James Madison: The Fourth Retrospective (1809 – 1817)
“Whatcha got ain’t nothin new. This country’s hard on people, you can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.” – Ellis, No Country for Old Men (2007)
James Madison was Thomas Jefferson‘s Secretary of State, best friend; and in many ways an extension of Jeffersonian Democracy. He was a veteran of the revolution and author of the Constitution. Madison faced an incredible amount of consternation due to his presiding over a debacle of a war that he started. He will not be the last President this would happen to.
Although James Madison knew slavery was wrong, he remained a large slaveholder throughout his adult life owning as many as 118 slaves at one point.
In private letters, Madison referred to slavery as a “dreadful calamity” and a “sad blot on our free Country,” and he wrote to Frances Wright on September 1, 1825:
The magnitude of this evil among us is so deeply felt, and so universally acknowledged, that no merit could be greater than that of devising a satisfactory remedy for it.
Yet Madison never emancipated his slaves (despite a promise he made to do so), and he advocated sending Black people to Africa rather than abolishing slavery. Of freeing slaves in America, Madison wrote on October 20, 1789:
Neither the good of the Society, nor the happiness of the individuals restored to freedom is promoted by such a change in their condition.
In a written response to questions posed by Jedediah Morse in 1823, Madison described free Blacks as “Generally idle and depraved; appearing to retain the bad qualities of the slaves with whom they continue to associate, without acquiring any of the good ones of the whites.” Elsewhere, Madison wrote that Black people were marked “by Physical & lasting peculiarities” and that they had a “natural and habitual repugnance to labour.”
To extract slave labor, Madison instructed his overseer to “treat the Negroes with all the humanity and kindness consistent with their necessary subordination and work.” The amount of work must have been high, for Madison told a British visitor that he could make $257 per Negro annually for only $12-13 in upkeep.
Perhaps most regrettable of all, Madison did not oppose the enslavement of children. For example, when Madison was informed that a French visitor had “procured a Negro girl, and only wants a boy in order that they may breed,” he arranged for funds to purchase a “Negro boy.”
Andry’s Rebellion aka The 1811 German Coast uprising was a revolt of black slaves in parts of the Territory of Orleans on January 8–10, 1811. The uprising occurred on the east bank of the Mississippi River in what is now St. John the Baptist, St. Charles and Jefferson Parishes, Louisiana. While the slave insurgency was the largest in US history, the rebels killed only two white men. Confrontations with militia and executions after trial killed 95 black people.
Between 64 and 125 enslaved men marched from sugar plantations in and near present-day LaPlace on the German Coast toward the city of New Orleans collecting more men along the way. Some accounts claimed a total of 200 to 500 slaves participated. During their two-day, twenty-mile march, the men burned five plantation houses (three completely), several sugarhouses, and crops armed mostly with hand tools.
White men led by officials of the territory formed militia companies, and killed 40 to 45 of the escaped slaves while suffering no fatalities themselves in a battle on January 10th. They then hunted down and killed several others without trial.
Over the next two weeks, white planters and officials interrogated, tried, executed and decapitated an additional 44 escaped slaves who had been captured. Executions were generally by hanging or firing squad with heads displayed on pikes to intimidate other slaves. Since 1995, the African American History Alliance of Louisiana has led an annual commemoration in January of the uprising, in which they have been joined by some descendants of participants in the revolt.
States Admitted Into The Union
- Louisiana was admitted as the 18th state on April 30, 1812 from the territory of Orleans
- Indiana was admitted as the 19th state on December 11, 1816 from the Indiana Territory
War of 1812
The War of 1812 (June 1812 – February 1815) was a conflict fought between the United States and its allies, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and its dependent colonies in North America and Native American allies. It began when the United States declared war in June 1812, and ended in a restoration of the pre-war status quo when a peace treaty agreed to earlier was ratified by the United States in February 1815.
From the American perspective, the major casus belli of the war was the kidnapping of American citizens to man the Royal Navy, a practice known as impressment. Between 1793 and 1812, the British absconded with more than 15,000 American citizens and forced them to help the British fight their ongoing wars on the European continent. Additionally, the Royal Navy enforced a naval blockade to choke off neutral trade to France, which the United States contested as illegal under international law.
As the kidnappings continued, American sentiment toward the United Kingdom grew increasingly hostile, exacerbated by incidents such as the 1807 Chesapeake–Leopard affair. Meanwhile, the British were outraged by the 1811 Little Belt affair. The United Kingdom supplied arms to Native Americans, who raided European-American settlers on the American frontier, hindering the expansion of the United States and provoking resentment.
Madison signed into law the declaration of war after heavy pressure from the War Hawks in the United States Congress. Federalist opposition to the War of 1812 in the United States had an effect, especially in New England, where it was referred to as “Mr. Madison’s War”.
With most of its army in Europe fighting Napoleon, the United Kingdom adopted a national-level siege strategy, focusing on blockading ports and containing the US at its borders. Offensive operations were initially limited to the Canadian border and the western frontier, with help from its Native American allies.
Siege of Detroit
The siege of Detroit, also known as the surrender of Detroit or the Battle of Fort Detroit, was an early engagement in the British-U.S. War of 1812. A British force under Major General Isaac Brock with Native American allies under Shawnee leader Tecumseh used bluff and deception to intimidate U.S. Brigadier General William Hull into surrendering the fort and town of Detroit, Michigan, along with his dispirited army which actually outnumbered the victorious British and Indians.
The British victory reinvigorated the militia and civil authorities of Upper Canada, who had previously been pessimistic and affected by pro-U.S. agitators. Many Indians in the Northwest Territory were inspired to take arms against U.S. outposts and settlers. The British held Detroit for more than a year before their small fleet was defeated on Lake Erie, which forced them to abandon the western frontier of Upper Canada.
Battle of Queenston Heights
The Battle of Queenston Heights (October 13, 1812) was the first major battle in the War of 1812. It took place near Queenston, Upper Canada (now Ontario).
The battle was fought between United States regulars with New York militia forces, led by Major General Stephen Van Rensselaer, and British regulars, York and Lincoln militia and Mohawk warriors, led by Major General Isaac Brock and then Major General Roger Hale Sheaffe, who took command after Brock was killed.
The battle was fought as the result of an American attempt to establish a foothold on the Canadian side of the Niagara River before campaigning ended with the onset of winter. The decisive battle was the culmination of a poorly-managed American offensive and may be most historically significant for the loss of the British commander.
Despite their numerical advantage and the wide dispersal of British forces defending against their invasion attempt, the Americans, who were stationed in Lewiston, New York, were unable to get the bulk of their invasion force across the Niagara River because of the work of British artillery and the reluctance on the part of the undertrained and inexperienced American militia. As a result, British reinforcements arrived, defeated the unsupported American forces, and forced them to surrender.
American attempts to invade British Lower Canada and capture Montreal also failed.
Battle of Lake Erie
The Battle of Lake Erie (September 10, 1813) was one of the biggest naval battles of the War of 1812 taking place on Lake Erie off the coast of Ohio. Nine vessels of the United States Navy defeated and captured six vessels of the British Royal Navy. This ensured American control of the lake for the rest of the war, which in turn allowed the Americans to recover Detroit and win the Battle of the Thames to break the Indian confederation of Tecumseh.
Battle of the Thames
The Battle of the Thames (October 5, 1813) was an American victory in the War of 1812 against Tecumseh’s Confederacy and their British allies. It took place in Upper Canada, near Chatham. The British lost control of Southwestern Ontario as a result of the battle; Tecumseh was killed, and his confederacy largely fell apart.
British troops under Major General Henry Procter had occupied Detroit until the United States Navy gained control of Lake Erie, cutting them off from their supplies. Procter was forced to retreat north up the Thames River to Moraviantown, followed by the tribal confederacy under Shawnee leader Tecumseh who were his allies. American infantry and cavalry under Major General William Henry Harrison drove off the British and then defeated the Indians, who were demoralized by the death of Tecumseh in action. American control was re-established in the Detroit area, the tribal confederacy collapsed, and Procter was court-martialled for his poor leadership.
Battle of Lundy’s Lane
The Battle of Lundy’s Lane (July 25, 1814) was a battle fought during the War of 1812 between an invading American army and a British and Canadian army in present-day Niagara Falls, Ontario. It was one of the bloodiest battles of the war, and one of the deadliest battles ever fought in Canada, with over 1,731 casualties including 258 killed.
The two armies fought each other to a stalemate; neither side held firm control of the field following the engagement. However, the casualties suffered by the Americans precipitated their withdrawal, and the British held the strategic initiative.
Battle of Baltimore
The Battle of Baltimore was a sea/land battle fought between British invaders and American defenders in the War of 1812. American forces repulsed sea and land invasions off the busy port city of Baltimore, Maryland, and killed the commander of the invading British forces. Future President James Buchanan served as a private in the defense of Baltimore.
Battle of North Point
The Battle of North Point was fought on September 12, 1814, between General John Stricker’s Maryland Militia and a British force led by Major General Robert Ross. Although the Americans retreated, they were able to do so in good order having inflicted significant casualties on the British, killing one of the commanders of the invading force, significantly demoralizing the troops under his command and leaving some of his units lost among woods and swampy creeks, with others in confusion. This combination prompted British colonel Arthur Brooke to delay his advance against Baltimore, buying valuable time to properly prepare for the defense of the city as Stricker retreated back to the main defenses to bolster the existing force. The engagement was a part of the larger Battle of Baltimore, an American victory in the War of 1812.
Fort McHenry is a historical American coastal pentagonal bastion fort on Locust Point, now a neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland. It is best known for its role in the War of 1812, when it successfully defended Baltimore Harbor from an attack by the British navy from the Chesapeake Bay on September 13–14, 1814. It was first built in 1798 and was used continuously by the U.S. armed forces through World War I and by the Coast Guard in World War II. It was designated a national park in 1925, and in 1939 was redesignated a “National Monument and Historic Shrine”.
During the War of 1812 an American storm flag, 17 by 25 feet (5.2 m × 7.6 m), was flown over Fort McHenry during the bombardment. It was replaced early on the morning of September 14, 1814 with a larger American garrison flag, 30 by 42 feet (9.1 m × 12.8 m). The larger flag signaled American victory over the British in the Battle of Baltimore. The sight of the ensign inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem “Defence of Fort M’Henry” that was later set to the tune “To Anacreon in Heaven” and became known as “The Star Spangled Banner”, the national anthem of the United States.
Star Spangled Banner
“The Star-Spangled Banner” is the national anthem of the United States. The lyrics come from the “Defence of Fort M’Henry”, a poem written on September 14, 1814, by 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships of the Royal Navy in Baltimore Harbor during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. Key was inspired by the large U.S. flag, with 15 stars and 15 stripes, known as the Star-Spangled Banner, flying triumphantly above the fort during the U.S. victory.
The poem was set to the tune of a popular British song written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men’s social club in London. “To Anacreon in Heaven” (or “The Anacreontic Song”), with various lyrics, was already popular in the United States. This setting, renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner”, soon became a well-known U.S. patriotic song. With a range of 19 semitones, it is known for being very difficult to sing. Although the poem has four stanzas, only the first is commonly sung today.
“The Star-Spangled Banner” was recognized for official use by the United States Navy in 1889, and by U.S. president Woodrow Wilson in 1916, and was made the national anthem by a congressional resolution on March 3, 1931, which was signed by President Herbert Hoover.
Burning of Washington
The Burning of Washington was a British invasion of Washington City (now Washington, D.C.), the capital of the United States, during the Chesapeake Campaign of the War of 1812. To this date, it remains the only time since the American Revolutionary War that a foreign power has captured and occupied the capital of the United States.
Battle of Bladensburg
The Battle of Bladensburg (August 24, 1814) was a battle of the Chesapeake campaign of the War of 1812, fought at Bladensburg, Maryland, 8.6 miles northeast of Washington, D.C. Called “the greatest disgrace ever dealt to American arms,” a British force of army regulars and Royal Marines routed a combined U.S. force of Regular Army and state militia troops.
Following the defeat, a British and Canadian force led by Major General Robert Ross marched to Washington. That night, Canadian forces set fire to multiple government and military buildings, including the White House (then called the Presidential Mansion), the Capitol building, as well as other facilities of the U.S. government. The attack was in part a retaliation for the recent American destruction of Port Dover in Upper Canada, as well as American forces burning and looting the capital of Upper Canada the previous year.
Less than a day after the attack began, a heavy thunderstorm —possibly a hurricane — and a tornado extinguished the fires. The occupation of Washington lasted for roughly 26 hours, and what the British plans were beyond the damage are still a subject of debate.
Madison, military officials, and his government evacuated and were able to find refuge for the night in Brookeville, a small town in Montgomery County, Maryland. Madison spent the night in the house of Caleb Bentley, a Quaker who lived and worked in Brookeville. Bentley’s house, known today as the Madison House, still exists. Following the storm, the British returned to their ships, many of which required repairs due to the storm.
At sea, the powerful Royal Navy cut off trade and allowed the British to raid the coast at will, but the Americans later repulsed British attempts to invade New York and Maryland, ending invasions from the Canadas into the northern and mid-Atlantic states.
The Hartford Convention was a series of meetings from December 15, 1814 to January 5, 1815, in Hartford, Connecticut, United States, in which the New England Federalist Party met to discuss their grievances concerning the ongoing War of 1812 and the political problems arising from the federal government’s increasing power.
This convention discussed removing the three-fifths compromise and requiring a two-thirds majority in Congress for the admission of new states, declarations of war, and creating laws restricting trade. The Federalists also discussed their grievances with the Louisiana Purchase and the Embargo of 1807. However, weeks after the convention’s end, news of Major General Andrew Jackson’s overwhelming victory in New Orleans swept over the Northeast, discrediting and disgracing the Federalists, resulting in their elimination as a major national political force.
Treaty of Ghent
The Treaty of Ghent was the peace treaty that ended the War of 1812 between the United States and the United Kingdom. It took effect in February 1815. Both sides signed it on December 24, 1814, in the city of Ghent, United Netherlands (now in Belgium). The treaty restored relations between the two parties to status quo ante bellum by restoring the prewar borders of June 1812. The treaty was approved by the British Parliament and signed into law by the Prince Regent (the future King George IV) on December 30, 1814.
Battle of New Orleans
The Battle of New Orleans was fought on January 8, 1815 between the British Army under Major General Sir Edward Pakenham and the United States Army under Brevet Major General Andrew Jackson, roughly 5 miles southeast of the French Quarter of New Orleans, in the current suburb of Chalmette, Louisiana.
The battle took place 18 days after the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, which formally ended the War of 1812, on December 24, 1814, though it would not be ratified by the United States until February 16, 1815, as news of the agreement had not yet reached the United States from Europe. Despite a large British advantage in numbers, training, and experience, the American forces defeated a poorly executed assault in slightly more than 30 minutes. The Americans suffered roughly 60 casualties, while the British suffered roughly 2,000.
The victory did little to subside the bitching Madison received from… well everyone. We only remember his presidency for the Star Spangled Banner, and Dolly Madison saving the portrait of George Washington.
Madison was a victim of the politics of international diplomacy. In the real world, foreign issues could no longer be ignored. The War of 1812 was largely the result of world politics in which we were now involved. America was now a mature country on the world stage, and the President must play a role in the world as a symbol of where we stand. Politics is often not about the individual, but the unforeseen events that define the individual.
It turns out that people who detest declaring war on nations that don’t directly attack us were prevalent during the “warmongering” Madison administration. People who moan about the economics of war (both for and against) appeared here with the first of many threatened dissolution of our union being over economic interests abroad effecting us here. Yes, the global economy affected domestic politics 200 years ago. No, there isn’t any way we can avoid that by ignoring what happens abroad; nevertheless, the bitching continued.
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James Monroe (1817-1825) would follow James Madison
Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) preceded James Madison
It all started with George Washington (1789-1797)
Zachary Taylor (1849 – 1850) would assume the presidency after the Mexican War
Woodrow Wilson (1913 – 1921) would guide the United States through World War I.
Jimmy Carter (1977 – 1981) would be the only Democratic President for 25 years post Civil Rights.
George W. Bush (2000 – 2008) is the final President in our series.