X. THE WAR OF 1812.
[The Period of Political Settlement.]
The period between the inauguration of Washington and the declaration of war against Great Britain in 1812 may be regarded as the era of formation and political settlement in the history of the republic. It must not be forgotten that, at first, many of the wisest American statesmen looked upon Republicanism as an experiment, and did not place implicit faith in its success. The accession of Jefferson to the presidency, however, and the events of his administration, gave the Republican idea full scope and trial. The most philosophical and studious of the statesmen of that day, Jefferson had the courage to test the theories for which he had contended against the Federalism of Washington, Adams, and Hamilton, by a vigorous practical policy.
Jefferson was heartily supported in this by the great mass of the nation; and it was he who, thus sustained, established those general principles of policy and government which became final, and have prevailed ever since. That suffrage is a right and not a privilege, that we should make large annexations of territory, and become the controlling power of the continent; and that a rigid economy should be practised, leaving the States the largest scope of local self-government: these were cardinal articles in the Jeffersonian creed. For twenty-four years Jefferson himself, and Madison and Monroe, his fellow-Virginians and his earnest political disciples, presided without interruption over the destinies of the country.
[Condition of the Union in 1812.]
The condition of the United States in the year 1812 presented a striking and most favorable contrast to that which they had exhibited at Washington's accession. The population had increased from four to about seven and a half millions. The sixteen States over which Washington presided had swelled to eighteen. Ohio and Louisiana had been admitted to the circle. But this was by no means the limit to territorial acquisition. It was President Jefferson who added to the domain of the Union that vast and fertile tract which is even now in rapid process of settlement, and which was known as the Louisiana purchase. This tract reached from the banks of the Mississippi to the base of the Rocky Mountains. It embraced nearly a million square miles, or more than the whole of the area of the Union as it then was; and fifteen millions of dollars were paid to France in exchange for it. A great invention had been put into practical operation during Jefferson's term. This was the steamboat. Robert Fulton put the Clermont upon the Hudson in 1807; and thenceforth navigation by steam was to play a great part in the commerce and economical progress of the land.
[Causes of the War.]
President Madison, who assumed the executive chair in 1809, inherited a quarrel with Great Britain from his predecessor, which soon ripened into war. The great contest which raged between France and Great Britain early in the century could not but affect the rest of the civilized world. American commerce had already grown into importance, and was now seriously crippled by the arbitrary course respecting trade adopted by both of the belligerents. Each power forbade neutral nations to trade with its foe. But while Napoleon followed the example of Pitt in making a decree to this effect, the bearing of Great Britain towards this country, in respect to the prohibition of trade, was far more arrogant and vexatious than that of France. American ships were captured on the high seas by British men-of-war, carried into port, adjudged, and confiscated.
[The Right of Search.]
A still more serious assault upon our national honor was made by the British government. It claimed the right to search American vessels for British seamen, and proceeded to execute it. Thus sailors were taken from our ships by the hundred; and, on one occasion, an American ship, the Chesapeake, was fired upon and forcibly boarded by a British man- of-war, within sight of the Virginia coast. For a while retaliation was attempted in the shape of an embargo upon American vessels; but this was soon found to tend to the utter extitinction of our commerce, and the embargo was abandoned. Remonstrance with Great Britain proved to be of no avail. The English ministry at that time was a strict Tory one, and far from friendly in disposition toward the United States. Despite the protests of our envoy, the practice of search was vigorously pursued.
This was the state of affairs when James Madison became President. The party represented by him was now clamorous for war, while the old Federalists, especially those of New England, as earnestly deprecated it. At last it became apparent that war was the only remedy for the outrages committed almost without cessation on our commerce. The President sent a message to Congress expressing this opinion; and on the 18th of June, 1812, war was formally declared against Great Britain. This was evidently in accordance with the will of the nation: but we did not enter upon the conflict without the bitter opposition of the Federalists. A convention of the leading members of that party met at Hartford, held secret sessions, and issued an energetic protest against the war. This aroused a deep sense of hostility in the breasts of the war party; and, ever since, the Hartford Convention has been regarded as at least an injudicious demonstration at a period when war already existed, and when the government needed the support of every patriot to bring it to a successful end.
[Beginning of Hostilities.]