The following deals with events, conflicts, and people during 1812-1824.
DISCLAIMER: This does NOT serve as a replacement for reading Chapter 12.
Though the War of 1812 was fought without a lot of anger towards our opposition, we emerged feeling stronger than ever and were ready to do whatever possible to defend ourselves.
Our fighting forces were horrendous. Our regular army was poorly trained and the local militias that helped them usually scattered once the battle began. If they could have captured Montreal, they could’ve quickly ended the war. However, their attempted invasion from Detroit, Niagara, and Lake Champlain went horribly. The Brits, on the other hand, fought with vigor and enthusiasm. The Americans tried invading Canada again in 1813 to no avail. Commodore Perry then organized a fleet on Lake Erie and won control over the Great Lakes. His victory revived American morale and led to a second victory at the Battle of Thames with General Henry Harrison leading the charge.
By mid-1814, Napoleon was out of power in France and because we had waged war on the assumption he would help us in our time of need, we were screwed. The Brits saw their opportunity and began an attack on New York City. The youthful Tommy Macdonough took command of the American fleet and beat back the British in a big-time victory. Meanwhile, in August 1814, another British fleet arrived in the Chesapeake Bay area with their sights set on Washington. The local militia was no match for the Redcoats and President Madison was sent scurrying for the hills when the Britons burnt down the original White House. In Baltimore, Francis Scott Key wrote our national anthem. See– there is a silver lining to everything!
Yet another British attack came on the coastal fort of New Orleans in late 1814. Andrew Jackson, fresh from battle with Indians, was sent to head the American forces. Though a peace treaty had been signed in Ghent some two weeks earlier, the Battle of New Orleans reached its final stage with the Brits suffering 2,000 causalities, while the Americans went unscathed. In the aftermath of the War of 1812, it was clear that our navy was a force to be reckoned with. Our sailors actually volunteered for duty, unlike in the Royal Navy, and some were even black. However, the Royal Navy had blockaded us during the length of the War and our economy was feeling its effects.
The peace treaty, dubbed the Treaty of Ghent, was orchestrated in large part by Tsar Alexander I of Russia, an ally of the Brits. John Quincy Adams was our main diplomat. The British insisted upon an Indian buffer state near Canada and control of the Great Lakes. The Americans, of course, refused and the British had no choice but to compromise. In the end, both sides agreed to stop fighting and return any conquered land. The US had fought in large part because Brits helped the Indians, the Chesapeake incident in 1807, and the horrid Orders of Council, but the American diplomats forgot all about that and signed on the dotted line. The War of 1812 goes down in history as one of the most superfluous wars of all time.
During the War, New England had benefited in large part from the illicit trade with Canada. The Hartford Convention was organized in December of 1814 to talk about New English succession. Instead of leaving the Union, they demanded a new Amendment be added with a 2/3rds majority necessary for an embargo to pass and compensation for lost trade during the War. By the time a few Hartford delegates reached Washington, they were drowned out by the news of the victory in New Orleans, which signaled the slow death of the Federalists, the party to which most of them belonged.
The War of 1812 was pretty small and only 6,000 Americans were killed. With another victory over Britain, Americans gained respect for its fighting ability. War heroes, such as Perry, Macdonough, Harrison, and Jackson, were bountiful. But, as was evident with fiery New England, the country still suffered from sectional disunity. American manufacturing had increased tenfold and renewed our hatred for our English counterparts. The Canadians weren’t digging the British either– they couldn’t even secure the Great Lakes and the Americans were sure to try to capture the Land of the Moose again.
The Rush-Bagot Agreement held that neither country could have a large amount of naval armament on the Great Lakes. Eventually, there would no fortification between the border of the US and Canada, meaning moose could freely cross the border whenever they pleased, don’t cha kno’?! With Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo in 1815, Europe was tired of war and went back to their conservation monarchical ways. The US, on the other hand, was ready to build a democracy!
Damnit. Never mind. We’re still talking about the War of 1812. Its final effect was an increased sense of nationalism– that this country was awesome and we would do anything for it. Such nationalism was visible in the literature and the magazines of the time. Everything was transformed over night. A brand new capitol was built and the Bank of the US rose again in 1816. The army and navy were also expanded greatly. Since manufacturing was on the rise, the first-ever tariff was passed by Congress in 1816. Henry Clay, meanwhile, proposed the American System– which relied on a strong banking system, a protective tariff, and a series of roads and canals to connect the North and the South.
Everyone was digging Clay’s proposal. In 1817, Congress passed a bill to give $1.5 million to the states to build infrastructure, but Madison thought it unconstitutional and vetoed it. States had no choice but to build their own roads and canals, starting with New York’s Erie Canal, began in 1817 and completed in 1825. New Englanders strongly opposed federally-funded roads, thinking they would drive away the population and increase competitive prices. Wouldn’t want that!
Monroe, the Republican nominee, trounced the Federalists in the election of 1816. James Monroe was a bit… off. He would dress in clothes from twenty years ago and better represented the old age than the new one. The Era of Good Feelings quickly came upon the country, though it was anything but. Monroe would have to face the challenges of the tariff, infrastructure improvements, and sectionalism.
With the Panic of 1819, the Good Feelings were promptly forgotten. Deflation, unemployment, and bank failures were among the effects. The Bank of the US had forced western banks to foreclose on mortgages to numerous farms, which didn’t help anything during the Panic. Many poor people were imprisoned when they couldn’t pay their debts. I’m not an expert or anything, but that hardly sounds like democracy.
Frontier states had been springing up since the time of Washington. It was only natural for Americans to keep moving west– land was cheap and the pickings were plenty. The earlier embargo had forced many to move and with the victories of Harrison and Jackson, there was scarce an Indian to be seen. Highways only accentuated the move west, the most notable being the Cumberland Road, started in 1811, which connected Maryland and Illinois. The Land of Act of 1820 made land even cheaper at $1.25 an acre. Among western demands was cheap transportation and cheap money (what?!). Money that cost less was achieved by the wildcat banks of the West, who would produce paper currency like nobody’s business.
Driving the sectional disunity was the slave trade. In 1820, Missouri banged on the door of Congress to let it into the Union as a slave state. The antislavery House passed the Tallmadge amendment to Missouri’s constitution, which would stipulate that no slaves could be brought into Missouri and that slave children would gradually gain freedom. The South was outraged and thought it would tip the delicate balance of political power in the hand of the northerners. Missouri was the first state carved from the Louisiana Purchase and the first on the west of the Mississippi. Gridlock was inevitable.
Good ol’ Henry Clay got to working on a compromise right away. The Missouri Compromise guaranteed Missouri admittance as a slave state, Maine as a free state, and that no slavery would exist in the Louisiana Purchase above the 36’30 parallel, which was the base of Missouri. The Compromise would hold for thirty-four years until the passage of the Dred Scott Decision in 1854 [see Chapter 19]. Even with the horrid economy, there was no opposition, and Monroe was reelected in 1820.
John Marshall, the time-tested frontiersman from Virginia, came to dominate the Supreme Court. In McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), McCulloch, a branch manager for the Bank of the US, sued the state of Maryland for imposing taxes upon the branch. Marshall decided that the tax was unconstitutional and the national government won a huge victory over the states. Later, in 1821, Marshall declared it the right of the Supreme Court to review all decisions made by state supreme courts that involved federal power. The feds were given even more power with control of interstate commerce, decided in the Gibbons v. Odgen trial in 1824.
Marshall continued to stop democratic excesses of the states by keeping them in check. In Georgia, he stopped the public sale of 35 million acres to private land speculators and in New Hampshire, he allowed Dartmouth College to retain their charter from King George III some fifty years previous. Daniel Webster, an alumni of Dartmouth, vehemently defended the charter and came to be a big supporter of Marshall. All in all, John Marshall set the standard for interpreting the Constitution and laid down the pivotal foundation for business in the US.
For Monroe and John Q. Adams, his Sect. of State, the next step in their nationalistic vision was expanding the country. The Treaty of 1818 with Britain gave America a share of the fisheries in Newfoundland and some extra land near the top of the Louisiana Purchase. Meanwhile, revolutions in Spanish-held South America sent countless troops down south from Florida. In their absence, a regiment led by Andrew Jackson seized two significant Spanish posts and nearly killed the Spanish governor. Jackson had completely disobeyed President Monroe’s orders, but no one really gave a damn. The Florida Purchase Treaty of 1819 gave up Florida and all Spanish claims to Oregon in return for American abandonment of claims in Texas.
Back in Europe, the monarchs were doing their thing. And by ‘doing their thing’, I mean silencing any whisper of democracy. Rebellions in Italy and Spain were immediately crushed. With Mexico gaining independence in 1821, many autocrats spoke of teaming up and putting the Spanish king back in power. In the west, Russia was slowly climbing down the coastline, though they stopped at the 51st parallel. Britain, for once, did a noble thing and didn’t want any European power to interfere in the Americas. It seemed the gapped-toothers had finally learned their lesson.
In 1823, the British foreign minster Canning proposed a striking proposition: the US and the Brits team up and condemn any foreign involvement in Latin America. Secretary Adams saw right through Canning. The Brits only wanted an ally in the US so that their investments in the Caribbeans would be free from US expansionists. Furthermore, the only interest the Brits held in Latin America were its ports. Adams turned down the Brits offer at an alliance.
In 1823, The Monroe Doctrine, probably his greatest achievement if you can call it that, gave a warning to the European powers not to mess with the Americas in any way. In return, the US would not help any European country fight for its independence. Naturally, the monarchs of Europe hated this and wanted to invade the US. The only thing stopping them was the Royal Navy, which stood by Latin America, and presumably, the US too. The Doctrine was pretty much forgotten until Polk revived it in 1845.
Russia fell head over heels for the Doctrine and in the Russo-American Treaty of 1824, stopped their Alaskan border at the 54’50 parallel. At this point, it’s important to note that the Doctrine itself was not a law and it was hardly even a policy. It was a statement by President Monroe and nothing more. It caused the US to remain nationalistic for years to come, but did more to isolate us from the world than any other policy leading up to the 1920s (see Chapter 31). With democracy on the rise, it was clear that the skimpy little United States was bound to grow into a super power.