“Mr. Madison’s War”

By Paige Harrod

James Madison was a short, round faced man, who spoke softly and did not draw attention to himself.  Madison was one of our Founding Fathers and was instrumental in the adoption of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  He wrote many speeches for others and gave good solid advice to those in office.

Like his predecessor Thomas Jefferson, as President of the United States, he preferred negotiation rather than war.  Some called the War of 1812 “Mr. Madison’s War” but many issues were going on in America at this period of time, as well as problems with American shipping and an ill-fated embargo with France and Britain.

President Madison used economic pressure to try to force England to repeal its blockade and almost succeeded. The revival of the Non-Intercourse Act against Britain, prohibiting all trade with England and its colonies, coincided with a poor grain harvest in England and with a growing need of American provisions to supply the British troops fighting the French in Spain. As a result, on June 16, 1812, the British Foreign Minister announced that the blockade would be relaxed on American shipping. Had there been an Atlantic cable, war might have been averted.  President Madison had sent a message to Congress on June 1 listing all the complaints against England and asking for a declaration of war which he received and signed on June 18, 1812.

Fought in three theaters, the conflict ended with the Treaty of Ghent in 1815.  In one of its most memorable episodes, as British troops entered the capital to burn the White House and other government buildings, first lady Dolley Madison refused to evacuate the White House until a portrait of George Washington was rescued.

The lyrics of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the U.S. national anthem, are another important legacy of the War of 1812. They were penned by the amateur poet Francis Scott Key after he watched American forces withstand the British siege of Fort McHenry.

Mr. Madison’s War produced a sense of euphoria over a “second war of independence” against Britain and ushered in an era of good feelings in which partisan animosity in the government almost vanished.

The anniversary of  the War of 1812 is celebrated on June 18th.   Join the James Stewart Chapter as we remember our country’s Second Independence Day!!