Declaration of the War of 1812
Columbian Centinel, 20 May 1812
The universal sentiment against a British War which prevails among considerate men of all parties in this section of the Union, is accompanied by a natural, but perhaps a false security in the conviction of the impossibility of this event. With the exception of a few brawlers in the street, and of some office-holding editors, we can find none who seriously wish to promote this calamity. It is evident that under the circumstances of this country a declaration of war would be in effect a license and a bounty offered by our government to the British Fleet to scour our coasts - to sweep our remaining navigation from the ocean, to annihilate our commerce, and to drive the country, by a rapid declension, into the state of poverty and distress which attended the close of the revolutionary struggle. We are convinced of the absence of those exasperated feelings in the great body of the people which would impel them to such a conflict. We fathom the length and depth of the artificial excitement, which is attempted by men of desperate fortunes and character, and we are satisfied that, in their efforts to influence the public mind, they apply their blazing torches to a mountain of ice. Other considerations come in aid of our confidence. The proposed enemy is invulnerable to us, while we are on all sides open to assault. The conquest of Canada would be less useful to us than that of Nova-Zembla, and could not be so easily achieved. Our red brethren forgetful of the patriotic "talks" of their "father" Jefferson would pour down upon our frontier, and our black brethren would show themselves not less enamoured with the examples of liberty taught in St. Domingo than their masters are with those derived from its mother country. New-Orleans and the Floridas would pass into the hands of the enemy. Our seaports would be under strict blockade, and the mouths of our rivers would be bridged with frigates. Besides the war would be interminable, or end in a surrender on our part of the objects of contention. If the British nation, which now copes with a world in arms, should yield to us - a people destitute of naval force and capable of contact with her in only one point; whatever may be our internal strength, and national valour; it must be through feelings of complacence and affection, inspired by the known partiality of our Presidents, Governors, and Members of Congress, expressed in the public proceedings. Secluded from the world and oppressed by taxes, idle for want of employment, and indigent because idle, this once happy people would repine with maddening recollection of the days of their prosperity. Discontent, sedition and public commotions would ensue. The swords of the new army must not be suffered to rust "for lack, of somebody to hew and hack;" and civil discord would probably finish the catalogue of evils arising from such a state. A fair experiment has shown that the men beyond the Potommac who are the chief instigators to war have no money to apply to this object; and that the men on this side of it, will not part with theirs to accelerate their own ruin. It is no longer doubtful that the Eastern States, are invincibly opposed to war, and that nothing short of a conscription will fill an army for the foolish crusade. It is not less evident that our people will sooner become volunteers to drive from power the men who shall plunge them into a ruinous war, than conscripts to carry it on. Under an impression of this state of public opinion, confirmed by all we see and hear among our own people, we can hardly believe in the existence of a spirit of infatuation capable of urging our government to such an extremity. The men whose voice in Congress is for war, appear to be acting a theatrical part, and we impute their rant and violence to their feelings and dispositions rather than to ultimate and settled purpose.
It is well to be prepared for disappointment in these calculations. It is well for us to begin to think, how we shall be disposed to act, when we find ourselves in fact, the subjects of men from other States, who are devoid of sympathy for our interests, respect for our character, ignorant of our habits - who mock at our calamity and laugh when our fear cometh.
Niles Weekly Register, 30 May 1812
Every considerate and unprejudiced man, in every part of the union, freely admits we have just cause for war with both the great belligerents, and especially England; whose maritime depredations are not only far more extensive than those of rival, but who has superadded thereto the most flagrant violations of the individual, national and territorial rights of the American people; matters of much higher import and consequence. But a state of war is desired by no man; though most men agree it is not "the greatest of evils." The thunderstorm, black and tremendous, disturbs the calm serenity of the summer evening, and sometimes rives the mighty oak to tatters - it comes unwished for, excites general apprehension and frequently does partial damage - but it purges the atmosphere, gives a new tone, as it were, to listless nature, and promotes the common good. Thus it may be with war, horrid and dreadful as it is. The political, as well as the natural atmosphere, may become turbid and unwholesome.
It is very certain that no good citizen of the United States would wantonly promote a rupture with Great Britain, or any other country. The American people will never wage offensive war; but every feeling of the heart is interested to preserve the rights our fathers won by countless hardships and innumerable sufferings. Our love of peace is known to the world; nay, so powerful is the desire to preserve it, that it has been tauntingly said, even in the hall of congress that "we cannot be kick'd into war." Every measure that Forbearance, could devise, has been resorted to - and we have suffered injuries, particularly in the wealth of our citizens, which no independent nation ever submitted to. Embargo was tried: through the timidity of the 10th congress, excited by the insolent clamors of a small, but wicked, portion of the people, aided by the inefficiency of the laws for enforcing it, it failed of its foreign operation. Since that time we have virtually submitted, and thereby only lengthened the chain of encroachment. As has been before observed, we are driven into a corner, and must surrender at the discretion of a wicked and unprincipled enemy, or hew our way out of it - the hazard of life itself is preferable to the certain loss of all that makes it desirable.
"In the unprofitable contest of trying who can do each other the most harm," as Mr. Jefferson has emphatically described war, this gloomy satisfaction results - that we can do Great Britain more essential injury than another Europe could additionally heap upon her; for we have greater means of annoyance than all that continent possesses in our seamen and shipping; not calculated, it is true, to "Nelsonize the main," but to annihilate her commerce, the very sinews of the existence of her government. Our coasts may be secured, and regular trade be destroyed. But many Paul Jones' will ride and whithersoever a keel can go, just retaliation shall check the enemy's career. They who make the "Falkland islands" a resting place and pursue the whale to the Antipodes, will gather nutmegs at Amboyna and find sugar on the shores of Jamaica. No sea will be "unvexed" with their enterprizes: and the whole navy of Britain, if applied to no other purpose, will be incompetent to the protection of her vast possessions and commerce. To us she is the most vulnerable of all nations - we can successfully attack her at home and abroad. War will deprive her of an immense stock of raw materials, on the manufacture and application of which so great a portion of her population depends for subsistence; and, in despite of smugglers, the ingress of her manufactures will be denied, for a state of activity and exertion far different from that at present made use of, will be arrayed against them. Already are her laboring poor in a state of general disaffection for the want of bread and lack of employment. The military power is daily made use of to keep them to subordination. To what extremes might the desperation of the starving wretches lead them, if to their present privations were added those which must ensue from a war with these states?
The conquest of Canada will be of the highest importance to us in distressing our enemy - in cutting off his supplies of provisions and naval stores for his West India colonies and home demand. There is no place from whence he can supply the mighty void that would be occasioned by the loss of this country, as well in his exports as imports. It would operate upon him with a double force: it would deprive him of a vast quantity of indispensable materials (as well as of food) and close an extensive market for his manufactures. On its retention depends the prosperity of the West India islands. At war with the United States, and divested of supplies of lumber and provisions from Canada, their commerce would be totally ruined; and it is of far more importance to the British government than all their possessions in the East. Besides it would nullify his boast, "that he has not lost an inch of territory." Canada and Nova Scotia, if not fully conquered immediately, may be rendered useless to him in a few weeks. Without them, and particularly the latter, he cannot maintain those terrible fleets on our coast that we are threatened with, or "bridge" our harbors with frigates, admitting he may have no use for them to defend his own shores; for he will not have a dockyard, fitting the purposes of his navy, within 3,000 miles of us.
"Our red brethren" will soon be taught to wish they had remembered the talks of their "father Jefferson," and of all other persons who advised them to peace. Upper Canada, at least, would be immediately and completely in our possession. The Pandora boxes at Amherstburg and Malden would be closed, and all the causes of the present murders of the savages would cease; for they make neither guns nor gun-powder, being at this time supplied from the "king's stores" at these places, and urged to the work of death by "his majesty's agents" with liberal rewards and more liberal promises. To our mind there are facts "as strong as proofs from holy writ," to convince us that all our difficulties with the Indians originated with the British in Canada.
New Orleans, even if it should pass into the hands of the enemy, cannot be held by him. The estimate alone would annihilate it, pent up and harassed, and straitened for supplies, as it would be, from the active indignation of a gallant, hardy and adventurous people. But a million of persons are immediately interested in the navigation of the Mississippi; and like the torrent of their own mighty river would descend with a force irresistable, sweeping every thing before them. Certain parts of Florida the enemy might take, and perhaps, be permitted to hold; because he would retain them at a greater injury to himself than to us.
The war will not last long. Every scheme of taxation has already been resorted to in Great Britain. Every means have been tried to sustain the credit of her immense paper currency. The notes of the bank of England are 28 percent below their nominal value. A war with the United States will add a third to her present expenditures, at least; and, in a like proportion render her unable to bear them. Her revenue will decrease as her expenses increase; for she will lose all the export and import duties she levied on goods sent to or received from the United States, and all her resources, built upon commerce will be fluctuating and uncertain. She will be assailed on that element she arrogantly assumes as her own, and be perplexed in a thousand new forms, by a people as brave and more enterprising and ingenious than any she can boast of. Her seamen once landed upon our shores, as prisoners or otherwise, will not return to her; and her naval officers will rarely feel themselves safe from mutiny while hovering on our coasts. It is considered lawful in war to encourage such enterprizes; and her impressed seamen, sure of our asylum, with "peace, liberty and safety," will retort upon their oppressors some of the pangs they have suffered. Tens of thousands of her former subjects, natives of generous and oppressed Erin, will remember the conflagration of their cottages and the murder of their friends, and vie with each other to avenge their wrongs: and Britain, to preserve herself, will be compelled to honest peace.
During the war there will be ample employment for all. Some part of the labor and capital of the United States, at present devoted to commerce, will be directed to objects calculated to seal the independence of the country, in the establishment of a thousand works, needful to the supply of our wants. Many years must elapse before any shall, of necessity, be idle because he cannot find enough to do; and the contest itself will create new sources of emoinment [sic]. Some changes in the habits of the people on the seaboard (a small part of our population) may take place; but there will be nothing terrible in them. Our agriculturalists will have a steady and better market at home: of this we are easily assured when we reflect, that all our provisions exported have not produced more than paid for the foreign liquors we consumed. Instead of sending tobacco, (the most wretched crop of all others ever raised) to the fluctuating markets of Europe, we will furnish ourselves, and (in a short time) the whole world, with wool; and apply the extra laborers to its manufacture - a state of things that will have a powerful tendency to ameliorate the condition of the unfortunate negro, equally profitable to his master. The bonds which fasten us to Europe will be broken, and our trade and future intercourse with her be materially and beneficially changed.
The political atmosphere being purged, a greater degree of harmony will exist; and the regenerated spirit of freedom will teach us to love, to cherish and support our unparalleled system of government, as with the mind of one man. The hydra party, generated by foreign feelings, will die in agonies. The "new army" will be chiefly employed in the conquered countries, or on the frontiers, and the protection of the states, generally, be confided to the people themselves, who are not "their own worst enemies." Neither the men beyond "the Potomac," nor on this side of that river, are the instigators of the war - the causes for it exist in the conduct of the cabinet of St. James', nourished and cherished by the false hopes they entertain of the strength of "their party" in the United States.
Money will not be wanting. The people will freely supply it when there is need for it. Our country is rich. Our resources are great. Our specie is abundant, and will greatly increase by opening a direct trade with Mexico; and so serve ourselves and the patriots of that country by furnishing them with arms and ammunition and stores, and enable them to drive out their many-headed tyrant. Numerous hardy volunteers, as true as ever pulled a trigger, will flock to their standard, from the western states - and encourage in them an affection for this government and teach them how freemen should fight.
But the money drawn from the people, either by loans or moderate taxes, will not moulder away and perish; it will immediately revert to them, and always be ready, by a perpetual motion, to supply the wants of the government. In fact, the great probability is, that money will be much more plenty, as the common saying is, in a state of war than it is at this time.
The great body of the people in the "eastern states" prefer their own government to any other - they will be faithful to the constitution. In Massachusetts, herself, though it was said that on the late election of her chief magistrate depended the momentous question of peace or war, it seems, that Mr. Strong is barely elected, if elected at all. Yet, without reference to this high import given to the choice of the citizens, and notwithstanding he was as warmly opposed, Mr. Strong was once before elected governor of Massachusetts. On the present occasion the exertions of his friends were greater than ever. Nor will a "conscription" be necessary to supply the regular troops or militia. The ranks of the former are filling with great rapidity, and the requisition of the latter, it appears, may be chiefly composed of volunteers. In Lexington where the first blood was shed in the war for independence, a draft was made to ascertain who should not serve; and the town immediately voted a bounty of six dollars with the addition of ten dollars monthly pay to those called into actual service. "The cradle of the revolution" cannot become the sink of disaffection - and men will be found that followed Arnold through the then howling wilderness who, a second time, will set themselves down before Quebec, in force and irresistable power.
The last paragraph of the article from the Centinel is of itself sufficiently odious. It is of a piece with the mission of John Henry; it comes from the same spirit, and would have the same issue. It needs only to be seen to be hated. It springs from a feeling that must be eradicated; a feeling that existed in 1776, and threatened the congress of that with dreadful things: the "snake was scorch'd not kill'd," and the ill-advised return from Halifax in 1783 gave body and substance, with activity and force, to it - and trade and commerce, gold and intrigue, have so metamorphosed some people in the United States, that (as Mr. Pickering said on another occasion) "it is impossible to distinguish them from English men." This hydra talks of Washington and calmly proposes a separation of the states - it preaches morality and order, and speaks of a resistance to the laws! Such sentiments, however, though loudly expressed, are held by a very contemptible portion of the people; they will be eradicated by the war, and their eradication will indemnify the expense of it. The disaffected are far less numerous than they were in 1776: and they may depend upon it there will be no second return for such from Nova Scotia.
Sources for this page:
NCGenWeb Military Project: War of 1812