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Jefferson and his Colleagues, A Chronicle of the Virginia Dynasty by Allen Johnson

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Administration, though he had given the President a momentary
advantage over the opposition. Another crisis was fast
approaching. When Congress met a month earlier than usual,
pursuant to the call of the President, the leadership passed from
the Administration to a group of men who had lost all faith in
commercial restrictions as a weapon of defense against foreign


Among the many unsolved problems which Jefferson bequeathed to
his successor in office was that of the southern frontier.
Running like a shuttle through the warp of his foreign policy had
been his persistent desire to acquire possession of the Spanish
Floridas. This dominant desire, amounting almost to a passion,
had mastered even his better judgment and had created dilemmas
from which he did not escape without the imputation of duplicity.
On his retirement he announced that he was leaving all these
concerns "to be settled by my friend, Mr. Madison," yet he could
not resist the desire to direct the course of his successor.
Scarcely a month after he left office he wrote, "I suppose the
conquest of Spain will soon force a delicate question on you as
to the Floridas and Cuba, which will offer themselves to you.
Napoleon will certainly give his consent without difficulty to
our receiving the Floridas, and with some difficulty possibly

In one respect Jefferson's intuition was correct. The attempt of
Napoleon to subdue Spain and to seat his brother Joseph once
again on the throne of Ferdinand VII was a turning point in the
history of the Spanish colonies in America. One by one they rose
in revolt and established revolutionary juntas either in the name
of their deposed King or in professed cooperation with the
insurrectionary government which was resisting the invader.
Events proved that independence was the inevitable issue of all
these uprisings from the Rio de la Plata to the Rio Grande.

In common with other Spanish provinces, West Florida felt the
impact of this revolutionary spirit, but it lacked natural unity
and a dominant Spanish population. The province was in fact
merely a strip of coast extending from the Perdido River to the
Mississippi, indented with bays into which great rivers from the
north discharged their turgid waters. Along these bays and rivers
were scattered the inhabitants, numbering less than one hundred
thousand, of whom a considerable portion had come from the
States. There, as always on the frontier, land had been a
lodestone attracting both the speculator and the homeseeker. In
the parishes of West Feliciana and Baton Rouge, in the alluvial
bottoms of the Mississippi, and in the settlements around Mobile
Bay, American settlers predominated, submitting with ill grace to
the exactions of Spanish officials who were believed to be as
corrupt as they were inefficient.

If events had been allowed to take their natural course, West
Florida would in all probability have fallen into the arms of the
United States as Texas did three decades later. But the Virginia
Presidents were too ardent suitors to await the slow progress of
events; they meant to assist destiny. To this end President
Jefferson had employed General Wilkinson, with indifferent
success. President Madison found more trustworthy agents in
Governor Claiborne of New Orleans and Governor Holmes of
Mississippi, whose letters reveal the extent to which Madison was
willing to meddle with destiny. "Nature had decreed the union of
Florida with the United States," Claiborne affirmed; but he was
not so sure that nature could be left to execute her own decrees,
for he strained every nerve to prepare the way for American
intervention when the people of West Florida should declare
themselves free from Spain. Holmes also was instructed to
prepare for this eventuality and to cooperate with Claiborne in
West Florida "in diffusing the impressions we wish to be made

The anticipated insurrection came off just when and where nature
had decreed. In the summer of 1810 a so-called "movement for
self-government" started at Bayou Sara and at Baton Rouge, where
nine-tenths of the inhabitants were Americans. The leaders took
pains to assure the Spanish Commandant that their motives were
unimpeachable: nothing should be done which would in any wise
conflict with the authority of their "loved and worthy sovereign,
Don Ferdinand VII." They wished to relieve the people of the
abuses under which they were suffering, but all should be done in
the name of the King. The Commandant, De Lassus, was not without
his suspicions of these patriotic gentlemen but he allowed
himself to be swept along in the current. The several movements
finally coalesced on the 25th of July in a convention near Baton
Rouge, which declared itself "legally constituted to act in all
cases of national concern . . . with the consent of the governor"
and professed a desire "to promote the safety, honor, and
happiness of our beloved king" as well as to rectify abuses in
the province. It adjourned with the familiar Spanish salutation
which must have sounded ironical to the helpless De Lassus, "May
God preserve you many years!" Were these pious professions
farcical? Or were they the sincere utterances of men who, like
the patriots of 1776, were driven by the march of events out of
an attitude of traditional loyalty to the King into open defence
of his authority?

The Commandant was thus thrust into a position where his every
movement would be watched with distrust. The pretext for further
action was soon given. An intercepted letter revealed that
DeLassus had written to Governor Folch for an armed force. That
"act of perfidy" was enough to dissolve the bond between the
convention and the Commandant. On the 23d of September, under
cover of night, an armed force shouting "Hurrah! Washington!"
overpowered the garrison of the fort at Baton Rouge, and three
days later the convention declared the independence of West
Florida, "appealing to the Supreme Ruler of the World" for the
rectitude of their intentions. What their intentions were is
clear enough. Before the ink was dry on their declaration of
independence, they wrote to the Administration at Washington,
asking for the immediate incorporation of West Florida into the
Union. Here was the blessed consummation of years of diplomacy
near at hand. President Madison had only to reach out his hand
and pluck the ripe fruit; yet he hesitated from constitutional
scruples. Where was the authority which warranted the use of the
army and navy to hold territory beyond the bounds of the United
States? Would not intervention, indeed, be equivalent to an
unprovoked attack on Spain, a declaration of war? He set forth
his doubts in a letter to Jefferson and hinted at the danger
which in the end was to resolve all his doubts. Was there not
grave danger that West Florida would pass into the hands of a
third and dangerous party? The conduct of Great Britain showed a
propensity to fish in troubled waters.

On the 27th of October, President Madison issued a proclamation
authorizing Governor Claiborne to take possession of West Florida
and to govern it as part of the Orleans Territory. He justified
his action, which had no precedent in American diplomacy, by
reasoning which was valid only if his fundamental premise was
accepted. West Florida, he repeated, as a part of the Louisiana
purchase belonged to the United States; but without abandoning
its claim, the United States had hitherto suffered Spain to
continue in possession, looking forward to a satisfactory
adjustment by friendly negotiation. A crisis had arrived,
however, which had subverted Spanish authority; and the failure
of the United States to take the territory would threaten the
interests of all parties and seriously disturb the tranquillity
of the adjoining territories. In the hands of the United States,
West Florida would "not cease to be a subject of fair and
friendly negotiation." In his annual message President Madison
spoke of the people of West Florida as having been "brought into
the bosom of the American family," and two days later Governor
Claiborne formally took possession of the country to the
Pearl River. How territory which had thus been incorporated could
still remain a subject of fair negotiation does not clearly
appear, except on the supposition that Spain would go through the
forms of a negotiation which could have but one outcome.

The enemies of the Administration seized eagerly upon the flaws
in the President's logic, and pressed his defenders sorely in the
closing session of the Eleventh Congress. Conspicuous among the
champions of the Administration was young Henry Clay, then
serving out the term of Senator Thurston of Kentucky who had
resigned his office. This eloquent young lawyer, now in his
thirty-third year, had been born and bred in the Old Dominion--a
typical instance of the American boy who had nothing but his own
head and hands wherewith to make his way in the world. He had a
slender schooling, a much-abbreviated law education in a lawyer's
office, and little enough of that intellectual discipline needed
for leadership at the bar; yet he had a clever wit, an engaging
personality, and a rare facility in speaking, and he capitalized
these assets. He was practising law in Lexington, Kentucky, when
he was appointed to the Senate.

What this persuasive Westerner had to say on the American title
to West Florida was neither new nor convincing; but what he
advocated as an American policy was both bold and challenging.
"The eternal principles of self preservation" justified in his
mind the occupation of West Florida, irrespective of any title.
With Cuba and Florida in the possession of a foreign maritime
power, the immense extent of country watered by streams entering
the Gulf would be placed at the mercy of that power. Neglect the
proffered boon and some nation profiting by this error would
seize this southern frontier. It had been intimated that Great
Britain might take sides with Spain to resist the occupation of
Florida. To this covert threat Clay replied,

"Sir, is the time never to arrive, when we may manage our own
affairs without the fear of insulting his Britannic Majesty? Is
the rod of British power to be forever suspended over our heads?
Does the President refuse to continue a correspondence with a
minister, who violates the decorum belonging to his diplomatic
character, by giving and deliberately repeating an affront to the
whole nation? We are instantly menaced with the chastisement
which English pride will not fail to inflict. Whether we assert
our rights by sea, or attempt their maintenance by
land--whithersoever we turn ourselves, this phantom incessantly
pursues us. Already has it had too much influence on the councils
of the nation. It contributed to the repeal of the embargo--that
dishonorable repeal, which has so much tarnished the character of
our government. Mr. President, I have before said on this floor,
and now take occasion to remark, that I most sincerely desire
peace and amity with England; that I even prefer an adjustment of
all differences with her, before one with any other nation. But
if she persists in a denial of justice to us, or if she avails
herself of the occupation of West Florida, to commence war upon
us, I trust and hope that all hearts will unite, in a bold and
vigorous vindication of our rights.

"I am not, sir, in favour of cherishing the passion of conquest.
But I must be permitted, in conclusion, to indulge the hope of
seeing, ere long, the NEW United States (if you will allow me the
expression) embracing, not only the old thirteen States, but the
entire country east of the Mississippi, including East Florida,
and some of the territories of the north of us also."

Conquest was not a familiar word in the vocabulary of James
Madison, and he may well have prayed to be delivered from the
hands of his friends, if this was to be the keynote of their
defense of his policy in West Florida. Nevertheless, he was
impelled in spite of himself in the direction of Clay's vision.
If West Florida in the hands of an unfriendly power was a menace
to the southern frontier, East Florida from the Perdido to the
ocean was not less so. By the 3d of January, 1811, he was
prepared to recommend secretly to Congress that he should be
authorized to take temporary possession of East Florida, in case
the local authorities should consent or a foreign power should
attempt to occupy it. And Congress came promptly to his aid with
the desired authorization.

Twelve months had now passed since the people of the several
States had expressed a judgment at the polls by electing a new
Congress. The Twelfth Congress was indeed new in more senses than
one. Some seventy representatives took their seats for the first
time, and fully half of the familiar faces were missing. Its
first and most significant act, betraying a new spirit, was the
choice as Speaker of Henry Clay, who had exchanged his seat in
the Senate for the more stirring arena of the House. In all the
history of the House there is only one other instance of the
choice of a new member as Speaker. It was not merely a personal
tribute to Clay but an endorsement of the forward-looking policy
which he had so vigorously championed in the Senate. The temper
of the House was bold and aggressive, and it saw its mood
reflected in the mobile face of the young Kentuckian.

The Speaker of the House had hitherto followed English
traditions, choosing rather to stand as an impartial moderator
than to act as a legislative leader. For British traditions of
any sort Clay had little respect. He was resolved to be the
leader of the House, and if necessary to join his privileges as
Speaker to his rights as a member, in order to shape the policies
of Congress. Almost his first act as Speaker was to appoint to
important committees those who shared his impatience with
commercial restrictions as a means of coercing Great Britain. On
the Committee on Foreign Relations--second to none in importance
at this moment--he placed Peter B. Porter of New York, young John
C. Calhoun of South Carolina, and Felix Grundy of Tennessee; the
chairmanship of the Committee on Naval Affairs he gave to Langdon
Cheves of South Carolina; and the chairmanship of the Committee
on Military Affairs, to another South Carolinian, David Williams.
There was nothing fortuitous in this selection of representatives
from the South and Southwest for important committee posts. Like
Clay himself, these young intrepid spirits were solicitous about
the southern frontier--about the ultimate disposal of the
Floridas; like Clay, they had lost faith in temporizing policies;
like Clay, they were prepared for battle with the old adversary
if necessary.

In the President's message of November 5, 1811, there was just
one passage which suited the mood of this group of younger
Republicans. After a recital of injuries at the hands of the
British ministry, Madison wrote with unwonted vigor: "With this
evidence of hostile inflexibility in trampling on rights which no
independent nation can relinquish Congress will feel the duty of
putting the United States into an armor and an attitude demanded
by the crisis; and corresponding with the national spirit and
expectations." It was this part of the message which the
Committee on Foreign Relations took for the text of its report.
The time had arrived, in the opinion of the committee, when
forbearance ceased to be a virtue and when Congress must as a
sacred duty "call forth the patriotism and resources of the
country." Nor did the committee hesitate to point out the
immediate steps to be taken if the country were to be put into a
state of preparedness. Let the ranks of the regular army be
filled and ten regiments added; let the President call for fifty
thousand volunteers; let all available war-vessels be put in
commission; and let merchant vessels arm in their own defense.

If these recommendations were translated into acts, they would
carry the country appreciably nearer war; but the members of the
committee were not inclined to shrink from the consequences. To a
man they agreed that war was preferable to inglorious submission
to continued outrages, and that the outcome of war would be
positively advantageous. Porter, who represented the westernmost
district of a State profoundly interested in the northern
frontier, doubted not that Great Britain could be despoiled of
her extensive provinces along the borders to the North. Grundy,
speaking for the Southwest, contemplated with satisfaction the
time when the British would be driven from the continent. "I feel
anxious," he concluded, "not only to add the Floridas to the
South, but the Canadas to the North of this Empire." Others, like
Calhoun, who now made his entrance as a debater, refused to
entertain these mercenary calculations. "Sir," exclaimed Calhoun,
his deep-set eyes flashing, "I only know of one principle to make
a nation great, to produce in this country not the form but the
real spirit of union, and that is, to protect every citizen in
the lawful pursuit of his business. . . Protection and patriotism
are reciprocal."

But these young Republicans marched faster than the rank and
file. Not so lightly were Jeffersonian traditions to be thrown
aside. The old Republican prejudice against standing armies and
seagoing navies still survived. Four weary months of discussion
produced only two measures of military importance, one of which
provided for the addition to the army of twenty-five thousand men
enlisted for five years, and the other for the calling into
service of fifty thousand state militia. The proposal of the
naval committee to appropriate seven and a half million dollars
to build a new navy was voted down; Gallatin's urgent appeal for
new taxes fell upon deaf ears; and Congress proposed to meet the
new military expenditure by the dubious expedient of a loan of
eleven million dollars.

A hesitation which seemed fatal paralyzed all branches of the
Federal Government in the spring months. Congress was obviously
reluctant to follow the lead of the radicals who clamored for war
with Great Britain. The President was unwilling to recommend a
declaration of war, though all evidence points to the conclusion
that he and his advisers believed war inevitable. The nation was
divided in sentiment, the Federalists insisting with some
plausibility that France was as great an offender as Great
Britain and pointing to the recent captures of American
merchantmen by French cruisers as evidence that the decrees had
not been repealed. Even the President was impressed by these
unfriendly acts and soberly discussed with his mentor at
Monticello the possibility of war with both France and England.
There was a moment in March, indeed, when he was disposed to
listen to moderate Republicans who advised him to send a special
mission to England as a last chance.

What were the considerations which fixed the mind of the nation
and of Congress upon war with Great Britain? Merely to catalogue
the accumulated grievances of a decade does not suffice. Nations
do not arrive at decisions by mathematical computation of
injuries received, but rather because of a sense of accumulated
wrongs which may or may not be measured by losses in life and
property. And this sense of wrongs is the more acute in
proportion to the racial propinquity of the offender. The most
bitter of all feuds are those between peoples of the same blood.
It was just because the mother country from which Americans had
won their independence was now denying the fruits of that
independence that she became the object of attack. In two
particulars was Great Britain offending and France not. The
racial differences between French and American seamen were too
conspicuous to countenance impressment into the navy of Napoleon.
No injuries at the hands of France bore any similarity to the
Chesapeake outrage. Nor did France menace the frontier and the
frontier folk of the United States by collusion with the Indians.

To suppose that the settlers beyond the Alleghanies were eager to
fight Great Britain solely for "free trade and sailors' rights"
is to assume a stronger consciousness of national unity than
existed anywhere in the United States at this time. These western
pioneers had stronger and more immediate motives for a reckoning
with the old adversary. Their occupation of the Northwest had
been hindered at every turn by the red man, who, they believed,
had been sustained in his resistance directly by British traders
and indirectly by the British Government. Documents now
abundantly prove that the suspicion was justified. The key to the
early history of the northwestern frontier is the fur trade. It
was for this lucrative traffic that England retained so long the
western posts which she had agreed to surrender by the Peace of
Paris. Out of the region between the Illinois, the Wabash, the
Ohio, and Lake Erie, pelts had been shipped year after year to
the value annually of some 100,000 pounds, in return for the
products of British looms and forges. It was the constant aim of
the British trader in the Northwest to secure "the exclusive
advantages of a valuable trade during Peace and the zealous
assistance of brave and useful auxiliaries in time of War." To
dispossess the redskin of his lands and to wrest the fur trade
from British control was the equally constant desire of every
full-blooded Western American. Henry Clay voiced this desire when
he exclaimed in the speech already quoted, "The conquest of
Canada is in your power . . . . Is it nothing to extinguish the
torch that lights up savage warfare? Is it nothing to acquire the
entire fur-trade connected with that country, and to destroy the
temptation and opportunity of violating your revenue and other

* A memorial of the fur traders of Canada to the Secretary of
State for War and Colonies (1814), printed as Appendix N to
Davidson's "The North West Company," throws much light on this
obscure feature of Western history. See also an article on "The
Insurgents of 1811," in the American Historical Association
"Report" (1911) by D. R. Anderson.

The Twelfth Congress had met under the shadow of an impending
catastrophe in the Northwest. Reports from all sources pointed to
an Indian war of considerable magnitude. Tecumseh and his brother
the Prophet had formed an Indian confederacy which was believed
to embrace not merely the tribes of the Northwest but also the
Creeks and Seminoles of the Gulf region. Persistent rumors
strengthened long-nourished suspicions and connected this Indian
unrest with the British agents on the Canadian border. In the
event of war, so it was said, the British paymasters would let
the redskins loose to massacre helpless women and children. Old
men retold the outrages of these savage fiends during the War of

On the 7th of November--three days after the assembling of
Congress--Governor William Henry Harrison of the Indiana
Territory encountered the Indians of Tecumseh's confederation at
Tippecanoe and by a costly but decisive victory crushed the hopes
of their chieftains. As the news of these events drifted into
Washington, it colored perceptibly the minds of those who doubted
whether Great Britain or France were the greater offender.
Grundy, who had seen three brothers killed by Indians and his
mother reduced from opulence to poverty in a single night, spoke
passionately of that power which was taking every "opportunity of
intriguing with our Indian neighbors and setting on the ruthless
savages to tomahawk our women and children." "War," he exclaimed,
"is not to commence by sea or land, it is already begun, and some
of the richest blood of our country has been shed."

Still the President hesitated to lead. On the 3lst of March, to
be sure, he suffered Monroe to tell a committee of the House that
he thought war should be declared before Congress adjourned and
that he was willing to recommend an embargo if Congress would
agree; but after an embargo for ninety days had been declared on
the 4th of April, he told the British Minister that it was not,
could not be considered, a war measure. He still waited for
Congress to shoulder the responsibility of declaring war. Why did
he hesitate? Was he aware of the woeful state of unpreparedness
everywhere apparent and was he therefore desirous of delay? Some
color is given to this excuse by his efforts to persuade Congress
to create two assistant secretaryships of war. Or was he
conscious of his own inability to play the role of War-President?

The personal question which thrust itself upon Madison at this
time was, indeed, whether he would have a second term of office.
An old story, often told by his detractors, recounts a dramatic
incident which is said to have occurred, just as the
congressional caucus of the party was about to meet. A committee
of Republican Congressmen headed by Mr. Speaker Clay waited upon
the President to tell him, that if he wished a renomination, he
must agree to recommend a declaration of war. The story has never
been corroborated; and the dramatic interview probably never
occurred; yet the President knew, as every one knew, that his
renomination was possible only with the support of the war party.
When he accepted the nomination from the Republican caucus on the
18th of May, he tacitly pledged himself to acquiesce in the plans
of the war-hawks. Some days later an authentic interview did take
place between the President and a deputation of Congressmen
headed by the Speaker, in the course of which the President was
assured of the support of Congress if he would recommend a
declaration. Subsequent events point to a complete understanding.

Clay now used all the latent powers of his office to aid the war
party. Even John Randolph, ever a thorn in the side of the party,
was made to wince. On the 9th of May, Randolph undertook to
address the House on the declaration of war which, he had been
credibly informed, was imminent. He was called to order by a
member because no motion was before the House. He protested that
his remarks were prefatory to a motion. The Speaker ruled that he
must first make a motion. "My proposition is," responded Randolph
sullenly, "that it is not expedient at this time to resort to a
war against Great Britain." "Is the motion seconded?" asked the
Speaker. Randolph protested that a second was not needed and
appealed from the decision of the chair. Then, when the House
sustained the Speaker, Randolph, having found a seconder, once
more began to address the House. Again he was called to order;
the House must first vote to consider the motion. Randolph was
beside himself with rage. The last vestige of liberty of speech
was vanishing, he declared. But Clay was imperturbable. The
question of consideration was put and lost. Randolph had found
his master.

On the 1st of June the President sent to Congress what is usually
denominated a war message; yet it contained no positive
recommendation of war. "Congress must decide," said the
President, "whether the United States shall continue passive" or
oppose force to force. Prefaced to this impotent conclusion was a
long recital of "progressive usurpations" and "accumulating
wrongs"--a recital which had become so familiar in state papers
as almost to lose its power to provoke popular resentment. It was
significant, however, that the President put in the forefront of
his catalogue of wrongs the impressment of American sailors on
the high seas. No indignity touched national pride so keenly and
none so clearly differentiated Great Britain from France as the
national enemy. Almost equally provocative was the harassing of
incoming and outgoing vessels by British cruisers which hovered
off the coasts and even committed depredations within the
territorial jurisdiction of the United States. Pretended
blockades without an adequate force was a third charge against
the British Government, and closely connected with it that
"sweeping system of blockades, under the name of
orders-in-council," against which two Republican Administrations
had struggled in vain.

There was in the count not an item, indeed, which could not have
been charged against Great Britain in the fall of 1807, when the
public clamored for war after the Chesapeake outrage. Four long
years had been spent in testing the efficacy of commercial
restrictions, and the country was if anything less prepared for
the alternative. When President Madison penned this message he
was, in fact, making public avowal of the breakdown of a great
Jeffersonian principle. Peaceful coercion was proved to be an
idle dream.

So well advised was the Committee on Foreign Relations to which
the President's message was referred that it could present a long
report two days later, again reviewing the case against the
adversary in great detail. "The contest which is now forced on
the United States," it concluded, "is radically a contest for
their sovereignty and independency." There was now no other
alternative than an immediate appeal to arms. On the same day
Calhoun introduced a bill declaring war against Great Britain;
and on the 4th of June in secret session the war party mustered
by the Speaker bore down all opposition and carried the bill by a
vote of 79 to 49. On the 7th of June the Senate followed the
House by the close vote of 19 to 14; and on the following day the
President promptly signed the bill which marked the end of an

It is one of the bitterest ironies in history that just
twenty-four hours before war was declared at Washington, the new
Ministry at Westminster announced its intention of immediately
suspending the orders-in-council. Had President Madison yielded
to those moderates who advised him in April to send a minister to
England, he might have been apprized of that gradual change in
public opinion which was slowly undermining the authority of
Spencer Perceval's ministry and commercial system. He had only to
wait a little longer to score the greatest diplomatic triumph of
his generation; but fate willed otherwise. No ocean cable flashed
the news of the abrupt change which followed the tragic
assassination of Perceval and the formation of a new ministry.
When the slow-moving packets brought the tidings, war had begun.


The dire calamity which Jefferson and his colleagues had for ten
years bent all their energies to avert had now befallen the young
Republic. War, with all its train of attendant evils, stalked
upon the stage, and was about to test the hearts of pacifist and
war-hawk alike. But nothing marked off the younger Republicans
more sharply from the generation to which Jefferson, Madison, and
Gallatin belonged than the positive relief with which they hailed
this break with Jeffersonian tradition. This attitude was
something quite different from the usual intrepidity of youth in
the face of danger; it was bottomed upon the conviction which
Clay expressed when he answered the question, "What are we to
gain by the war?" by saying, "What are we not to lose by peace?
Commerce, character, a nation's best treasure, honor!" Calhoun
had reached the same conclusion. The restrictive system as a
means of resistance and of obtaining redress for wrongs, he
declared to be unsuited to the genius of the American people. It
required the most arbitrary laws; it rendered government odious;
it bred discontent. War, on the other hand, strengthened the
national character, fed the flame of patriotism, and perfected
the organization of government. "Sir," he exclaimed, "I would
prefer a single Victory over the enemy by sea or land to all the
good we shall ever derive from the continuation of the
non-importation act!" The issue was thus squarely faced: the
alternative to peaceable coercion was now to be given a trial.

Scarcely less remarkable was the buoyant spirit with which these
young Republicans faced the exigencies of war. Defeat was not to
be found in their vocabulary. Clay pictured in fervent rhetoric a
victorious army dictating the terms of peace at Quebec or at
Halifax; Calhoun scouted the suggestion of unpreparedness,
declaring that in four weeks after the declaration of war the
whole of Upper and part of Lower Canada would be in our
possession; and even soberer patriots believed that the conquest
of Canada was only a matter of marching across the frontier to
Montreal or Quebec. But for that matter older heads were not much
wiser as prophets of military events. Even Jefferson assured the
President that he had never known a war entered into under more
favorable auspices, and predicted that Great Britain would surely
be stripped of all her possessions on this continent; while
Monroe seems to have anticipated a short decisive war terminating
in a satisfactory accommodation with England. As for the
President, he averred many years later that while he knew the
unprepared state of the country, "he esteemed it necessary to
throw forward the flag of the country, sure that the people would
press onward and defend it."

There is something at once humorous and pathetic in this
self-portrait of Madison throwing forward the flag of his country
and summoning his legions to follow on. Never was a man called to
lead in war who had so little of the martial in his character,
and yet so earnest a purpose to rise to the emergency. An
observer describes him, the day after war was declared, "visiting
in person--a thing never known before--all the offices of the
Departments of War and the Navy, stimulating everything in a
manner worthy of a little commander-in-chief, with his little
round hat and huge cockade." Stimulation was certainly needed in
these two departments as events proved, but attention to petty
details which should have been watched by subordinates is not the
mark of a great commander. Jefferson afterward consoled Madison
for the defeat of his armies by writing: "All you can do is to
order--execution must depend on others and failures be imputed to
them alone." Jefferson failed to perceive what Madison seems
always to have forgotten, that a commander-in-chief who appoints
and may remove his subordinates can never escape responsibility
for their failures. The President's first duty was not to
stimulate the performance of routine in the departments but to
make sure of the competence of the executive heads of those

William Eustis of Massachusetts, Secretary of War, was not
without some little military experience, having served as a
surgeon in the Revolutionary army, but he lacked every
qualification for the onerous task before him. Senator Crawford
of Georgia wrote to Monroe caustically that Eustis should have
been forming general and comprehensive arrangements for the
organization of the troops and for the prosecution of campaigns,
instead of consuming his time reading advertisements of petty
retailing merchants, to find where he could purchase one hundred
shoes or two hundred hats. Of Paul Hamilton, the Secretary of
Navy, even less could be expected, for he seems to have had
absolutely no experience to qualify him for the post. Senator
Crawford intimated that in instructing his naval officers
Hamilton impressed upon them the desirability of keeping their
superiors supplied with pineapples and other tropical fruits -an
ill-natured comment which, true or not, gives us the measure of
the man. Both Monroe and Gallatin shared the prevailing estimate
of the Secretaries of War and of the Navy and expressed
themselves without reserve to Jefferson; but the President with
characteristic indecision hesitated to purge his Cabinet of these
two incompetents, and for his want of decision he paid dearly.

The President had just left the Capital for his country place at
Montpelier toward the end of August, when the news came that
General William Hull, who had been ordered to invade Upper Canada
and begin the military promenade to Quebec, had surrendered
Detroit and his entire army without firing a gun. It was a
crushing disaster and a well-deserved rebuke for the
Administration, for whether the fault was Hull's or Eustis's, the
President had to shoulder the responsibility. His first thought
was to retrieve the defeat by commissioning Monroe to command a
fresh army for the capture of Detroit; but this proposal which
appealed strongly to Monroe had to be put aside--fortunately for
all concerned, for Monroe's desire for military glory was
probably not equalled by his capacity as a commander and the
western campaign proved incomparably more difficult than
wiseacres at Washington imagined.

What was needed, indeed, was not merely able commanders in the
field, though they were difficult enough to find. There was much
truth in Jefferson's naive remark to Madison: "The creator has
not thought proper to mark those on the forehead who are of the
stuff to make good generals. We are first, therefore, to seek
them, blindfold, and then let them learn the trade at the expense
of great losses." But neither seems to have comprehended that
their opposition to military preparedness had caused this dearth
of talent and was now forcing the Administration to select
blindfold. More pressing even than the need of tacticians was the
need of organizers of victory. The utter failure of the Niagara
campaign vacated the office of Secretary of War; and with Eustis
retired also the Secretary of the Navy. Monroe took over the
duties of the one temporarily, and William Jones, a shipowner of
Philadelphia, succeeded Hamilton.

If the President seriously intended to make Monroe Secretary of
War and the head of the General Staff, he speedily discovered
that he was powerless to do so. The Republican leaders in New
York felt too keenly Josiah Quincy's taunt about a despotic
Cabinet "composed, to all efficient purposes, of two Virginians
and a foreigner" to permit Monroe to absorb two cabinet posts. To
appease this jealousy of Virginia, Madison made an appointment
which very nearly shipwrecked his Administration: he invited
General John Armstrong of New York to become Secretary of War.
Whatever may be said of Armstrong's qualifications for the post,
his presence in the Cabinet was most inadvisable, for he did not
and could not inspire the personal confidence of either Gallatin
or Monroe. Once in office, he turned Monroe into a relentless
enemy and fairly drove Gallatin out of office in disgust by
appointing his old enemy, William Duane, editor of the Aurora, to
the post of Adjutant-General. "And Armstrong!"--said Dallas who
subsequently as Secretary of War knew whereof he spoke --"he was
the devil from the beginning, is now, and ever will be!"

The man of clearest vision in these unhappy months of 1812 was
undoubtedly Albert Gallatin. The defects of Madison as a
War-President he had long foreseen; the need of reorganizing the
Executive Departments he had pointed out as soon as war became
inevitable; and the problem of financing the war he had attacked
farsightedly, fearlessly, and without regard to political
consistency. No one watched the approach of hostilities with a
bitterer sense of blasted hopes. For ten years he had labored to
limit expenditures, sacrificing even the military and naval
establishments, that the people might be spared the burden of
needless taxes;--and within this decade he had also scaled down
the national debt one-half, so that posterity might not be
saddled with burdens not of its own choosing. And now war
threatened to undo his work. The young republic was after all not
to lead its own life, realize a unique destiny, but to tread the
old well-worn path of war, armaments, and high-handed government.
Well, he would save what he could, do his best to avert
"perpetual taxation, military establishments, and other
corrupting or anti-republican habits or institutions."

If Gallatin at first underrated the probable revenue for war
purposes, he speedily confessed his error and set before Congress
inexorably the necessity for new taxes-aye, even for an internal
tax, which he had once denounced as loudly as any Republican. For
more than a year after the declaration of war, Congress was deaf
to pleas for new sources of revenue; and it was not, indeed,
until the last year of the war that it voted the taxes which in
the long run could alone support the public credit. Meantime,
facing a depleted Treasury, Gallatin found himself reduced to a
mere "dealer of loans"--a position utterly abhorrent to him. Even
his efforts to place the loans which Congress authorized must
have failed but for the timely aid of three men whom Quincy would
have contemptuously termed foreigners, for all like Gallatin were
foreign-born--Astor, Girard, and Parish. Utterly weary of his
thankless job, Gallatin seized upon the opportunity afforded by
the Russian offer of mediation to leave the Cabinet and perhaps
to end the war by a diplomatic stroke. He asked and received an
appointment as one of the three American commissioners.

If Madison really believed that the people of the United States
would unitedly press onward and defend the flag when once he had
thrown it forward, he must have been strangely insensitive to the
disaffection in New England. Perhaps, like Jefferson in the days
of the embargo, he mistook the spirit of this opposition,
thinking that it was largely partisan clamor which could safely
be disregarded. What neither of these Virginians appreciated was
the peculiar fanatical and sectional character of this Federalist
opposition, and the extremes to which it would go. Yet abundant
evidence lay before their eyes. Thirty-four Federalist members of
the House, nearly all from New England, issued an address to
their constituents bitterly arraigning the Administration and
deploring the declaration of war; the House of Representatives of
Massachusetts, following this example, published another address,
denouncing the war as a wanton sacrifice of the best interests of
the people and imploring all good citizens to meet in town and
county assemblies to protest and to resolve not to volunteer
except for a defensive war; and a meeting of citizens of
Rockingham County, New Hampshire, adopted a memorial drafted by
young Daniel Webster, which hinted that the separation of the
States--"an event fraught with incalculable evils"--might
sometime occur on just such an occasion as this. Town after town,
and county after county, took up the hue and cry, keeping well
within the limits of constitutional opposition, it is true, but
weakening the arm of the Government just when it should have
struck the enemy effective blows.

Nor was the President without enemies in his own political
household. The Republicans of New York, always lukewarm in their
support of the Virginia Dynasty, were now bent upon preventing
his reelection. They found a shrewd and not overscrupulous leader
in DeWitt Clinton and an adroit campaign manager in Martin Van
Buren. Both belonged to that school of New York politicians of
which Burr had been master. Anything to beat Madison was their
cry. To this end they were willing to condemn the war-policy, to
promise a vigorous prosecution of the war, and even to negotiate
for peace. What made this division in the ranks of the
Republicans so serious was the willingness of the New England
Federalists to make common cause with Clinton. In September a
convention of Federalists endorsed his nomination for the

Under the weight of accumulating disasters, military and
political, it seemed as though Madison must go down in defeat.
Every New England State but Vermont cast its electoral votes for
Clinton; all the Middle States but Pennsylvania also supported
him; and Maryland divided its vote. Only the steadiness of the
Southern Republicans and of Pennsylvania saved Madison; a change
of twenty electoral votes would have ended the Virginia Dynasty.*
Now at least Madison must have realized the poignant truth which
the Federalists were never tired of repeating: he had entered
upon the war as President of a divided people.

* In the electoral vote Madison received 128; Clinton, 89.

Only a few months' experience was needed to convince the military
authorities at Washington that the war must be fought mainly by
volunteers. Every military consideration derived from American
history warned against this policy, it is true, but neither
Congress nor the people would entertain for an instant the
thought of conscription. Only with great reluctance and under
pressure had Congress voted to increase the regular army and to
authorize the President to raise fifty thousand volunteers. The
results of this legislation were disappointing, not to say
humiliating. The conditions of enlistment were not such as to
encourage recruiting; and even when the pay had been increased
and the term of service shortened, few able-bodied citizens would
respond. If any such desired to serve their country, they
enrolled in the State militia which the President had been
authorized to call into active service for six months.

In default of a well-disciplined regular army and an adequate
volunteer force, the Administration was forced more and more to
depend upon such quotas of militia as the States would supply.
How precarious was the hold of the national Government upon the
State forces, appeared in the first months of the war. When
called upon to supply troops to relieve the regulars in the coast
defenses, the governors of Massachusetts and Connecticut flatly
refused, holding that the commanders of the State militia, and
not the President, had the power to decide when exigencies
demanded the use of the militia in the service of the United
States. In his annual message Madison termed this "a novel and
unfortunate exposition" of the Constitution, and he pointed
out--what indeed was sufficiently obvious--that if the authority
of the United States could be thus frustrated during actual war,
"they are not one nation for the purpose most of all requiring
it." But what was the President to do? Even if he, James Madison,
author of the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, could so forget his
political creed as to conceive of coercing a sovereign state,
where was the army which would do his bidding? The President was
the victim of his own political theory.

These bitter revelations of 1812--the disaffection of New
England, the incapacity of two of his secretaries, the disasters
of his staff officers on the frontier, the slow recruiting, the
defiance of Massachusetts and Connecticut--almost crushed the
President. Never physically robust, he succumbed to an insidious
intermittent fever in June and was confined to his bed for weeks.
So serious was his condition that Mrs. Madison was in despair and
scarcely left his side for five long weeks. "Even now," she wrote
to Mrs. Gallatin, at the end of July, "I watch over him as I
would an infant, so precarious is his convalescence." The rumor
spread that he was not likely to survive, and politicians in
Washington began to speculate on the succession to the

But now and then a ray of hope shot through the gloom pervading
the White House and Capitol. The stirring victory of the
Constitution over the Guerriere in August, 1812, had almost taken
the sting out of Hull's surrender at Detroit, and other victories
at sea followed, glorious in the annals of American naval
warfare, though without decisive influence on the outcome of the
war. Of much greater significance was Perry's victory on Lake
Erie in September, 1813, which opened the way to the invasion of
Canada. This brilliant combat followed by the Battle of the
Thames cheered the President in his slow convalescence.
Encouraging, too, were the exploits of American privateers in
British waters, but none of these events seemed likely to hasten
the end of the war. Great Britain had already declined the
Russian offer of mediation.

Last day but one of the year 1813 a British schooner, the
Bramble, came into the port of Annapolis bearing an important
official letter from Lord Castlereagh to the Secretary of State.
With what eager and anxious hands Monroe broke the seal of this
letter may be readily imagined. It might contain assurances of a
desire for peace; it might indefinitely prolong the war. In truth
the letter pointed both ways. Castlereagh had declined to accept
the good offices of Russia, but he was prepared to begin direct
negotiations for peace. Meantime the war must go on--with the
chances favoring British arms, for the Bramble had also brought
the alarming news of Napoleon's defeat on the plains of Leipzig.
Now for the first time Great Britain could concentrate all her
efforts upon the campaign in North America. No wonder the
President accepted Castlereagh's offer with alacrity. To the
three commissioners sent to Russia, he added Henry Clay and
Jonathan Russell and bade them Godspeed while he nerved himself
to meet the crucial year of the war.

Had the President been fully apprized of the elaborate plans of
the British War Office, his anxieties would have been multiplied
many times. For what resources had the Government to meet
invasion on three frontiers? The Treasury was again depleted; new
loans brought in insufficient funds to meet current expenses;
recruiting was slack because the Government could not compete
with the larger bounties offered by the States; by summer the
number of effective regular troops was only twenty-seven thousand
all told. With this slender force, supplemented by State levies,
the military authorities were asked to repel invasion. The
Administration had not yet drunk the bitter dregs of the cup of

That some part of the invading British forces might be detailed
to attack the Capital was vaguely divined by the President and
his Cabinet; but no adequate measures had been taken for the
defense of the city when, on a fatal August day, the British army
marched upon it. The humiliating story of the battle of
Bladensburg has been told elsewhere. The disorganized mob which
had been hastily assembled to check the advance of the British
was utterly routed almost under the eyes of the President, who
with feelings not easily described found himself obliged to join
the troops fleeing through the city. No personal humiliation was
spared the President and his family. Dolly Madison, never once
doubting that the noise of battle which reached the White House
meant an American victory, stayed calmly indoors until the rush
of troops warned her of danger. She and her friends were then
swept along in the general rout. She was forced to leave her
personal effects behind, but her presence of mind saved one
treasure in the White House--a large portrait of General
Washington painted by Gilbert Stuart. That priceless portrait and
the plate were all that survived. The fleeing militiamen had
presence of mind enough to save a large quantity of the wine by
drinking it, and what was left, together with the dinner on the
table, was consumed by Admiral Cockburn and his staff. By
nightfall the White House, the Treasury, and the War Office were
in flames, and only a severe thunderstorm checked the

* Before passing judgment on the conduct of British officers and
men in the capital, the reader should recall the equally
indefensible outrages committed by American troops under General
Dearborn in 1813, when the Houses of Parliament and other public
buildings at York (Toronto) were pillaged and burned. See
Kingsford's "History of Canada," VIII, pp. 259-61.

Heartsick and utterly weary, the President crossed the Potomac at
about six o'clock in the evening and started westward in a
carriage toward Montpelier. He had been in the saddle since early
morning and was nearly spent. To fatigue was added humiliation,
for he was forced to travel with a crowd of embittered fugitives
and sleep in a forlorn house by the wayside. Next morning he
overtook Mrs. Madison at an inn some sixteen miles from the
Capital. Here they passed another day of humiliation, for
refugees who had followed the same line of flight reviled the
President for betraying them and the city. At midnight, alarmed
at a report that the British were approaching, the President fled
to another miserable refuge deeper in the Virginia woods. This
fear of capture was quite unfounded, however, for the British
troops had already evacuated the city and were marching in the
opposite direction.

Two days later the President returned to the capital to collect
his Cabinet and repair his shattered Government. He found public
sentiment hot against the Administration for having failed to
protect the city. He had even to fear personal violence, but he
remained "tranquil as usual . . . though much distressed by the
dreadful event which had taken place." He was still more
distressed, however, by the insistent popular clamor for a victim
for punishment. All fingers pointed at Armstrong as the man
responsible for the capture of the city. Armstrong offered to
resign at once, but the President in distress would not hear of
resignation. He would advise only "a temporary retirement" from
the city to placate the inhabitants. So Armstrong departed, but
by the time he reached Baltimore he realized the impossibility of
his situation and sent his resignation to the President. The
victim had been offered up. At his own request Monroe was now
made Secretary of War, though he continued also to discharge the
not very heavy duties of the State Department.

It was a disillusioned group of Congressmen who gathered in
September, 1814, in special session at the President's call.
Among those who gazed sadly at the charred ruins of the Capitol
were Calhoun, Cheves, and Grundy, whose voices had been loud for
war and who had pictured their armies overrunning the British
possessions. Clay was at this moment endeavoring to avert a
humiliating surrender of American claims at Ghent. To the sting
of defeated hopes was added physical discomfort. The only public
building which had escaped the general conflagration was the Post
and Patent Office. In these cramped quarters the two houses
awaited the President's message.

A visitor from another planet would have been strangely puzzled
to make the President's words tally with the havoc wrought by the
enemy on every side. A series of achievements had given new
luster to the American arms; "the pride of our naval arms had
been amply supported"; the American people had "rushed with
enthusiasm to the scenes where danger and duty call." Not a
syllable about the disaster at Washington! Not a word about the
withdrawal of the Connecticut militia from national service, and
the refusal of the Governor of Vermont to call out the militia
just at the moment when Sir George Prevost began his invasion of
New York; not a word about the general suspension of specie
payment by all banks outside of New England; not a word about the
failure of the last loan and the imminent bankruptcy of the
Government. Only a single sentence betrayed the anxiety which was
gnawing Madison's heart: "It is not to be disguised that the
situation of our country calls for its greatest efforts." What
the situation demanded, he left his secretaries to say.

The new Secretary of War seemed to be the one member of the
Administration who was prepared to grapple with reality and who
had the courage of his convictions. While Jefferson was warning
him that it was nonsense to talk about a regular army, Monroe
told Congress flatly that no reliance could be pled in the
militia and that a permanent force of one hundred thousand men
must be raised--raised by conscription if necessary. Throwing
Virginian and Jeffersonian principles to the winds, he affirmed
the constitutional right of Congress to draft citizens. The
educational value of war must have been very great to bring
Monroe to this conclusion, but Congress had not traveled so far.
One by one Monroe's alternative plans were laid aside; and the
country, like a rudderless ship, drifted on.

An insuperable obstacle, indeed, prevented the establishment of
any efficient national army at this time. Every plan encountered
ultimately the inexorable fact that the Treasury was practically
empty and the credit of the Government gone. Secretary Campbell's
report was a confession of failure to sustain public credit. Some
seventy-four millions would be needed to carry the existing civil
and military establishments for another year, and of this sum,
vast indeed in those days, only twenty-four millions were in
sight. Where the remaining fifty millions were to be found, the
Secretary could not say. With this admission of incompetence
Campbell resigned from office. On the 9th of November his
successor, A. J. Dallas, notified holders of government
securities at Boston that the Treasury could not meet its

It was at this crisis, when bankruptcy stared the Government in
the face, that the Legislature of Massachusetts appointed
delegates to confer with delegates from other New England
legislatures on their common grievances and dangers and to devise
means of security and defense. The Legislatures of Connecticut
and Rhode Island responded promptly by appointing delegates to
meet at Hartford on the 15th of December; and the proposed
convention seemed to receive popular indorsement in the
congressional elections, for with but two exceptions all the
Congressmen chosen were Federalists. Hot-heads were discussing
without any attempt at concealment the possibility of
reconstructing the Federal Union. A new union of the good old
Thirteen States on terms set by New England was believed to be
well within the bounds of possibility. News-sheets referred
enthusiastically to the erection of a new Federal edifice which
should exclude the Western States. Little wonder that the
harassed President in distant Washington was obsessed with the
idea that New England was on the verge of secession.

William Wirt who visited Washington at this time has left a vivid
picture of ruin and desolation:

"I went to look at the ruins of the President's house. The rooms
which you saw so richly furnished, exhibited nothing but unroofed
naked walls, cracked, defaced, and blackened with fire. I cannot
tell you what I felt as I walked amongst them . . . . I called on
the President. He looks miserably shattered and wobegone. In
short, he looked heartbroken. His mind is full of the New England
sedition. He introduced the subject, and continued to press
it--painful as it obviously was to him. I denied the
probability, even the possibility that the yeomanry of the North
could be induced to place themselves under the power and
protection of England, and diverted the conversation to another
topic; but he took the first opportunity to return to it, and
convinced me that his heart and mind were painfully full of the

What added to the President's misgivings was the secrecy in which
the members of the Hartford Convention shrouded their
deliberations. An atmosphere of conspiracy seemed to envelop all
their proceedings. That the "deliverance of New England" was at
hand was loudly proclaimed by the Federalist press. A reputable
Boston news-sheet advised the President to procure a faster horse
than he had mounted at Bladensburg, if he would escape the swift
vengeance of New England.

The report of the Hartford Convention seemed hardly commensurate
with the fears of the President or with the windy boasts of the
Federalist press. It arraigned the Administration in scathing
language, to be sure, but it did not advise secession. "The
multiplied abuses of bad administrations" did not yet justify a
severance of the Union, especially in a time of war. The manifest
defects of the Constitution were not incurable; yet the
infractions of the Constitution by the National Government had
been so deliberate, dangerous, and palpable as to put the
liberties of the people in jeopardy and to constrain the several
States to interpose their authority to protect their citizens.
The legislatures of the several States were advised to adopt
measures to protect their citizens against such unconstitutional
acts of Congress as conscription and to concert some arrangement
with the Government at Washington, whereby they jointly or
separately might undertake their own defense, and retain a
reasonable share of the proceeds of Federal taxation for that
purpose. To remedy the defects of the Constitution seven
amendments were proposed, all of which had their origin in
sectional hostility to the ascendancy of Virginia and to the
growing power of the New West. The last of these proposals was a
shot at Madison and Virginia: "nor shall the President be elected
from the same State two terms in succession." And finally, should
these applications of the States for permission to arm in their
own defense be ignored, then and in the event that peace should
not be concluded, another convention should be summoned "with
such powers and instructions as the exigency of a crisis so
momentous may require."

Massachusetts, under Federalist control, acted promptly upon
these suggestions. Three commissioners were dispatched to
Washington to effect the desired arrangements for the defense of
the State. The progress of these "three ambassadors," as they
styled themselves, was followed with curiosity if not with
apprehension. In Federalist circles there was a general belief
that an explosion was at hand. A disaster at New Orleans, which
was now threatened by a British fleet and army, would force
Madison to resign or to conclude peace. But on the road to
Washington, the ambassadors learned to their surprise that
General Andrew Jackson had decisively repulsed the British before
New Orleans, on the 8th of January, and on reaching the Capital
they were met by the news that a treaty of peace had been signed
at Ghent. Their cause was not only discredited but made
ridiculous. They and their mission were forgotten as the tension
of war times relaxed. The Virginia Dynasty was not to end with
James Madison.


On a May afternoon in the year 1813, a little three-hundred-ton
ship, the Neptune, put out from New Castle down Delaware Bay.
Before she could clear the Capes she fell in with a British
frigate, one of the blockading squadron which was already drawing
its fatal cordon around the seaboard States. The captain of the
Neptune boarded the frigate and presented his passport, from
which it appeared that he carried two distinguished passengers,
Albert Gallatin and James A. Bayard, Envoys Extraordinary to
Russia. The passport duly viseed, the Neptune resumed her course
out into the open sea, by grace of the British navy.

One of these envoys watched the coast disappear in the haze of
evening with mingled feelings of regret and relief. For twelve
weary years Gallatin had labored disinterestedly for the land of
his adoption and now he was recrossing the ocean to the home of
his ancestors with the taunts of his enemies ringing in his ears.
Would the Federalists never forget that he was a "foreigner"? He
reflected with a sad, ironic smile that as a "foreigner with a
French accent" he would have distinct advantages in the world of
European diplomacy upon which he was entering. He counted many
distinguished personages among his friends, from Madame de Stael
to Alexander Baring of the famous London banking house. Unlike
many native Americans he did not need to learn the ways of
European courts, because he was to the manner born: he had no
provincial habits which he must slough off or conceal. Also he
knew himself and the happy qualities with which Nature had
endowed him--patience, philosophic composure, unfailing good
humor. All these qualities were to be laid under heavy
requisition in the work ahead of him.

James Bayard, Gallatin's fellow passenger, had never been taunted
as a foreigner, because several generations had intervened since
the first of his family had come to New Amsterdam with Peter
Stuyvesant. Nothing but his name could ever suggest that he was
not of that stock commonly referred to as native American. Bayard
had graduated at Princeton, studied law in Philadelphia, and had
just opened a law office in Wilmington when he was elected to
represent Delaware in Congress. As the sole representative of his
State in the House of Representatives and as a Federalist, he had
exerted a powerful influence in the disputed election of 1800,
and he was credited with having finally made possible the
election of Jefferson over Burr. Subsequently he was sent to the
Senate, where he was serving when he was asked by President
Madison to accompany Gallatin on this mission to the court of the
Czar. Granting that a Federalist must be selected, Gallatin could
not have found a colleague more to his liking, for Bayard was a
good companion and perhaps the least partisan of the Federalist

It was midsummer when the Neptune dropped anchor in the harbor of
Kronstadt. There Gallatin and Bayard were joined by John Quincy
Adams, Minister to Russia, who had been appointed the third
member of the commission. Here was a pureblooded American by all
the accepted canons. John Quincy Adams was the son of his father
and gloried secretly in his lineage: a Puritan of the Puritans in
his outlook upon human life and destiny. Something of the rigid
quality of rock-bound New England entered into his composition.
He was a foe to all compromise--even with himself; to him Duty
was the stern daughter of the voice of God, who admonished him
daily and hourly of his obligations. No character in American
public life has unbosomed himself so completely as this son of
Massachusetts in the pages of his diary. There are no half tones
in the pictures which he has drawn of himself, no winsome graces
of mind or heart, only the rigid outlines of a soul buffeted by
Destiny. Gallatin--the urbane, cosmopolitan Gallatin--must have
derived much quiet amusement from his association with this
robust New Englander who took himself so seriously. Two natures
could not have been more unlike, yet the superior flexibility of
Gallatin's temperament made their association not only possible
but exceedingly profitable. We may not call their intimacy a
friendship--Adams had few, if any friendships; but it contained
the essential foundation for friendship--complete mutual

Adams brought disheartening news to the travel-weary passengers
on the Neptune: England had declined the offer of mediation. Yes;
he had the information from the lips of Count Roumanzoff, the
Chancellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Apparently, said
Adams with pursed lips, England regarded the differences with
America as a sort of family quarrel in which it would not allow
an outside neutral nation to interfere. Roumanzoff, however, had
renewed the offer of mediation. What the motives of the Count
were, he would not presume to say: Russian diplomacy was

The American commissioners were in a most embarrassing position.
Courtesy required that they should make no move until they knew
what response the second offer of mediation would evoke. The Czar
was their only friend in all Europe, so far as they knew, and
they were none too sure of him. They were condemned to anxious
inactivity, while in middle Europe the fortunes of the Czar rose
and fell. In August the combined armies of Russia, Austria, and
Prussia were beaten by the fresh levies of Napoleon; in
September, the fighting favored the allies; in October, Napoleon
was brought to bay on the plains of Leipzig. Yet the imminent
fall of the Napoleonic Empire only deepened the anxiety of the
forlorn American envoys, for it was likely to multiply the
difficulties of securing reasonable terms from his conqueror.

At the same time with news of the Battle of Leipzig came letters
from home which informed Gallatin that his nomination as envoy
had been rejected by the Senate. This was the last straw. To
remain inactive as an envoy was bad enough; to stay on
unaccredited seemed impossible. He determined to take advantage
of a hint dropped by his friend Baring that the British Ministry,
while declining mediation, was not unwilling to treat directly
with the American commissioners. He would go to London in an
unofficial capacity and smooth the way to negotiations. But Adams
and Bayard demurred and persuaded him to defer his departure. A
month later came assurances that Lord Castlereagh had offered to
negotiate with the Americans either at London or at Gothenburg.

Late in January, 1814, Gallatin and Bayard set off for Amsterdam:
the one to bide his chance to visit London, the other to await
further instructions. There they learned that in response to
Castlereagh's overtures, the President had appointed a new
commission, on which Gallatin's name did not appear.
Notwithstanding this disappointment, Gallatin secured the desired
permission to visit London through the friendly offices of
Alexander Baring. Hardly had the Americans established themselves
in London when word came that the two new commissioners, Henry
Clay and Jonathan Russell, had landed at Gothenburg bearing a
commission for Gallatin. It seems that Gallatin was believed to
be on his way home and had therefore been left off the
commission; on learning of his whereabouts, the President had
immediately added his name. So it happened that Gallatin stood
last on the list when every consideration dictated his choice as
head of the commission. The incident illustrates the difficulties
that beset communication one hundred years ago. Diplomacy was a
game of chance in which wind and waves often turned the score.
Here were five American envoys duly accredited, one keeping his
stern vigil in Russia, two on the coast of Sweden, and two in
hostile London. Where would they meet? With whom were they to

After vexatious delays Ghent was fixed upon as the place where
peace negotiations should begin, and there the Americans
rendezvoused during the first week in July. Further delay
followed, for in spite of the assurances of Lord Castlereagh the
British representatives did not make their appearance for a
month. Meantime the American commissioners made themselves at
home among the hospitable Flemish townspeople, with whom they
became prime favorites. In the concert halls they were always
greeted with enthusiasm. The musicians soon discovered that
British tunes were not in favor and endeavored to learn some
American airs. Had the Americans no national airs of their own,
they asked. "Oh, yes!" they were assured. "There was Hail
Columbia." Would not one of the gentlemen be good enough to play
or sing it? An embarrassing request, for musical talent was not
conspicuous in the delegation; but Peter, Gallatin's black
servant, rose to the occasion. He whistled the air; and then one
of the attaches scraped out the melody on a fiddle, so that the
quick-witted orchestra speedily composed l'air national des
Americains a grand orchestre, and thereafter always played it as
a counterbalance to God save the King.

The diversions of Ghent, however, were not numerous, and time
hung heavy on the hands of the Americans while they waited for
the British commissioners. "We dine together at four," Adams
records, "and sit usually at table until six. We then disperse to
our several amusements and avocations." Clay preferred cards or
billiards and the mild excitement of rather high stakes. Gallatin
and his young son James preferred the theater; and all but Adams
became intimately acquainted with the members of a French troupe
of players whom Adams describes as the worst he ever saw. As for
Adams himself, his diversion was a solitary walk of two or three
hours, and then to bed.

On the 6th of August the British commissioners arrived in
Ghent--Admiral Lord Gambier, Henry Goulburn, Esq., and Dr.
William Adams. They were not an impressive trio. Gambier was an
elderly man whom a writer in the Morning Chronicle described as a
man "who slumbered for some time as a Junior Lord of Admiralty;
who sung psalms, said prayers, and assisted in the burning of
Copenhagen, for which he was made a lord." Goulburn was a young
man who had served as an undersecretary of state. Adams was a
doctor of laws who was expected perhaps to assist negotiations by
his legal lore. Gallatin described them not unfairly as "men who
have not made any mark, puppets of Lords Castlereagh and
Liverpool." Perhaps, in justification of this choice of
representatives, it should be said that the best diplomatic
talent had been drafted into service at Vienna and that the
British Ministry expected in this smaller conference to keep the
threads of diplomacy in its own hands.

The first meeting of the negotiators was amicable enough. The
Americans found their opponents courteous and well-bred; and both
sides evinced a desire to avoid in word and manner, as Bayard put
it, "everything of an inflammable nature." Throughout this
memorable meeting at Ghent, indeed, even when difficult
situations arose and nerves became taut, personal relations
continued friendly. "We still keep personally upon eating and
drinking terms with them," Adams wrote at a tense moment.
Speaking for his superiors and his colleagues, Admiral Gambier
assured the Americans of their earnest desire to end hostilities
on terms honorable to both parties. Adams replied that he and his
associates reciprocated this sentiment. And then, without further
formalities, Goulburn stated in blunt and business-like fashion
the matters on which they had been instructed: impressment,
fisheries, boundaries, the pacification of the Indians, and the
demarkation of an Indian territory. The last was to be regarded
as a sine qua non for the conclusion of any treaty. Would the
Americans be good enough to state the purport of their

The American commissioners seem to have been startled out of
their composure by this sine qua non. They had no instructions on
this latter point nor on the fisheries; they could only ask for a
more specific statement. What had His Majesty's Government in
mind when it referred to an Indian territory? With evident
reluctance the British commissioners admitted that the proposed
Indian territory was to serve as a buffer state between the
United States and Canada. Pressed for more details, they
intimated that this area thus neutralized might include the
entire Northwest.

A second conference only served to show the want of any common
basis for negotiation. The Americans had come to Ghent to settle
two outstanding problems--blockades and indemnities for attacks
on neutral commerce--and to insist on the abandonment of
impressments as a sine qua non. Both commissions then agreed to
appeal to their respective Governments for further instructions.
Within a week, Lord Castlereagh sent precise instructions which
confirmed the worst fears of the Americans. The Indian boundary
line was to follow the line of the Treaty of Greenville and
beyond it neither nation was to acquire land. The United States
was asked, in short, to set apart for the Indians in perpetuity
an area which comprised the present States of Michigan,
Wisconsin, and Illinois, four-fifths of Indiana, and a third of
Ohio. But, remonstrated Gallatin, this area included States and
Territories settled by more than a hundred thousand American
citizens. What was to be done with them? "They must look after
themselves," was the blunt answer.

In comparison with this astounding proposal, Lord Castlereagh's
further suggestion of a "rectification" of the frontier by the
cession of Fort Niagara and Sackett's Harbor and by the exclusion
of the Americans from the Lakes, seemed of little importance. The
purpose of His Majesty's Government, the commissioners hastened
to add, was not aggrandizement but the protection of the North
American provinces. In view of the avowed aim of the United
States to conquer Canada, the control of the Lakes must rest with
Great Britain. Indeed, taking the weakness of Canada into
account, His Majesty's Government might have reasonably demanded
the cession of the lands adjacent to the Lakes; and should these
moderate terms not be accepted, His Majesty's Government would
feel itself at liberty to enlarge its demands, if the war
continued to favor British arms. The American commissioners asked
if these proposals relating to the control of the Lakes were also
a sine qua non. "We have given you one sine qua non already," was
the reply, "and we should suppose one sine qua non at a time was

The Americans returned to their hotel of one mind: they could
view the proposals just made no other light than as a deliberate
attempt to dismember the United States. They could differ only as
to the form in which they should couch their positive rejection.
As titular head of the commission, Adams set promptly to work
upon a draft of an answer which he soon set before his
colleagues. At once all appearance of unanimity vanished. To the
enemy they could present a united front; in the privacy of their
apartment, they were five headstrong men. They promptly fell upon
Adams's draft tooth and nail. Adams described the scene with
pardonable resentment

"Mr. Gallatin is for striking out any expression that may be
offensive to the feelings of the adverse Party. Mr. Clay is
displeased with figurative language which he thinks improper for
a state paper. Mr. Russell, agreeing in the objections of the two
other gentlemen, will be further for amending the construction of
every sentence; and Mr. Bayard, even when agreeing to say
precisely the same thing, chooses to say it only in his own

Sharp encounters took place between Adams and Clay. "You dare
not," shouted Clay in a passion on one occasion, "you CANNOT, you
SHALL not insinuate that there has been a cabal of three members
against you!" "Gentlemen! Gentlemen!" Gallatin would expostulate
with a twinkle in his eye, "We must remain united or we will
fail." It was his good temper and tact that saved this and many
similar situations. When Bayard had essayed a draft of his own
and had failed to win support, it was Gallatin who took up
Adams's draft and put it into acceptable form. On the third day,
after hours of "sifting, erasing, patching, and amending, until
we were all wearied, though none of us satisfied," Gallatin's
revision was accepted. From this moment, Gallatin's virtual
leadership was unquestioned.

The American note of the 24th of August was a vigorous but
even-tempered protest against the British demands as contrary to
precedent and dishonorable to the United States. The American
States would never consent "to abandon territory and a portion of
their citizens, to admit a foreign interference in their domestic
concerns, and to cease to exercise their natural rights on their
own shores and in their own waters." "A treaty concluded on such
terms would be but an armistice." But after the note had been
prepared and dispatched, profound discouragement reigned in the
American hotel. Even Gallatin, usually hopeful and
philosophically serene, grew despondent. "Our negotiations may be
considered at an end," he wrote to Monroe; "Great Britain wants
war in order to cripple us. She wants aggrandizement at our
expense . . . . I do not expect to be longer than three weeks in
Europe." The commissioners notified their landlord that they
would give up their quarters on the 1st of October; yet they
lingered on week after week, waiting for the word which would
close negotiations and send them home.

Meantime the British Ministry was quite as little pleased at the
prospect. It would not do to let the impression go abroad that
Great Britain was prepared to continue the war for territorial
gains. If a rupture of the negotiations must come, Lord
Castlereagh preferred to let the Americans shoulder the
responsibility. He therefore instructed Gambier not to insist on
the independent Indian territory and the control of the Lakes.
These points were no longer to be "ultimata" but only matters for
discussion. The British commissioners were to insist, however, on
articles providing for the pacification of the Indians.

Should the Americans yield this sine qua non, now that the first
had been withdrawn? Adams thought not, decidedly not; he would
rather break off negotiations than admit the right of Great
Britain to interfere with the Indians dwelling within the limits
of the United States. Gallatin remarked that after all it was a
very small point to insist on, when a slight concession would win
much more important points. "Then, said I [Adams], with a
movement of impatience and an angry tone, it is a good point to
admit the British as the sovereigns and protectors of our
Indians? Gallatin's face brightened, and he said in a tone of
perfect good-humor, 'That's a non-sequitur.' This turned the edge
of the argument into jocularity. I laughed, and insisted that it
was a sequitur, and the conversation easily changed to another
point." Gallatin had his way with the rest of the commission and
drafted the note of the 26th of September, which, while refusing
to recognize the Indians as sovereign nations in the treaty,
proposed a stipulation that would leave them in possession of
their former lands and rights. This solution of a perplexing
problem was finally accepted after another exchange of notes and
another earnest discussion at the American hotel, where Gallatin
again poured oil on the troubled waters. Concession begat
concession. New instructions from President Madison now permitted
the commissioners to drop the demand for the abolition of
impressments and blockades; and, with these difficult matters
swept away, the path to peace was much easier to travel.

Such was the outlook for peace when news reached Ghent of the
humiliating rout at Bladensburg. The British newspapers were full
of jubilant comments; the five crestfallen American envoys took
what cold comfort they could out of the very general condemnation
of the burning of the Capitol. Then, on the heels of this
intelligence, came rumors that the British invasion of New York
had failed and that Prevost's army was in full retreat to Canada.
The Americans could hardly grasp the full significance of this
British reversal: it was too good to be true. But true it was,
and their spirits rebounded.

It was at this juncture that the British commissioners presented
a note, on the 21st of October, which for the first time went to
the heart of the negotiations. War had been waged; territory had
been overrun; conquests had been made--not the anticipated
conquests on either side, to be sure, but conquests nevertheless.
These were the plain facts. Now the practical question was this:
Was the treaty to be drafted on the basis of the existing state
of possession or on the basis of the status before the war? The
British note stated their case in plain unvarnished fashion; it
insisted on the status uti possidetis--the possession of
territory won by arms.

In the minds of the Americans, buoyed up by the victory at
Plattsburg, there was not the shadow of doubt as to what their
answer should be; they declined for an instant to consider any
other basis for peace than the restoration of gains on both
sides. Their note was prompt, emphatic, even blunt, and it nearly
shattered the nerves of the gentlemen in Downing Street. Had
these stiffnecked Yankees no sense? Could they not perceive the
studied moderation of the terms proposed--an island or two and a
small strip of Maine--when half of Maine and the south bank of
the St. Lawrence from Plattsburg to Sackett's Harbor might have
been demanded as the price of peace?

The prospect of another year of war simply to secure a frontier
which nine out of ten Englishmen could not have identified was
most disquieting, especially in view of the prodigious cost of
military operations in North America. The Ministry was both hot
and cold. At one moment it favored continued war; at another it
shrank from the consequences; and in the end it confessed its own
want of decision by appealing to the Duke of Wellington and
trying to shift the responsibility to his broad shoulders. Would
the Duke take command of the forces in Canada? He should be
invested with full diplomatic and military powers to bring the
war to an honorable conclusion.

The reply of the Iron Duke gave the Ministry another shock. He
would go to America, but he did not promise himself much success
there, and he was reluctant to leave Europe at this critical
time. To speak frankly, he had no high opinion of the diplomatic
game which the Ministry was playing at Ghent. "I confess," said
he, "that I think you have no right from the state of the war to
demand any concession from America. . . You have not been able to
carry it into the enemy's territory, notwithstanding your
military success, and now undoubted military superiority, and
have not even cleared your own territory on the point of attack.
You cannot on any principle of equality in negotiation claim a
cession of territory excepting in exchange for other advantages
which you have in your power . . . . Then if this reasoning be
true, why stipulate for the uti possidetis? You can get no
territory; indeed, the state of your military operations, however
creditable, does not entitle you to demand any."

As Lord Liverpool perused this dispatch, the will to conquer
oozed away. "I think we have determined," he wrote a few days
later to Castlereagh, "if all other points can be satisfactorily
settled, not to continue the war for the purpose of obtaining or
securing any acquisition of territory." He set forth his reasons
for this decision succinctly: the unsatisfactory state of the
negotiations at Vienna, the alarming condition of France, the
deplorable financial outlook in England. But Lord Liverpool
omitted to mention a still more potent factor in his
calculations--the growing impatience of the country. The American
war had ceased to be popular; it had become the graveyard of
military reputations; it promised no glory to either sailor or
soldier. Now that the correspondence of the negotiators at Ghent
was made public, the reading public might very easily draw the
conclusion that the Ministry was prolonging the war by setting up
pretensions which it could not sustain. No Ministry could afford
to continue a war out of mere stubbornness.

Meantime, wholly in the dark as to the forces which were working
in their favor, the American commissioners set to work upon a
draft of a treaty which should be their answer to the British
offer of peace on the basis of uti possidetis. Almost at once
dissensions occurred. Protracted negotiations and enforced
idleness had set their nerves on edge, and old personal and
sectional differences appeared. The two matters which caused most
trouble were the fisheries and the navigation of the Mississippi.
Adams could not forget how stubbornly his father had fought for
that article in the treaty of 1783 which had conceded to New
England fishermen, as a natural right, freedom to fish in British
waters. To a certain extent this concession had been offset by
yielding to the British the right of navigation of the
Mississippi, but the latter right seemed unimportant in the days
when the Alleghanies marked the limit of western settlement. In
the quarter of a century which had elapsed, however, the West had
come into its own. It was now a powerful section with an
intensely alert consciousness of its rights and wrongs; and among
its rights it counted the exclusive control of the Father of
Waters. Feeling himself as much the champion of Western interests
as Adams did of New England fisheries, Clay refused indignantly
to consent to a renewal of the treaty provisions of 1783. But
when the matter came to a vote, he found himself with Russell in
a minority. Veryreluctantly he then agreed to Gallatin's
proposal, to insert in a note, rather than in the draft itself, a
paragraph to the effect that the commissioners were not
instructed to discuss the rights hitherto enjoyed in the
fisheries, since no further stipulation was deemed necessary to
entitle them to rights which were recognized by the treaty of

When the British reply to the American project was read, Adams
noted with quiet satisfaction that the reservation as to the
fisheries was passed over in silence--silence, he thought, gave
consent--but Clay flew into a towering passion when he learned
that the old right of navigating the Mississippi was reasserted.
Adams was prepared to accept the British proposals; Clay refused
point blank; and Gallatin sided this time with Clay. Could a
compromise be effected between these stubborn representatives of
East and West? Gallatin tried once more. Why not accept the
British right of navigation--surely an unimportant point after
all--and ask for an express affirmation of fishery rights? Clay
replied hotly that if they were going to sacrifice the West to
Massachusetts, he would not sign the treaty. With infinite
patience Gallatin continued to play the role of peacemaker and
finally brought both these self-willed men to agree to offer a
renewal of both rights.

Instead of accepting this eminently fair adjustment, the British
representatives proposed that the two disputed rights be left to
future negotiation. The suggestion caused another explosion in
the ranks of the Americans. Adams would not admit even by
implication that the rights for which his sire fought could be
forfeited by war and become the subject of negotiation. But all
save Adams were ready to yield. Again Gallatin came to the
rescue. He penned a note rejecting the British offer, because it
seemed to imply the abandonment of a right; but in turn he
offered to omit in the treaty all reference to the fisheries and
the Mississippi or to include a general reference to further
negotiation of all matters still in dispute, in such a way as not
to relinquish any rights. To this solution of the difficulty all
agreed, though Adams was still torn by doubts and Clay believed
that the treaty was bound to be "damned bad" anyway.

An anxious week of waiting followed. On the 22d of December came
the British reply--a grudging acceptance of Gallatin's first
proposal to omit all reference to the fisheries and the
Mississippi. Two days later the treaty was signed in the
refectory of the Carthusian monastery where the British
commissioners were quartered. Let the tired seventeen-year-old
boy who had been his father's scribe through these long weary
months describe the events of Christmas Day, 1814. "The British
delegates very civilly asked us to dinner," wrote James Gallatin
in his diary. "The roast beef and plum pudding was from England,
and everybody drank everybody else's health. The band played
first God Save the King, to the toast of the King, and Yankee
Doodle, to the toast of the President. Congratulations on all
sides and a general atmosphere of serenity; it was a scene to be
remembered. God grant there may be always peace between the two
nations. I never saw father so cheerful; he was in high spirits,
and his witty conversation was much appreciated."*

* "A Great Peace Maker: The Dairy of James Gallatin" (1914). p.

Peace! That was the outstanding achievement of the American
commissioners at Ghent. Measured by the purposes of the war-hawks
of 1812, measured by the more temperate purposes of President
Madison, the Treaty of Ghent was a confession of national
weakness and humiliating failure. Clay, whose voice had been
loudest for war and whose kindling fancy had pictured American
armies dictating terms of surrender at Quebec, set his signature
to a document which redressed not a single grievance and added
not a foot of territory to the United States. Adams, who had
denounced Great Britain for the crime of "man-stealing," accepted
a treaty of peace which contained not a syllable about
impressment. President Madison, who had reluctantly accepted war
as the last means of escape from the blockade of American ports
and the ruin of neutral trade, recommended the ratification of a
convention which did not so much as mention maritime questions
and the rights of neutrals.

Peace--and nothing more? Much more, indeed, than appears in
rubrics on parchment. The Treaty of Ghent must be interpreted in
the light of more than a hundred years of peace between the two
great branches of the English-speaking race. More conscious of
their differences than anything else, no doubt, these eight
peacemakers at Ghent nevertheless spoke a common tongue and
shared a common English trait: they laid firm hold on realities.
Like practical men they faced the year 1815 and not 1812. In a
pacified Europe rid of the Corsican, questions of maritime
practice seemed dead issues. Let the dead past bury its dead! To
remove possible causes of future controversy seemed wiser
statesmanship than to rake over the embers of quarrels which
might never be rekindled. So it was that in prosaic articles they
provided for three commissions to arbitrate boundary
controversies at critical points in the far-flung frontier
between Canada and the United States, and thus laid the
foundations of an international accord which has survived a
hundred years.


It fell to the last, and perhaps least talented, President of the
Virginia Dynasty to consummate the work of Jefferson and Madison
by a final settlement with Spain which left the United States in
possession of the Floridas. In the diplomatic service James
Monroe had exhibited none of those qualities which warranted the
expectation that he would succeed where his predecessors had
failed. On his missions to England and Spain, indeed, he had been
singularly inept, but he had learned much in the rude school of
experience, and he now brought to his new duties discretion,
sobriety, and poise. He was what the common people held him to be
a faithful public servant, deeply and sincerely republican,
earnestly desirous to serve the country which he loved.

The circumstances of Monroe's election pledged him to a truly
national policy. He had received the electoral votes of all but
three States.* He was now President of an undivided country, not
merely a Virginian fortuitously elevated to the chief magistracy
and regarded as alien in sympathy to the North and East. Any
doubts on this point were dispelled by the popular demonstrations
which greeted him on his tour through Federalist strongholds in
the Northeast. "I have seen enough," he wrote in grateful
recollection, "to satisfy me that the great mass of our
fellow-citizens in the Eastern States are as firmly attached to
the union and republican government as I have always believed or
could desire them to be." The news-sheets which followed his
progress from day to day coined the phrase, "era of good
feeling," which has passed current ever since as a
characterization of his administration.

* Monroe received 183 electoral votes and Rufus King, 34--the
votes of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Delaware.

It was in this admirable temper and with this broad national
outlook that Monroe chose his advisers and heads of departments.
He was well aware of the common belief that his predecessors had
appointed Virginians to the Secretaryship of State in order to
prepare the way for their succession to the Presidency. He was
determined, therefore, to avert the suspicion of sectional bias
by selecting some one from the Eastern States, rather than from
the South or from the West, hitherto so closely allied to the
South. His choice fell upon John Quincy Adams, "who by his age,
long experience in our foreign affairs, and adoption into the
Republican party," he assured Jefferson, "seems to have superior
pretentions." It was an excellent appointment from every point of
view but one. Monroe had overlooked--and the circumstance did him
infinite credit--the exigencies of politics and passed over an
individual whose vaulting ambition had already made him an
aspirant to the Presidency. Henry Clay was grievously
disappointed and henceforward sulked in his tent, refusing the
Secretaryship of War which the President tendered. Eventually the
brilliant young John C. Calhoun took this post. This South
Carolinian was in the prime of life, full of fire and dash,
ardently patriotic, and nationally-minded to an unusual degree.
Of William H. Crawford of Georgia, who retained the Secretaryship
of the Treasury, little need be said except that he also was a
presidential aspirant who saw things always from the angle of
political expediency. Benjamin W. Crowninshield as Secretary of
the Navy and William Wirt as Attorney-General completed the
circle of the President's intimate advisers.

The new Secretary of State had not been in office many weeks
before he received a morning call from Don Luis de Onis, the
Spanish Minister, who was laboring under ill-disguised
excitement. It appeared that his house in Washington had been
repeatedly "insulted" of late-windows broken, lamps in front of
the house smashed, and one night a dead fowl tied to his
bell-rope. This last piece of vandalism had been too much for his
equanimity. He held it a gross insult to his sovereign and the
Spanish monarchy, importing that they were of no more consequence
than a dead old hen! Adams, though considerably amused,
endeavored to smooth the ruffled pride of the chevalier by
suggesting that these were probably only the tricks of some
mischievous boys; but De Onis was not easily appeased. Indeed, as
Adams was himself soon to learn, the American public did regard
the Spanish monarchy as a dead old hen, and took no pains to
disguise its contempt. Adams had yet to learn the long train of
circumstances which made Spanish relations the most delicate and
difficult of all the diplomatic problems in his office.

With his wonted industry, Adams soon made himself master of the
facts relating to Spanish diplomacy. For the moment interest
centered on East Florida. Carefully unraveling the tangled skein
of events, Adams followed the thread which led back to President
Madison's secret message to Congress of January 3,1811, which was
indeed one of the landmarks in American policy. Madison had
recommended a declaration "that the United States could not see
without serious inquietude any part of a neighboring territory
[like East Florida] in which they have in different respects so
deep and so just a concern pass from the hands of Spain into
those of any other foreign power." To prevent the possible
subversion of Spanish authority in East Florida and the
occupation of the province by a foreign power--Great Britain was,
of course, the power the President had in mind--he had urged
Congress to authorize him to take temporary possession "in
pursuance of arrangements which may be desired by the Spanish
authorities." Congress had responded with alacrity and empowered
the President to occupy East Florida in case the local
authorities should consent or a foreign power should attempt to
occupy it.

With equal dispatch the President had sent two agents, General
George Matthews and Colonel John McKee, on one of the strangest
missions in the border history of the United States.

East Florida--Adams found, pursuing his inquiries into the
archives of the department--included the two important ports of
entry, Pensacola on the Gulf and Fernandina on Amelia Island, at
the mouth of the St. Mary's River. The island had long been a
notorious resort for smugglers. Hither had come British and
American vessels with cargoes of merchandise and slaves, which
found their way in mysterious fashion to consignees within the
States. A Spanish garrison of ten men was the sole custodian of
law and order on the island. Up and down the river was scattered
a lawless population of freebooters, who were equally ready to
raid a border plantation or to raise the Jolly Roger on some
piratical cruise. To this No Man's Land--fertile recruiting
ground for all manner of filibustering expeditions--General
Matthews and Colonel McKee had betaken themselves in the spring
of 1811, bearing some explicit instructions from President
Madison but also some very pronounced convictions as to what they
were expected to accomplish. Matthews, at least, understood that
the President wished a revolution after the West Florida model.
He assured the Administration-Adams read the precious missive in
the files of his office-that he could do the trick. Only let the
Government consign two hundred stand of arms and fifty horsemen's
swords to the commander at St. Mary's, and he would guarantee to
put the revolution through without committing the United States
in any way.

The melodrama had been staged for the following spring (1812).
Some two hundred "patriots" recruited from the border people
gathered near St. Mary's with souls yearning for freedom; and
while American gunboats took a menacing position, this force of
insurgents had landed on Amelia Island and summoned the Spanish
commandant to surrender. Not willing to spoil the scene by vulgar
resistance, the commandant capitulated and marched out his
garrison, ten strong, with all the honors of war. The Spanish
flag had been hauled down to give place to the flag of the
insurgents, bearing the inspiring motto Salus populi--suprema
lex. Then General Matthews with a squad of regular United States
troops had crossed the river and taken possession. Only the
benediction of the Government at Washington was lacking to make
the success of his mission complete; but to the general's
consternation no approving message came, only a peremptory
dispatch disavowing his acts and revoking his commission.

As Adams reviewed these events, he could see no other alternative
for the Government to have pursued at this moment when war with
Great Britain was impending. It would have been the height of
folly to break openly with Spain. The Administration had indeed
instructed its new agent, Governor Mitchell of Georgia, to
restore the island to the Spanish commandant and to withdraw his
troops, if he could do so without sacrificing the insurgents to
the vengeance of the Spaniards. But the forces set in motion by
Matthews were not so easily controlled from Washington. Once
having resolved to liberate East Florida, the patriots were not
disposed to retire at the nod of the Secretary of State. The
Spanish commandant was equally obdurate. He would make no promise
to spare the insurgents. The Legislature of Georgia, too, had a
mind of its own. It resolved that the occupation of East Florida
was essential to the safety of the State, whether Congress
approved or no; and the Governor, swept along in the current of
popular feeling, summoned troops from Savannah to hold the
province. Just at this moment had come the news of war with Great
Britain; and Governor, State militia, and patriots had combined
in an effort to prevent East Florida from becoming enemy's

Military considerations had also swept the Administration along
the same hazardous course. The occupation of the Floridas seemed
imperative. The President sought authorization from Congress to
occupy and govern both the Floridas until the vexed question of
title could be settled by negotiation. Only a part of this
programme had carried, for, while Congress was prepared to
approve the military occupation of West Florida to the Perdido
River, beyond that it would not go; and so with great reluctance
the President had ordered the troops to withdraw from Amelia
Island. In the spring of the same year (1813) General Wilkinson
had occupied West Florida--the only permanent conquest of the war
and that, oddly enough, the conquest of a territory owned and
held by a power with which the United States was not at war.

Abandoned by the American troops, Amelia Island had become a
rendezvous for outlaws from every part of the Americas. Just
about the time that Adams was crossing the ocean to take up his
duties at the State Department, one of these buccaneers by the
name of Gregor MacGregor descended upon the island as "Brigadier
General of the Armies of the United Provinces of New Granada and
Venezuela, and General-in-chief of that destined to emancipate
the provinces of both Floridas, under the commission of the
Supreme Government of Mexico and South America." This pirate was
soon succeeded by General Aury, who had enjoyed a wild career
among the buccaneers of Galveston Bay, where he had posed as
military governor under the Republic of Mexico. East Florida in
the hands of such desperadoes was a menace to the American
border. Approaching the problem of East Florida without any of
the prepossessions of those who had been dealing with Spanish
envoys for a score of years, the new Secretary of State was
prepared to move directly to his goal without any too great
consideration for the feelings of others. His examination of the
facts led him to a clean-cut decision: this nest of pirates must
be broken up at once. His energy carried President and Cabinet
along with him. It was decided to send troops and ships to the
St. Mary's and if necessary to invest Fernandina. This
demonstration of force sufficed; General Aury departed to conquer
new worlds, and Amelia Island was occupied for the second time
without bloodshed.

But now, having grasped the nettle firmly, what was the
Administration to do with it? De Onis promptly registered his
protest; the opposition in Congress seized upon the incident to
worry the President; many of the President's friends thought that
he had been precipitate. Monroe, indeed, would have been glad to
withdraw the troops now that they had effected their object, but
Adams was for holding the island in order to force Spain to
terms. With a frankness which lacerated the feelings of De Onis,
Adams insisted that the United States had acted strictly on the
defensive. The occupation of Amelia Island was not an act of
aggression but a necessary measure for the protection of
commerce--American commerce, the commerce of other nations, the
commerce of Spain itself. Now why not put an end to all friction
by ceding the Floridas to the United States? What would Spain
take for all her possessions east of the Mississippi, Adams
asked. De Onis declined to say. Well, then, Adams pursued,
suppose the United States should withdraw from Amelia Island,
would Spain guarantee that it should not be occupied again by
free- booters? No: De Onis could give no such guarantee, but he
would write to the Governor of Havana to ascertain if he would
send an adequate garrison to Fernandina. Adams reported this
significant conversation to the President, who was visibly shaken
by the conflict of opinions within his political household and
not a little alarmed at the possibility of war with Spain. The
Secretary of State was coolly taking the measure of his chief.
"There is a slowness, want of decision, and a spirit of
procrastination in the President," he confided to his diary. He
did not add, but the thought was in his mind, that he could sway
this President, mold him to his heart's desire. In this first
trial of strength the hardier personality won: Monroe sent a
message to Congress, on January 13, 1818, announcing his
intention to hold East Florida for the present, and the arguments
which he used to justify this bold course were precisely those of
his Secretary of State.

When Adams suggested that Spain might put an end to all her
worries by ceding the Floridas, he was only renewing an offer
that Monroe had made while he was still Secretary of State. De
Onis had then declared that Spain would never cede territory east
of the Mississippi unless the United States would relinquish its
claims west of that river. Now, to the new Secretary, De Onis
intimated that he was ready to be less exacting. He would be
willing to run the line farther west and allow the United States
a large part of what is now the State of Louisiana. Adams made no
reply to this tentative proposal but bided his time; and time
played into his hands in unexpected ways.

To the Secretary's office, one day in June, 1818, came a letter
from De Onis which was a veritable firebrand. De Onis, who was
not unnaturally disposed to believe the worst of Americans on the
border, had heard that General Andrew Jackson in pursuit of the
Seminole Indians had crossed into Florida and captured Pensacola
and St. Mark's. He demanded to be informed "in a positive,
distinct and explicit manner just what had occurred"; and then,
outraged by confirmatory reports and without waiting for Adams's
reply, he wrote another angry letter, insisting upon the
restitution of the captured forts and the punishment of the
American general. Worse tidings followed. Bagot, the British
Minister, had heard that Jackson had seized and executed two
British subjects on Spanish soil. Would the Secretary of State
inform him whether General Jackson had been authorized to take
Pensacola, and would the Secretary furnish him with copies of the
reports of the courts-martial which had condemned these two
subjects of His Majesty? Adams could only reply that he lacked
official information.

By the second week in July, dispatches from General Jackson
confirmed the worst insinuations and accusations of De Onis and
Bagot. President Monroe was painfully embarrassed. Prompt
disavowal of the general's conduct seemed the only way to avert
war; but to disavow the acts of this popular idol, the victor of
New Orleans, was no light matter. He sought the advice of his
Cabinet and was hardly less embarrassed to find all but one
convinced that "Old Hickory" had acted contrary to instructions
and had committed acts of hostility against Spain. A week of
anxious Cabinet sessions followed, in which only one voice was
raised in defense of the invasion of Florida. All but Adams
feared war, a war which the opposition would surely brand as
incited by the President without the consent of Congress. No
administration could carry on a war begun in violation of the
Constitution, said Calhoun. But, argued Adams, the President may
authorize defensive acts of hostility. Jackson had been
authorized to cross the frontier, if necessary, in pursuit of the
Indians, and all the ensuing deplorable incidents had followed as
a necessary consequence of Indian warfare.

The conclusions of the Cabinet were summed up by Adams in a reply
to De Onis, on the 23d of July, which must have greatly
astonished that diligent defender of Spanish honor. Opening the
letter to read, as he confidently expected, a disavowal and an
offer of reparation, he found the responsibility for the recent
unpleasant incidents fastened upon his own country. He was
reminded that by the treaty of 1795 both Governments had
contracted to restrain the Indians within their respective
borders, so that neither should suffer from hostile raids, and
that the Governor of Pensacola, when called upon to break up a
stronghold of Indians and fugitive slaves, had acknowledged his
obligation but had pleaded his inability to carry out the
covenant. Then, and then only, had General Jackson been
authorized to cross the border and to put an end to outrages
which the Spanish authorities lacked the power to prevent.
General Jackson had taken possession of the Spanish forts on his
own responsibility when he became convinced of the duplicity of
the commandant, who, indeed, had made himself "a partner and
accomplice of the hostile Indians and of their foreign
instigators." Such conduct on the part of His Majesty's officer
justified the President in calling for his punishment. But, in
the meantime, the President was prepared to restore Pensacola,
and also St. Mark's, whenever His Majesty should send a force
sufficiently strong to hold the Indians under control.

Nor did the Secretary of State moderate his tone or abate his
demands when Pizarro, the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs,
threatened to suspend negotiations with the United States until
it should give satisfaction for this "shameful invasion of His
Majesty's territory" and for these "acts of barbarity glossed
over with the forms of justice." In a dispatch to the American
Minister at Madrid, Adams vigorously defended Jackson's conduct
from beginning to end. The time had come, said he, when "Spain
must immediately make her election either to place a force in
Florida adequate at once to the protection of her territory and
to the fulfilment of her engagements or cede to the United States
a province of which she retains nothing but the nominal
possession, but which is in fact a derelict, open to the
occupancy of every enemy, civilized or savage, of the United
States and serving no other earthly purpose, than as a post of
annoyance to them."

This affront to Spanish pride might have ended abruptly a chapter
in Spanish-American diplomacy but for the friendly offices of
Hyde de Neuville, the French Minister at Washington, whose
Government could not view without alarm the possibility of a
rupture between the two countries. It was Neuville who labored
through the summer months of this year, first with Adams, then
with De Onis, tempering the demands of the one and placating the
pride of the other, but never allowing intercourse to drop. Adams
was right, and both Neuville and De Onis knew it; the only way to
settle outstanding differences was to cede these Spanish
derelicts in the New World to the United States.

To bring and keep together these two antithetical personalities,
representatives of two opposing political systems, was no small
achievement. What De Onis thought of his stubborn opponent may be
surmised; what the American thought of the Spaniard need not be
left to conjecture. In the pages of his diary Adams painted the
portrait of his adversary as he saw him--"cold, calculating,

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