War of 1812: U.S. Declares War on Great Britain!
Memories of the Revolutionary War against Great Britain were still in the minds of many Americans in 1812. After all, the Treaty of Paris formally ending that war had been signed in 1783, less than 29 years ago. Relations between the former adversaries became increasingly tense throughout the first decade of the 19th century, with three main issues driving the U.S. to declare war against Great Britain—which it did on June 18, 1812, beginning the three-year conflict known as the War of 1812.
Although there were a number of issues, the three main reasons the U.S. declared war were:
1. The British navy’s interference with U.S.-French trade during the Napoleonic Wars. The U.S., by international law, had the right as a neutral nation to trade with both belligerent countries.
2. The British navy’s impressment (a form of kidnapping) of sailors on American ships (many of them naturalized Americans) and forcing them to serve in the war against the French.
3. Americans were convinced—and angry—that the British were stirring up the Native Americans in the Northwest Territory to attack American settlers.
War fever gripped much of the U.S. in 1812, although there was opposition—especially in the Northeast. On June 1 President James Madison sent a message to Congress detailing British abuses of American sovereignty, without explicitly calling for war. On June 4 the House of Representatives passed a war declaration by a 79-49 vote, followed later by the Senate with a narrower approval vote of 19-13. On June 18, 1812, President Madison signed the declaration of war with Great Britain and the War of 1812 was officially underway.
The following six newspaper articles report on the U.S.’s war declaration against Great Britain. The first two articles were written before the declaration was known to be official, the third article announces the actual declaration, and the next three articles are a call to arms.
This article was published by the Green-Mountain Farmer (Bennington, Vermont) on June 22, 1812:
In every view it appears that a war on the side of England, with the United States, would commence in madness, be prosecuted with difficulty, and terminate in ruin; on the side of the United States, it would be sanctioned by justice, enforced with ease, and under Heaven, in human probability, would be productive of incalculable benefit by driving an insidious and murder-urging enemy from Canada.
The expressed sentiment of the American populace is, War before Submission! Death before Dishonor! In consonance with which sentiment, there is an uncommon rushing to the erected standard, and upwards of seventeen thousand, appeared by the last reports, to have already enlisted.
This article was published by the Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia) on June 19, 1812:
Charleston, June 15.
A Declaration of War against Great Britain passed the House of Representatives on the 4th inst. by a vote of 79 to 49, and was sent up to the Senate for their concurrence. An express with the final result, (of which no one can doubt), may be expected every hour. The Rubicon is now passed, and HE WHO IS NOT FOR US IS AGAINST US.
This article was published by the Alexandria Daily Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia) on June 19, 1812:
Declaring War between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the Dependencies Thereof, and the United States of America and Their Territories
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representative of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That WAR be and the same is hereby declared to exist between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the dependencies thereof, and the United States of America and their territories; and that the President of the United States be and he is hereby authorized to use the whole land and naval forces of the United States to carry the same into effect, and to issue to private armed vessels of the United States commissions or letters of marque and general reprisal, in such form as he shall think proper, and under the seal of the United States, against the vessels, goods, and effects of the government of the same United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and of the subjects thereof.
June 18, 1812.
[Signed] James Madison.
This article was published by the Columbian (New York, New York) on June 20, 1812:
War with England
The Die Is Cast!
Every man to his post! Our country calls upon us to abandon all party distinctions. All local dissentions must be absorbed in the struggle who shall be foremost in the ranks. He that is not for us must be against us! America expects every man to do his duty.
This article was published by the Public Advertiser (New York, New York) on June 23, 1812:
War with England
At length the crisis has arrived when all party distinctions we most sincerely hope will be laid aside, and every real American come forward with a full determination to rally round the government of their choice, and support the honor, the interests and Independence of their country. No one can assert with truth that we have not unceasingly sought peace.
Yes! upon our knees we have sought it until we have almost become the scoff and derision of the world. Is there an American that would ask us longer to forbear? We hope and trust not—Then let us as a band of brothers unite, determined, since we cannot by supplication obtain our rights assert them as becomes freemen.
The eventful Crisis has arrived big with the fate of our national honor and our domestic security. Every citizen who feels a just sense of the manifold wrongs and repeated injuries which we have suffered, must be alive to the awful [i.e., awe-inspiring] situation in which he is placed by the Constitution and recognized by the laws as the firm and able defender of his government and the rights of his country. War is at length declared against England! Against our old and inveterate enemy. Against the monopolizers and the pirates of the Ocean. The murderers of our citizens in cold blood! The instigators of the savage Indian to imbrue his tomahawk in the life’s best blood of our defenseless brethren on the frontiers. In short, against a nation who has been opposed to every act whereby we had promised ourselves honor with peace.
We trust that immediate steps will be taken by the proper authorities for the general and immediate security of the whole, and that every hand and every heart will unite in giving strength to the arms of the United States.
This article was published by the American & Commercial Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, Maryland) on June 23, 1812:
It is firmly believed that if all parties cordially and patriotically unite in rendering the war with G. Britain as active and effective as possible, it will be brought to a speedy, honorable and glorious termination. If it were necessary to urge any other motive than that of patriotism to any party, to induce them to cooperate in all measures tending to invigorate the military and maritime operations of the nation, we could point to the example of the opposition party in Great Britain. Though opposed in principle to all the important measures, foreign and domestic, of the ministry, the Whig Party evince as great alacrity in devoting their lives and fortunes to carry on the wars in which their country is engaged, as the ministerial party. And shall it be said that any party exercise less pure patriotism and valor than the English opposition? We do not believe it. Whatever the imprudent intemperance of one or two prints may dictate, we are confident that our federal brethren generally will not tarnish the American name in the present conflict. We are satisfied that they will contribute all in their power to prevent defeat and disaster from prostrating and degrading their country, its cause and its reputation in the eyes of the world and of ages yet unborn. And, in the language of the President, we too would “exhort all the good people of the United States, as they value the precious heritage derived from the virtue and valor of their fathers; as they feel the wrongs which have forced on them the last resort of injured nations; and as they consult the best means, under the blessing of Divine Providence, of abridging its calamities, that they exert themselves in preserving order, in promoting concord, in maintaining the authority and the efficacy of the laws, and in supporting and invigorating all the measures which may be adopted by the constituted authorities, for obtaining a speedy, a just and an honorable peace.”
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