Declaration of the War of 1812


Annotation: Newspaper articles

Document: The Folly of Joining the Army

New York Evening Post, 24 January 1812

“Tricks upon Travellers,” or “More Ways than one to kill a Cat.” – Old saws. We are certainly now to have a war, for Congress have voted to have an army. But let me tell you, there is all the difference in the world between an army on paper, and an army in the field. An army on paper is voted in a whiff, but to raise an army, you must offer men good wages. The wages proposed to be given to induce men to come forward and enlist for five years, leave their homes and march away to take Canada, is a bounty of $16, and $5 a month; and at the end of the war, if they can get a certificate of good behavior, 160 acres of wild land and three months’ pay; for the purpose, I presume, of enabling the soldier to walk off and find it, if he can. Now I should really be glad to be informed, whether it is seriously expected that, in a country where a stout able-bodied man can earn $15 a month from May to November, and a dollar a day during mowing and harvesting, he will go into the army for a bounty of $16, $5 a month for five years, if the war should last so long, and 160 acres of wild land, if he happens to be on such good terms with his commanding officer as to obtain a certificate of good behavior? Let the public judge if such inducements as these will ever raise an army of 25,000 men, or ever were seriously expected to do it? If not, can anything be meant more than “sound and fury signifying nothing?” This may be called humbugging on a large scale.


They Call It a War for Commerce!

New York Evening Post, 26 January 1812

Look for yourselves, good people all – The administration tell me that the object for which they are going to war with Great Britain, is to secure our commercial rights; to put the trade of the country on a good footing; to enable our merchants to deal with Great Britain on full as favorable terms as they deal with France, or else not deal at all. Such is the declared object for which all further intercourse is to be suspended with Great Britain and her allies, while we proceed to make war upon her and them until we compel her to pay more respect to American commerce: and, as Mr. Stow truly observed in his late excellent speech, the anxiety of members of Congress to effect this object is always the greater in proportion to the distance any honorable member lives from the seaboard. To enable you, good people, to judge for yourselves, I have only to beg of you to turn your eyes to Mr. Gallatin’s letter in a succeeding column, stating the amount of the exports of the United States for the last year; the particular country to which these exports were sent, and specifying the amount received from us by each. If you will just cast a glance at this document, you will find of the articles of our own growth or manufactures we in that time carried or sent abroad (in round numbers) no less than $45,294,000 worth. You will next find that out of this sum, all the rest of the world (Great Britain and her allies excepted) took about $7,719,366, and that Great Britain and her allies took the remainder, amounting to $38,575,627. Now, after this, let me ask you what you think of making war upon Great Britain and her allies, for the purpose of benefiting commerce?


War Should Be Declared

Washington National Intelligencer, 14 April 1812

The public attention has been drawn to the approaching arrival of the Hornet, as a period when the measures of our government would take a decisive character, or rather their final cast. We are among those who have attached to this event a high degree of importance, and have therefore looked to it with the utmost solicitude.

But if the reports which we now hear are true, that with England all hope of honorable accommodation is at an end, and that with France our negotiations are in a forwardness encouraging expectations of a favorable result, where is the motive for longer delay? The final step ought to be taken, and that step is WAR. By what course of measures we have reached the present crisis, is not now a question for patriots and freemen to discuss. It exists: and it is by open and manly war only that we can get through it with honor and advantage to the country. Our wrongs have been great; our cause is just; and if we are decided and firm, success is inevitable.

Let war therefore be forthwith proclaimed against England. With her there can be no motive for delay. Any further discussion, any new attempt at negotiation, would be as fruitless as it would be hishonorable. With France we shall be at liberty to pursue the course which circumstances may require. The advance she has already made by a repeal of her decrees; the manner of its reception by the government, and the prospect which exists of an amicable accommodation, entitle her to this preference. If she acquits herself to the just claims of the United States, we shall have good cause to applaud our conduct in it, and if she fails we shall always be in time to place her on the ground of her adversary.

But is is said that we are not prepared for war, and ought therefore not to declare it. This is an idle objection, which can have weight with the timid and pusillanimous only. The fact is otherwise. Our preparations are adequate to every essential object. Do we apprehend danger to ourselves? From what quarter will it assial us? From England, and by invasion? The idea is too absurd to merit a moment’s consideration. Where are her troops? But lately she dreaded an invasion of her own dominions from her powerful and menacing neighbor. That danger, it is true, has diminished, but it has not entirely and forever disappeared. The war in the Peninsula, which lingers, requires strong armies to support it. She maintains an army in Sicily; another in India; and a strong force in Ireland, and along her own coast, and in the West Indies. Can anyone believe that, under such circumstances, the British government could be so infatuated as to send troops here for the purpose of invasion? The experience and the fortune of our Revolution, when we were comparatively in an infant state, have doubtless taught her a useful lesson that she cannot have forgotten. Since that period our population has increased threefold, whilst hers has remained almost stationary. The condition of the civilized world, too, has changed. Although Great Britain has nothing to fear as to her independence, and her military operations are extensive and distant, the contest is evidently maintained by her rather for safety than for conquest. Have we cause to dread an attack from her neighboring provinces? That apprehension is still more groundless. Seven or eight millions of people have nothing to dread from 300,000. From the moment that war is declared, the British colonies will be put on the defensive, and soon after we get in motion must sink under the pressure.


An Address to the People of the Eastern States

New York Evening Post, 21 April 1812

In a war with England we shall need numerous armies and ample treasuries for their support. The war-hounds that are howling for war through the continent are not to be the men who are to force entrenchments, and scale ramparts against the bayonet and the cannon’s mouth; to perish in sickly camps, or in long marches through sultry heats or wastes of snow. These gowned warriors, who are so loudly seconded by a set of fiery spirits in the great towns, and by a set of office hunters in the country, expect that their influence with the great body of the people, the honest yeomanry of our country, is such that every farmer, every mechanic, every laborer, will send off his sons, nay, will even shoulder his firelock himself and march to the field of blood. While these brave men who are “designing or exhorting glorious war,” lodged safe at Monticello or some other secure retreat, will direct and look on; and will receive such pay for their services as they shall see fit to ask, and such as will answer their purposes.

Citizens, if pecuniary redress is your object in going to war with England, the measure is perfect madness. You will lose millions when you will gain a cent. The expense will be enormous. It will ruin our country. Direct taxes must be resorted to. The people will have nothing to pay. We once had a revenue; – that has been destroyed in the destruction of our commerce. For several years past you have been deceived and abused by the false pretenses of a full treasury. That phantom of hope will soon vanish. You have lately seen fifteen millions of dollars wasted in the purchase of a province we did not want, and never shall possess. And will you spend thousands of millions in conquering a province which, were it made a present to us, would not be worth accepting? Our territories are already too large. The desire to annex Canada to the United States is as base an ambition as ever burned in the bosom of Alexander. What benefit will it ever be to the great body of the people, after their wealth is exhausted, and their best blood is shed in its reduction? – “We wish to clear our continent of foreign powers.” So did the Madman of Macedon wish to clear the world of his enemies, and such as would not bow to his sceptre. So does Bonaparte wish to clear Europe of all his enemies; yea, and Asia too. Canada, if annexed to the United States, will furnish offices to a set of hungry villains, grown quite too numerous for our present wide limits; and that is all the benefit we ever shall derive from it.

These remarks will have little weight with men whose interest leads them to advocate war. Thousands of lives, millions of money, the flames of cities, the tears of widows and orphans, with them are light expedients when they lead to wealth and power. But to the people who must fight, if fighting must be done, – who must pay if money be wanted – who must march when the trumpet sounds, and who must die when the “battle bleeds,” – to the people I appeal. To them the warning voice is lifted. From a war they are to expect nothing but expenses and sufferings; – expenses disproportionate to their means, and sufferings lasting as life.

In our extensive shores and numerous seaports, we know not where the enemy will strike; or more properly speaking, we know they will strike when a station is defenceless. Their fleets will hover on our coasts, and can trace our line from Maine to New Orleans in a few weeks. Gunboats cannot repel them, nor is there a fort on all our shores in which confidence can be placed. The ruin of our seaports and loss of all vessels will form an item in the list of expenses. Fortifications and garrisons numerous and strong must be added. As to the main points of attack or defence, I shall only say that an efficient force will be necessary. A handful of men cannot run up and take Canada, in a few weeks, for mere diversion. The conflict will be long and severe: resistance formidable, and the final result doubtful. A nation that can debar the conqueror of Europe from the sea, and resist his armies in Spain, will not surrender its provinces without a struggle. Those who advocate a British war must be perfectly aware that the whole revenue arising from all British America for the ensuing century would not repay the expenses of that war.


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.