast, the War of 1812 was largely overshadowed both by the dramatic events of the contemporary Napoleonic Wars, and because Britain neither gained nor lost anything by the peace settlement, except for the fact that it kept control of Canada.
7 – Conclusion: Early Trials
7.1 – Introduction
The presidencies of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe saw the rise of the Democratic-Republican Party and several domestic and international challenges.
7.1.1 – The Rise of the Democratic-Republicans
The election of 1800 marked the influential shift in power from the Federalists to the Democratic-Republicans, when Thomas Jefferson was elected president of the United States. The peaceful transition calmed contemporary fears about possible violent reactions to a new party’s taking the reins of government. The passing of political power from one political party to another without bloodshed also set an important precedent.
Thomas Jefferson: Thomas Jefferson’s victory in 1800 signaled the ascendency of the Democratic-Republicans and the decline of Federalist power.
The slow decline of the Federalists, which began under Jefferson, led to a period of one-party rule in national politics. Historians call the years between 1815 and 1828 the “Era of Good Feelings” and highlight the “Virginia dynasty” of the time, because the two presidents who followed Jefferson—James Madison and James Monroe—both hailed from his home state. Like him, they owned slaves and represented the Democratic-Republican Party. Though Federalists continued to enjoy popularity, especially in the Northeast, their days of prominence in setting foreign and domestic policy had ended.
7.2 – Domestic Changes and Challenges
7.2.3 – Return to Agriculture
Over the course of Jefferson’s two terms as president—he was reelected in 1804—Jefferson reversed the policies of the Federalist Party, promoted agriculture, and promoted his lasting vision of a rural empire consisting of land-owning white men. Jefferson championed the rights of states and insisted on limited federal government, limited taxes, and limited military.
7.2.4 – The Louisiana Purchase
The Louisiana Purchase: This map shows the territory added to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.
Jefferson, who wanted to expand the United States to bring about his “empire of liberty,” realized his greatest triumph in 1803 when the United States bought the Louisiana territory from France. For $15 million—a bargain price, considering the amount of land involved—the United States doubled in size. Perhaps the greatest real-estate deal in American history, the Louisiana Purchase greatly enhanced the Jeffersonian vision of the United States as an agrarian republic in which yeomen farmers worked the land.
7.2.5 – Westward Expansion
After 1800, the United States militantly expanded westward across North America, confident of its right and duty to gain control of the continent and spread the benefits of its “superior” culture. In 1803, President Jefferson authorized a “Corps of Discovery,” headed by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, to explore a passage to the Pacific Ocean. The Louisiana Purchase and the journey of Lewis and Clark captured the imagination of many who dedicated themselves to the economic exploitation of the western lands and the expansion of American influence and power. In the South, the Adams-Onís Treaty legally secured Florida for the United States, though it did nothing to end the resistance of the Seminoles against American expansionists. At the same time, the treaty frustrated those Americans who considered Texas a part of the Louisiana Purchase. Taking matters into their own hands, some American settlers tried to take Texas by force.
7.3 – International Challenges
7.3.1 – Barbary Wars
The United States faced many international challenges in the early nineteenth century under the presidencies of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. Despite his efforts to decrease the military, Jefferson responded to the capture of American ships and sailors by pirates off the coast of North Africa by leading the United States into war against the Muslim Barbary States in 1801, the first conflict fought by Americans overseas. Both the administrations of Jefferson and Madison undertook actions against the Barbary States at different times. Jefferson led the First Barbary War, from 1801 to 1805, against pirates’ cities in what are today Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria. Madison directed forces for the Second Barbary War in 1815. Both ended in success for the United States.
7.3.2 – The War of 1812
Under Madison’s presidency, the War of 1812, often called the “Second War of American Independence,” culminated from unresolved issues between the United States and Great Britain. One major cause was the British practice of impressment, whereby American sailors were taken at sea and forced to fight on British warships; this issue was left unresolved by Jay’s Treaty in 1794. In addition, the British in Canada supported American Indians in their fight against further U.S. expansion in the Great Lakes region. Though Jefferson had wanted to avoid what he called “entangling alliances,” staying neutral proved impossible.
After 36 months of war, in December of 1814, British and U.S. diplomats met in northern Belgium to negotiate the Treaty of Ghent. The boundaries between the United States and British Canada remained as they were before the war, an outcome welcome to those in the United States who feared a rupture in the country’s otherwise steady expansion into the West. The American Indians in the Western Confederacy suffered a significant defeat, losing both their leader Tecumseh and their fight to retain their land in the Northwest. The War of 1812 proved to be of great importance in the United States because it generated a surge of national pride, asserted United States independence from Britain, and galvanized the nation’s drive to invade lands further West.
The War of 1812 was very unpopular in New England, however, because it inflicted further economic harm on a region dependent on maritime commerce. This unpopularity caused a resurgence of the Federalist Party in New England. Many Federalists deeply resented the power of the slaveholding Virginians (Jefferson and then Madison), who appeared indifferent to their region. The depth of the Federalists’ discontent is illustrated by the proceedings of the December 1814 Hartford Convention, a meeting of 26 Federalists in Connecticut, where some attendees issued calls for New England to secede from the United States. These arguments for disunion during wartime, combined with the convention’s condemnation of the government, made Federalists appear unpatriotic. The convention forever discredited the Federalist Party and led to its downfall.
Originally published by Lumen Learning – Boundless U.S. History under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.