WAR WITH TRIPOLI. - In his first inaugural Jefferson announced a policy of peace, commerce, and friendship with all nations; but unhappily he was not able to carry it out. Under treaties with Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis, we had paid tribute or made presents to these powers, to prevent them from attacking our ships. In 1800, however, when Adams sent the yearly tribute to Algiers, the ruler of Tripoli demanded a large present, and when it did not come, declared war. Expecting trouble with this nest of pirates, Jefferson in 1801 sent over a fleet which was to blockade the coast of Tripoli and that of any other Barbary power that might be at war with us. But four years passed, and Tripoli was five times bombarded before terms of peace were dictated by Captain Rodgers under the muzzles of his guns (1805). [1]

GREAT BRITAIN AND FRANCE. - While our contest with Tripoli was dragging along, France and Great Britain again went to war (1803), and our neutral rights were again attacked. British cruisers captured many American ships on the ground that they were carrying on trade between the ports of France and her colonies.

Napoleon attacked British commerce by decrees which closed the ports of Europe to British goods, declared a blockade of the British Isles, and made subject to capture any neutral vessels that touched at a British port. Great Britain replied with orders in council, blockading the ports of France and her allies, and requiring all neutral vessels going to a closed port to stop at some British port and pay tribute. [2]

As Great Britain ruled the sea, and Napoleon most of western Europe, these decrees and orders meant the ruin of our commerce. Against such rules of war our government protested, claiming the right of "free trade," or the "freedom of the seas," - the right of a neutral to trade with either belligerent, provided the goods were not for use in actual war (as guns, powder, and shot).

OUR SAILORS IMPRESSED. - But we had yet another cause of quarrel with Great Britain. She claimed that in time of war she had a right to the services of her sailors; that if they were on foreign ships, they must come home and serve on her war vessels. She denied that a British subject could become a naturalized American; once a British subject, always a British subject, was her doctrine. She stopped our vessels at sea, examined the crews, and seized or "impressed" any British subjects found among them - and many American sailors as well. Against such "impressment" our government set up the claim of "sailors' rights" - denying the right of Great Britain to search our ships at sea or to seize sailors of any nationality while on board an American vessel.

THE ATTACK ON THE CHESAPEAKE. - Before 1805 Great Britain confined impressment to the high seas and to her own ports. After 1805 she carried it on also off our coasts and in our ports. Finally, in 1807, a British officer, hearing that some British sailors were among the crew of our frigate Chesapeake which was about to sail, only partly equipped, from the Washington navy yard, ordered the Leopardto follow the Chesapeake to sea and search her. This was done, and when Commodore Barron refused to have his vessel searched, she was fired on by the Leopard, boarded, searched, and one British and three American sailors were taken from her deck. [3]

CONGRESS RETALIATES. - It was now high time for us to strike back at France and Great Britain. We had either to fight for "free trade and sailors' rights," or to abandon the sea and stop all attempts to trade with Europe and Great Britain. Jefferson chose the latter course. Our retaliation therefore consisted of

  1. The Long Embargo (1807-9). 
  2. The Non-intercourse Act (1809). 
  3. Macon's Bill No. 2 (1810). 
  4. The Declaration of War (1812).

THE LONG EMBARGO. - Late in December, 1807, at the request of Jefferson, Congress laid an embargo and cut off all trade with foreign ports. [4] The restriction was so sweeping and the damage to farmers, planters, merchants, shipowners, and sailors so great, that the law was at once evaded. More stringent laws were therefore enacted, till at last trade along the coast from port to port was made all but impossible. Defiance to the embargo laws became so general [5] that a Force Act (1809) was passed, giving the President authority to use the army and navy in enforcing obedience. This was too much, and such a storm of indignation arose in the Eastern states that Congress repealed the embargo laws (1809) and substituted

THE NON-INTERCOURSE ACT. - This forbade commerce with Great Britain and France, but allowed it with such countries as were not under French or British control. If either power would repeal its orders or decrees, the President was to announce this fact and renew commerce with that power.

Just at this time the second term of Jefferson ended, [6] and Madison became President (March 4, 1809). [8]

THE ERSKINE AGREEMENT(1809). - And now the British minister, Mr. Erskine, offered, in the name of the king, to lift the orders in council if the United States would renew trade with Great Britain. The offer was accepted, and the renewal of trade proclaimed. But when the king heard of it, he recalled Erskine and disavowed the agreement, and Madison was forced to declare trade with Great Britain again suspended.

MACON'S BILL NO. 2. - Non-intercourse having failed, Congress in 1810 tried a new experiment, and by Macon's Bill No. 2 (so-called because it was the second of two bills introduced by Mr. Macon) restored trade with France and Great Britain. At the same time it provided that if either power would withdraw its decrees or orders, trade should be cut off with the other unless that power also would withdraw them.

Napoleon now (1810) pretended to recall his decrees, but Great Britain refused to withdraw her orders in council, whereupon in 1811 trade was again stopped with Great Britain.

THE DECLARATION OF WAR. - And now the end had come. We had either to submit tamely or to fight. The people decided to fight, and in the elections of 1810 completely changed the character of the House of Representatives. A large number of new members were elected, and the control of public affairs passed from men of the Revolutionary period to a younger set with very different views. Among them were two men who rose at once to leadership and remained so for nearly forty years to come. One was Henry Clay of Kentucky; [9] the other was John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. Clay was made speaker of the House of Representatives, and under his lead the House at once began preparations for war with Great Britain, which was formally declared in June, 1812. The causes stated by Madison in the proclamation were (1) impressing our sailors, (2) sending ships to cruise off our ports and search our vessels, (3) interfering with our trade by orders in council, and (4) urging the Indians to make war on the Western settlers.

THE BATTLE OF TIPPECANOE. - That the British had been tampering with the Indians was believed to be proved by the preparation of many of the Indian tribes for war. From time to time some Indian of great ability had arisen and attempted to unite the tribes in a general war upon the whites. King Philip was such a leader, and so was Pontiac, and so at this time were the twin brothers Tecumthe and the Prophet. The purpose of Tecumthe was to unite all the tribes from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico in a general war, to drive the whites from the Mississippi valley. After uniting many of the Northern tribes he went south, leaving his brother, the Prophet, in command. But the action of the Prophet so alarmed General Harrison, [10] governor of Indiana territory, that he marched against the Indians and beat them at the Tippecanoe (1811). [11]

MADISON REËLECTED. - As Madison was willing to be a war President the Republicans nominated him for a second term of the presidency, with Elbridge Gerry [12] for the vice presidency. The Federalists and those opposed to war, the peace party, nominated DeWitt Clinton for President. Madison and Gerry were elected. [13]

THE WAR OPENS. - The war which now followed, "Mr. Madison's War" as the Federalists called it, was fought along the edges of our country and on the sea. It may therefore be considered under four heads: -

  1. War on land along the Canadian frontier. 
  2. War on land along the Atlantic seaboard. 
  3. War on land along the Gulf coast. 
  4. War on the sea.

Scarcely had the fighting begun when news arrived that Great Britain had recalled the hated orders in council, but she would not give up the right of search and of impressment, so the war went on, as Madison believed that cause enough still remained.

FIGHTING ON THE FRONTIER, 1812. - The hope of the leaders of the war party, "War Hawks" as the Federalists called them, was to capture the British provinces north of us and make peace at Halifax. Three armies were therefore gathered along the Canadian frontier. One under General Hull was to cross at Detroit and march eastward. A second under General Van Rensselaer was to cross the Niagara River, join the forces under Hull, capture York (now Toronto), and then go on to Montreal. The third under General Dearborn was to enter Canada from northeastern New York, arid meet the other troops near Montreal. The three armies were then to capture Montreal and Quebec and conquer Canada.

But the plan failed; Hull was driven out of Canada, and surrendered at Detroit. Van Rensselaer did not get a footing in Canada, and Dearborn went no farther than the northern boundary line of New York.

FIGHTING ON THE FRONTIER, 1813. - The surrender of Hull filled the people with indignation, and a new army under William Henry Harrison was sent across the wilds of Ohio in the dead of winter to recapture Detroit. But the British and Indians attacked and captured part of the army at Frenchtown on the Raisin River, where the Indians massacred the prisoners. They then attacked Fort Meigs and Fort Stephenson, but were driven off.

BATTLE OF LAKE ERIE. - Meantime a young naval officer, Oliver Hazard Perry, was hastily building at Erie (Presque Isle) a little fleet to attack the British, whose fleet on Lake Erie had been built just as hurriedly. The fight took place near the west end of the lake and ended in the capture of all the British ships. [14] It was then that Perry sent off to Harrison those familiar words "We have met the enemy and they are ours." [15]

BATTLE OF THE THAMES. - This signal victory gave Perry command of Lake Erie and enabled him to carry Harrison's army over to Canada, where, on the Thames River, he beat the British and Indians and put them to flight. [16] By these two victories of Perry and Harrison we regained all that we had lost by the surrender of Hull. On the New York frontier neither side accomplished anything decisive in 1813, though the public buildings at York (now Toronto) were destroyed, and some villages on both sides of the Niagara River were burned.

FIGHTING ON THE FRONTIER, 1814. - Better officers were now put in command on the New York frontier, and during 1814 our troops under Jacob Brown and Winfield Scott captured Fort Erie and won the battles of Chippewa and Lundys Lane. But in the end the British drove our army out of Canada.

Further eastward the British gathered a fleet on Lake Champlain and sent an army to attack Plattsburg, but Thomas Macdonough utterly destroyed the fleet in Plattsburg Bay, and the army was repulsed.

FIGHTING ALONG THE SEABOARD. - During 1812 and 1813 the British did little more than blockade our coast from Rhode Island to New Orleans, leaving all the east coast of New England unmolested. [17] But in 1814 the entire coast was blockaded, the eastern part of Maine was seized and occupied, and Stonington in Connecticut was bombarded.

WASHINGTON AND BALTIMORE ATTACKED. - A fleet entered Chesapeake Bay and landed an army which marched to Washington, burned the Capitol, the President's house, the Treasury Building, and other public buildings, [18] and with the aid of the fleet made a vain attack on Baltimore.

It was during the bombardment of a fort near Baltimore that Francis Scott Key, temporarily a prisoner with the British, wrote The Star-spangled Banner.

FIGHTING ALONG THE GULF COAST. - After the repulse at Baltimore the British army was carried to the island of Jamaica to join a great expedition fitting out for an attack on New Orleans. It was November before the fleet bearing the army set sail, and December when the troops landed on the southeast coast of Louisiana and started for the Mississippi. On the banks of that river, a few miles below New Orleans, they met our forces under General Andrew Jackson drawn up behind a line of rude intrenchments, attacked them on the 8th of January, 1815, and were badly beaten.

THE SEA FIGHTS. - The victories won by the army were indeed important, but those by the navy were more glorious still. In years before the war British captains laughed at our little navy and called our ships "fir- built things with a bit of striped bunting at their mastheads." These fir- built things now inflicted on the British navy a series of defeats such as it had never before suffered from any nation.

Before the end of 1812 the frigate Constitution, "Old Ironsides" as she is still popularly called, [19] beat the Guerrière (gar-e-ar') so badly that she could not be brought to port; the little sloop Wasp almost shot to pieces the British sloop Frolic ; [20] the frigate United States brought the Macedonian in triumph to Newport (R.I.); [21] and the Constitution made a wreck of the Java.

In 1813 the Hornet, Commander James Lawrence, so riddled the British sloop Peacock that after surrendering she went down carrying with her nine of her own crew and three of the Hornet's. The brigEnterprise, William Burrows in command, fought the British brig Boxer, Captain Blythe, off Portland harbor, Maine. Both commanders were killed, but the Boxer was taken and carried into Portland, where Burrows and Blythe, wrapped in the flags they had so well defended, were buried in the Eastern Cemetery which overlooks the bay.

THE CHESAPEAKE CAPTURED. - But we too met with defeats. When Lawrence returned home with the Hornet, he was given command of the Chesapeake, then fitting out in Boston harbor, and while so engaged was challenged by the commander of the British frigate Shannon to come out and fight. He went, was mortally wounded, and a second time the Chesapeake struck to the British. As Lawrence was carried below he cried out, "Don't give up the ship - keep her guns going - fight her till she sinks"; but the British carried her by boarding.

The brig Argus, while destroying merchantmen off the English coast, was taken by the British brig Pelican. [22]

PEACE. - Quite early in the war Russia tendered her services as mediator and they were accepted by us. Great Britain declined, but offered to treat directly if commissioners were sent to some neutral port. John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Albert Gallatin, James A. Bayard, and Jonathan Russell were duly appointed, and late in December, 1814, signed a treaty of peace at Ghent. Nothing was said in it about impressment, search, or orders in council, nor indeed about any of the causes of the war.

Nevertheless the gain was great. Our naval victories made us respected abroad and showed us to be the equal of any maritime power. At home, the war aroused a national feeling, did much to consolidate the Union, and put an end to our old colonial dependence on Europe. Thenceforth Americans looked westward, not eastward.

THE HARTFORD CONVENTION. - News of the treaty signed in December, 1814, did not reach our country till February, 1815. [23] Had there been ocean steamships or cables in those days, two famous events in our history would not have happened. The battle of New Orleans would not have been fought, and the report of the Hartford Convention would not have been published. The Hartford Convention was composed of Federalist delegates from the New England states, [24] met in December, 1814, and held its sessions in secret. But its report proposed some amendments to the United States Constitution, state armies to defend New England, and the retention of a part of the federal taxes to pay the cost. Congress was to be asked to agree to this, arid if it declined, the state legislatures were to send delegates to another convention to meet in June, 1815. [25] When the commissioners to present these demands reached Washington, peace had been declared, and they went home, followed by the jeers of the nation.


1. The war with Tripoli (1801-5) ended in victory for our navy.

2. The renewal of war between France and Great Britain involved us in more serious trouble.

3. When France attacked British commerce by decrees, Great Britain replied with orders in council (1806-7). In these paper blockades we were the chief sufferers.

4. Great Britain claimed a right to take her subjects off American ships, and while impressing many British sailors into her navy, she impressed many Americans also.

5. She sent vessels of war to our coast to search our ships, and in 1807 even seized sailors on board an American ship of war, the Chesapeake.

6. Congress retaliated with several measures cutting off trade with France and Great Britain; these failing, war on Great Britain was declared in 1812.

7. War on land was begun by attempts to invade Canada from Detroit, Niagara, and northeastern New York. These attempts failed, and Detroit was captured by the British.

8. In 1813 Perry won a great naval victory on Lake Erie; and the American soldiers, after a reverse at Frenchtown, invaded Canada and won the battle of the Thames.

9. In 1814 the Americans won the battles of Chippewa and Lundys Lane, but were later driven from Canada. A British invasion of New York met disaster at Plattsburg Bay.

10. Along the seaboard the British blockaded the entire coast, seized the eastern part of Maine, took Washington and burned the public buildings, and attacked Baltimore.

11. Later New Orleans was attacked, but in 1815 Jackson won a signal victory and drove the British from Louisiana.

12. On the sea our vessels won many ship duels.

13. Peace was made in 1814, just as the New England Federalists were holding their Hartford Convention. The war resulted in strengthening the Union and making it more respected.


[1] During the war, in 1803, the frigate Philadelphia ran on the rocks in the harbor of Tripoli, and was captured by the Tripolitans. The Americans then determined to destroy her. Stephen Decatur sailed into the harbor with a volunteer crew in a little vessel disguised as a fishing boat. The Tripolitans allowed the Americans to come close, whereupon they boarded the Philadelphia, drove off the pirate crew, set the vessel on fire, and escaped unharmed.

[2] The French decrees and British orders in council were as follows: (1) Napoleon began (1806) by issuing a decree closing the ports of Hamburg and Bremen (which he had lately captured) and so cutting off British trade with Germany. (2) Great Britain retaliated with an order in council (May, 1806), blockading the coast of Europe from Brest to the mouth of the river Elbe. (3) Napoleon retaliated (November, 1806) with the Berlin Decree, declaring the British Isles in a state of blockade, and forbidding English trade with any country under French control. (4) Great Britain issued another order in council (November, 1807), commanding her naval officers to seize any neutral vessel going to any closed port in Europe unless it first touched at a British port, paid duty, and bought a license to trade. (5) Napoleon thereupon (December, 1807) issued his Milan Decree, authorizing the seizure of any neutral vessel that had touched at any British port and taken out a license. Read Adams's History of the U. S., Vol. III, Chap. 16; Vol. IV, Chaps. 4, 5, 6; McMaster's History of the People of the U. S., Vol. III, pp. 219-223, 249-250, 272-274.

[3] The British sailor was hanged at Halifax. The three Americans were not returned till 1812. Read Maclay's History of the Navy, Vol. I, pp. 305- 308.

[4] The Federalists ridiculed the embargo as the "terrapin-policy"; that is, the United States, like a terrapin when struck, had pulled its head and feet within its shell instead of fighting. They reversed the letters so that they read "o-grab-me," and wrote the syllables backward so as to spell "go-bar-'em."

[5] Read McMaster's History of the People of the U. S., Vol. III, pp. 279-338.

[7] The people would gladly have given him a third term. Indeed, the legislatures of eight states invited him to be a candidate for reflection. In declining he said, "If some termination to the services of the Chief Magistrate be not fixed by the Constitution, or supplied by practice, his office, nominally four years, will in fact become for life; and history shows how easily that degenerates into an inheritance." The examples of Washington and Jefferson established an unwritten law against a third term for any President.

[8] James Madison was born in Virginia in 1751, and educated partly at Princeton. In 1776 he was a delegate to the Virginia convention to frame a state constitution, was a member of the first legislature under it, went to Congress in 1780-83, and then returned to the state legislature, 1784- 87. He was one of the most important members of the convention that framed the United States Constitution. After the adoption of the Constitution, he led the Republican party in Congress (1789-97). He wrote the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, and in 1801-9 was Secretary of State under Jefferson. As the Republican candidate for President in 1808, he received 122 electoral votes against 47 for the Federalist candidate Charles C. Pinckney. He died in 1836.

[9] Henry Clay, the son of a Baptist minister, was born in Virginia in 1777 in a neighborhood called "the Slashes." One of his boyhood duties was to ride to the mill with a bag of wheat or corn. Thus he earned the name of "the Mill Boy of the Slashes," which in his campaigns for the presidency was used to get votes. His education was received in a log- cabin schoolhouse. At fourteen he was behind the counter in a store at Richmond; but finally began to read law, and in 1797 moved to Kentucky to "grow up with the country." There he prospered greatly, and in 1803 was elected to the state legislature, in 1806 and again in 1809-10 served as a United States senator to fill an unexpired term, and in 1811 entered the House of Representatives. From then till his death, June 29, 1852, he was one of the most important men in public life; he was ten years speaker of the House, four years Secretary of State, twenty years a senator, and three times a candidate for President. He was a great leader and an eloquent speaker. He was called "the Great Pacificator" and "the Great Compromiser," and one of his sayings, "I had rather be right than be President," has become famous.

[10] William Henry Harrison was a son of Benjamin Harrison, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was born in Virginia in 1773, served in the Indian campaigns under St. Clair and Wayne, commanded Fort Washington on the site of Cincinnati, was secretary of the Northwest Territory, and then delegate to Congress, and did much to secure the law for the sale of public land on credit. He was made governor of Indiana Territory in 1801, and won great fame as a general in the War of 1812.

[11] Tecumthe's efforts in the South led to a war with the Creeks in 1813- 14. These Indians began by capturing Fort Mims in what is now southern Alabama, and killing many people there; but they were soon subdued by General Andrew Jackson. Read Edward Eggleston's Roxy; and Eggleston and Seelye's Tecumseh and the Shawnee Prophet.

[12] Gerry was a native of Massachusetts and one of the delegates who refused to sign the Constitution when it was framed in 1787. As a leading Republican he was chosen by Adams to represent his party on the X. Y. Z. Mission. As governor of Massachusetts he signed a bill rearranging the senatorial districts in such wise that some towns having Federalist majorities were joined to others having greater Republican majorities, thus making more than a fair proportion of the districts Republican. This political fraud is called Gerrymandering. Gerry died November 23, 1814, the second Vice President to die in office.

[13] Eighteen states cast electoral votes at this election (1812). The electors were chosen by popular vote in eight states, and by vote of the legislature in ten states, including Louisiana (the former territory of Orleans), which was admitted into the Union April 8, 1812. The admission of Louisiana was bitterly opposed by the Federalists. For their reasons, read a speech by Josiah Quincy in Johnston's American Orations, Vol. I, pp. 180-204.

[14] Perry's flagship was named the Lawrence, after the gallant commander of the Chesapeake, captured a short while before off Boston. As Lawrence, mortally wounded, was carried below, he said to his men, "Don't give up the ship." Perry put at the masthead of the Lawrence a blue pennant bearing the words "Don't give up the ship," and fought two of the largest vessels of the enemy till every gun on his engaged side was disabled, and but twenty men out of a hundred and three were unhurt. Then entering a boat with his brother and four seamen, he was rowed to the Niagara, which he brought into the battle, and with it broke the enemy's line and won.

[15] The story of the naval war is told in Maclay's History of the Navy, Part Third; and in Roosevelt's Naval War of 1812.

[16] In this battle the great Indian leader Tecumthe was killed.

[17] In New England the ruin of commerce made the war most unpopular, and it was because of this that the British did not at first blockade the New England coast. British goods came to Boston, Salem, and other ports in neutral ships, or in British ships disguised as neutral, and great quantities of them were carried in four-horse wagons to the South, whence raw cotton was brought back to New England to be shipped abroad. The Republicans made great fun of this "ox-and-horse-marine."

[18] For a description of the scenes in Washington, read McMaster's History of the People of the U. S., Vol. IV, pp. 138-147; or Adams's History of the U. S., Vol. VIII, pp. 144-152; or Memoirs of Dolly Madison, Chap. 8.

[19] Read Holmes's poem Old Ironsides.

[20] This battle was fought on a clear moonlight night and was full of dramatic incidents. A storm had lashed the sea into fury and the waves were running mountain high. Wave after wave swept the deck of theWasp and drenched the sailors. The two sloops rolled till the muzzles of their guns dipped in the sea; but both crews cheered heartily and fought on till, as the Wasp rubbed across the bow of the Frolic, her jib boom came in between the masts of the Wasp. A boarding party then leaped upon her bowsprit, and as they ran down the deck were amazed to see nobody save the man at the wheel and three wounded officers. As the British were not able to lower their flag, Lieutenant Biddle of the Wasp hauled it down. Scarcely had this been done when the British frigate Poictiers came in sight, and chased and overhauled the Wasp and captured her.

[21] Of all the British frigates captured during the war, the Macedonian was the only one brought to port. The others were shot to pieces and sank or were destroyed soon after the battle. The Macedonianarrived at Newport in December, 1812. When the lieutenant bearing her flag and dispatches reached Washington, he was informed that a naval ball was being held in honor of the capture of the Guerrière and another ship, and that their flags were hanging on the wall. Hastening to the hotel, he announced himself and was quickly escorted to the ballroom, where, with cheers and singing, the flag of the Macedonianwas hung beside those of the other two captured vessels.

[22] In October, 1812, the frigate Essex, Captain Porter in command, sailed from Delaware Bay, cruised down the east and up the west coast of South America, and captured seven British vessels. But she was captured near Valparaiso by the British frigates Cherub and Phoebe in March, 1814. In January, 1815, the President, Commodore Decatur, was captured off Long Island by a British squadron of four vessels. In February the Constitution, Captain Stewart, when near Madeira, captured the Cyane and the Levant.

[23] Some idea of the difficulty of travel and the transmission of news in those days may be gained from the fact that when the agent bearing the treaty of peace arrived at New, York February 11, 1815, an express rider was sent post haste to Boston, at a cost of $225.

[24] The states of Vermont and New Hampshire sent no delegates to this convention; but three delegates were appointed by certain counties in those states. When Connecticut and Rhode Island chose delegates, a Federalist newspaper published in Boston welcomed them in an article headed "Second and Third Pillars of a New Federal Edifice Reared." Despite the action of the Hartford Convention, the fact remains that Massachusetts contributed more than her proportionate share of money and troops for the war.

[25] The report is printed in MacDonald's Select Documents.