In 1812, the United States declared a war on Britain under the leadership of President James Madison. What were the factors that angered the Americans and who influenced Madison to declare the War of 1812?
The causes that led to the War of 1812 were continued provocation of the American frigates by the British warships, attempts to restrict trade that trampled the American economy, the Republican point of view of the British, and America’s desire to expand its territory.
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Continued Harassment of the American Brigs
Between 1803 and 1807 alone, the British seized over five hundred American ships. The violation of the maritime rights of these American marine ships continued. Just after the Chesapeake and Leopard incident in June, there were two more incidents of humiliations at the harbor of Macaw.
Captain Gilchrist of brig Caravan was confronted by an officer from brig Diana when he arrived at Macaw in the July of 1807. The commanders of British warship had orders to take off an alleged ‘deserter’ of the British Navy who they thought was hiding among the Caravan’s crew. When Captain Gilchrist squabbled with the British officer, around thirty to forty men forced themselves onto the deck of the Caravan armed with cutlasses and pistols. While the British knocked down Gilchrist and his first officer, they dragged his second officer to the board of Diana to ensure good behavior from the Americans.
When a few days later the crew of Diana stopped another merchant ship, the Baltimore schooner Topaz, it added insult to the injury. When a boat that came alongside of the Topaz tried to board it, Captain Nichols of the Topaz fired and wounded a lieutenant of the Diana. The British men responded by swarming up the side of the schooner, killed Captain Nichols, seized Topaz and its cargo and charged the ship with piracy.
The two incidents only furthered the sense of helplessness amongst the American ship owners and merchants, who feared being caught on the high seas between the warring navies of France and Britain. This outrageous exercise of power and humiliations by the British triggered widespread outrage and infuriated the Americans, finally leading to the War of 1812.
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Influence of Henry Clay on the War of 1812
President Thomas Jefferson’s Embargo Act of 1807 had disastrous consequences for America. By the end of his second term in office in 1809, Jefferson had given up trying to enforce the Embargo.
Before leaving office, Jefferson handpicked James Madison and had him endorsed as the official Republican nominee. Though Madison won the elections, his Federalist opponent Charles Cotesworth Pinckney swept all of New England. The congressional elections resulted in a number of stubborn and non-cooperative Federalists along with young rebellious Republicans. These rebels from the new frontier western districts were convinced that the Republican leadership had not dealt with the British firmly.
Henry Clay, Kentucky’s junior senator took an anti-British stand on America’s repeated humiliations at the sea. Clay, born in Virginia in 1777, was a successful lawyer before becoming a senator. He was a Republican to the core and carried the card of being an enemy of banks, corporations, and aristocratic privilege. He also thought that Hamilton’s old Bank of the United States was a splendid association of favored individuals taken from the mass of society and invested with exemptions and surrounded by immunities and privileges.
Most importantly, Henry Clay viewed the disturbances on the frontier as a deliberate attempt by the British to slow down the growth of the American republic. He stated that “I scarcely know of an injury that France could do us, short of an actual invasion of our territory that would induce me to go to war with her, whilst the injuries we have received from Great Britain remain un-redressed.”
Clay was joined by the War Hawks in his indignation over the British encouragement of native Indian disturbances on the frontiers. The War Hawks were western Republicans who blamed the British for the harassment of American ships on the high seas and the Indian disturbances on their frontiers.
These young and energetic leaders insisted that Britain had violated America’s honor several times and it was time to retaliate. They aggressively pursued the idea of going on war with the British as they thought America could easily bring the British to the heels by invading Canada, which was a colony of Britain. They also had no reservations in admitting that invading Canada could result in significant territorial gains. They finally succeeded in inflaming the anti-British sentiments and declaring the war in 1812.
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President Madison Declares the War of 1812
President James Madison preferred diplomacy and restraint as the solutions to the challenges posed by the British. Meanwhile, the secretary of state James Munroe obtained copies of correspondence with New Englanders and the British from an Irish-born New Yorker, John Henry for USD 50,000.
The correspondence was pertaining to New England Federalists who were willing to quit the Republican-dominated American Union and attach New England to Canada. On the 9th of March, 1912, President Madison forwarded copies of this correspondence to Congress. Though the Henry-Craig papers were a serious embarrassment to Federalists in Congress, it also pushed President Madison further to declare war on the British.
The Republican congressional caucus led by Henry Clay told James Madison that his candidature for elections would purely depend on his courage to declare a war. Madison eventually had to give in and sent a request to the Congress for a declaration of the War of 1812. The Senate passed the war bill on June 17th and the next day Madison signed it.
Common Questions about Factors that Influenced James Madison to Declare the War of 1812.
The Senate passed the war bill on June 17th in 1812 and the next day, President Madison signed it. This was an official declaration of the War of 1812.
The War Hawks were western Republicans who blamed the British for the harassment of American ships on the high seas and the Indian disturbances on their frontiers. The War Hawks pushed President Madison to declare war on Great Britain in 1812.
During the War of 1812, the War Hawk members of the Congress pressed for an attack on Canada because they thought America could easily bring the British to the heels by invading Canada, which was a colony of Britain.