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War of 1812: New Orleans & Peace



War of 1812: New Orleans & Peace

The Battle of New Orleans

Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

1814: Advances in the North & A Capital Burned | War of 1812: 101

Efforts for Peace

As the war raged, President James Madison worked to bring it to a peaceful conclusion. Hesitant about going to war in the first place, Madison instructed his chargé d’affaires in London, Jonathan Russell, to seek reconciliation with the British a week after war was declared in 1812. Russell was ordered to seek a peace that only required the British to repeal the Orders in Council and halt impressment. Presenting this to the British foreign minister, Lord Castlereagh, Russell was rebuffed as they were unwilling to move on the latter issue. There was little progress on the peace front until early 1813 when Czar Alexander I of Russia offered to mediate an end to hostilities. Having turned back Napoleon, he was eager benefit from trade with both Great Britain and the United States. Alexander also sought to befriend the United States as a check against British power.

Upon learning of the czar's offer, Madison accepted and dispatched a peace delegation consisting of John Quincy Adams, James Bayard, and Albert Gallatin. The Russian offer was declined by the British who claimed that the matters in question were internal to the belligerents and not of international concern. Progress was finally achieved later that year following the Allied victory at the Battle of Leipzig. With Napoleon defeated, Castlereagh offered to open direct negotiations with the United States. Madison accepted on January 5, 1814, and added Henry Clay and Jonathan Russell to the delegation. Traveling first to Goteborg, Sweden, they then headed south to Ghent, Belgium where the talks were to take place. Moving slowly, the British did not appoint a commission until May and their representatives did not depart for Ghent until August 2.

Unrest on the Home Front

As the fighting continued, those in New England and the South grew tired of the war. Never a great supporter of the conflict, New England's coast was raided with impunity and its economy on the verge of collapse as the Royal Navy swept American shipping from the seas. South of the Chesapeake, commodity prices plummeted as farmers and plantation owners were unable to export cotton, wheat, and tobacco. Only in Pennsylvania, New York, and the West was there any degree of prosperity though this was largely related federal expenditures relating to the war effort. This spending led to resentment in New England and the South, as well as precipitated a financial crisis in Washington.

Taking office in late 1814, Treasury Secretary Alexander Dallas forecasted a $12 million revenue shortfall for that year and predicted a $40 million shortfall for 1815. Efforts were made to cover the difference through loans and issuing treasury notes. For those who wished to continue the war, there was a genuine concern that there would not be funds to do so. During the course of the conflict, the national debt had ballooned from $45 million in 1812 to $127 million in 1815. While this angered Federalists who had opposed the war initially, it also worked to undermine Madison's support among his own Republicans.

The Hartford Convention

The unrest sweeping parts of the country came to a head in New England in late 1814. Angered over the federal government's inability to protect its coasts and its unwillingness to reimburse states for doing so themselves, the Massachusetts legislature called for a regional convention to discuss the issues and weigh whether the solution was something as radical as secession from the United States. This proposition was accepted by Connecticut which offered to host the meeting in Hartford. While Rhode Island agreed to send a delegation, New Hampshire and Vermont refused to officially sanction the meeting and sent representatives in an unofficial capacity.

A largely moderate group, they convened in Hartford on December 15. Though their discussions were largely limited to a state's right to nullify legislation that adversely affected its citizens and issues related to states preempting federal collection of taxes, the group badly erred by holding its meetings in secret. This led to wild speculation regarding its proceedings. When the group released its report on January 6, 1815, both Republicans and Federalists were relieved to see that it was largely a list of recommended constitutional amendments that were designed to prevent foreign conflicts in the future.

This relief quickly evaporated as people came to consider the "what ifs" of the convention. As a result, those involved quickly became and associated with terms such as treason and disunion. As many were Federalists, the party became similarly tainted effectively ending it as a national force. Emissaries from the convention made it as far as Baltimore before learning of the war's end.

The Treaty of Ghent

While the American delegation contained several rising stars, the British group was less glamorous and consisted of admiralty lawyer William Adams, Admiral Lord Gambier, and Under-Secretary of State for War and the Colonies Henry Goulburn. Due to the proximity of Ghent to London, the three were kept on a short leash by Castlereagh and Goulburn's superior, Lord Bathurst. As the negotiations moved forward, the Americans pressed for an elimination of impressment while the British desired a Native American "buffer state" between the Great Lakes and the Ohio River. While the British refused to even discuss impressment, the Americans flatly refused to consider ceding territory back to the Native Americans.

1814: Advances in the North & A Capital Burned | War of 1812: 101

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