Lossing's Field Book of the War of 1812, Chapter IX - War between the United States and Great Britain Threatened.






Provisions for strengthening the Army and Navy. – Increase in the Number of Gun-boats. – Gun-boats ridiculed. – Violent Hostility to a Navy. – Its Neglect. – James Madison elected President. – Effect of Baring’s Inquiry. – Opposition to the British Orders in Council. – Napoleon in Spain. – The Bayonne Decree. – Modifications of the British Orders in Council. – Canning’s offensive Letter. – Pinkney’s Opinion of the Embargo. – Silence of Napoleon. – Opposition to the Embargo. – Infractions of the Embargo. – Attempts to make it Odious. – Disunionists in New England. – The dangerous Weapons of Party Strife. – State Sovereignty proclaimed in New England. – An Enforcing Act. – Embargo or War the proclaimed Alternative. – Quincy lashes the War Party. – Effects of his Denunciations. – Cotton supposed to be King of Commerce. – Non-intercourse Act. – Signs of Reconciliation. – Mr. Erskine’s Proposition. – A just Arrangement. – General Satisfaction. – Disappearance of Party Strife. – Erskine’s Arrangements repudiated by his Government. – The supposed Reasons. – Party Rancor again revived. – "Copenhagen Jackson" and his Misconduct. – Proposed Revocation of the French Decrees. – Napoleon on Armstrong. – The Berlin and Milan Decrees revoked. – The British Orders in Council maintained. – England and France refuse to be just. – Friendly Proposition of the United States unheeded. – Outrage by a British Cruiser. – Commodore Rodgers. – The Frigate President ordered to Sea. – The President on a Cruise. – She discovers a strange Vessel. – Signals. – Method of Signaling. – A Chase by the President. – Signaling. – A Change in Signals. – The Pursuer and the Pursued in Conflict. – The President and the Little Belt the Combatants. – Contradictory Statements of Rodgers and Bingham. – The Testimony. – Indignation of the American People. – The demoralizing Effects of Party Politics. – Commodore Rodgers assailed. – Rodgers vindicated.


"Let traitors, who feel not the patriot’s flame,

Talk of yielding our honor to Englishmen’s sway;
No such blemish shall sully our country’s fair fame:
We’ve no claims to surrender, nor tribute to pay.
Then, though foes gather round,
We’re on Liberty’s ground,
Both too wise to be trapp’d, and too strong to be bound."

"Where are you from?" bold Rodgers cried,
Which made the British wonder:
Then with a gun they quick replied,
Which made a noise like thunder.
Like lightning we returned the joke,
Our matches were so handy;
The Yankee bull-dogs nobly spoke
The tune of Doodle Dandy."


President Jefferson’s policy had been to keep the army and navy upon the cheapest footing compatible with a due regard to the public good. It was now evident that these arms of the public service must be materially strengthened, in order to secure the national safety, and the President asked Congress to augment the number and efficiency of the regular army. They did so. The measure was opposed by the Federalists, but a bill to raise seven regiments passed by a vote of ninety-eight to sixteen. Other provisions for war followed. The sum of $1,000,000 was placed at the disposal of the President for the erection of coast and harbor defenses. Another sum of $300,000 was appropriated for the purchase of arms, and $150,000 for saltpetre. The President was also authorized to call upon the governors of the several states to form an army, in the aggregate, of one hundred thousand militia, to be immediately organized, equipped, and "held in readiness to march at a moment’s warning" when called for by the Chief Magistrate. He was also authorized to construct arsenals and armories at his discretion; the sum of $200,000 was placed at his disposal for providing arms and military equipments for the whole body of the militia of the republic; and about a million of dollars were appropriated to pay the first year’s expenses of the seven new regiments. The government appropriated altogether about $5,000,000 for war purposes. 1

Efforts were made to increase the efficiency of the navy by adding to the few seamen already in the service twelve hundred and seventy-two additional men, to put on board the gun-boats then completed or in process of construction. In December [1807.] the President had been authorized to procure one hundred and eighty-eight additional gun-boats by purchase or construction, making, in all, two hundred and fifty-seven. 2 Mr. Jefferson’s idea appears to have been to have these boats in readiness, properly distributed, but not actually manned until necessity should call for their being put into commission. This proposition excited much ridicule, not only among naval officers, but among the people at large. 3 The whole gun-boat system was denounced as "wasteful imbecility, called by the name of economy," and Jefferson was pointed at as a dreaming philosopher without a whit of military knowledge, as evinced when Governor of Virginia in 1781. 4


There seemed to be, for reasons quite inexplicable, a most violent hostility to a navy, especially at the South. A member (Mr. Williams) from South Carolina said that he "was at a loss to find terms sufficiently expressive of his abhorrence of a navy. He would go a great deal farther to see it burned than to extinguish the fire. It was a curse to the country, and had never been any thing else. Navies had deceived the hopes of every country which had relied upon them." He affirmed that the people were willing to give commerce all the protection in their power, "but they could not provide a navy for that purpose." Others opposed a navy because it might be a measure for increasing Executive patronage; and no act was passed or appropriation made, either for the employment of more men, or for the placing in commission any additional vessels, until January, 1809, when the President was directed to equip the United States, 44, President, 44, Essex, 32, and John Adams, 24, the latter vessel having been cut down from a frigate to a sloop of war. 5

The country was now agitated by an approaching election for President and Vice-President of the United States, and for a time the political caldron seethed violently. Early in 1808 a Democratic caucus of members of Congress nominated James Madison for President, and George Clinton for Vice-President of the republic. There was then a schism in the Democratic party, caused by the ambition of leaders. Madison, Monroe, and Clinton were each candidates for the Chief Magistrate’s chair; and the Federalists, perceiving, as they thought, some chance for success in the canvass, nominated C. C. Pinckney, of South Carolina, for President, and Rufus King, of New York, for Vice-President. The result was the election of Madison and Clinton.

Meanwhile events were transpiring on both sides of the Atlantic, apparently tending to a general abandonment of the policy of the Orders, Decrees, and Embargo. The able Inquiry of Mr. Baring concerning the orders in Council, already cited, made a powerful impression upon the mercantile classes of England. He had fully exposed the inexpediency and injustice of the measures, and nobly vindicated the character and conduct of the Americans. Some of the late Cabinet associates of Mr. Fox denounced those orders as both inexpedient and unjust; and petitions for their repeal, numerously signed by the merchants and manufacturers of Hull, Manchester, Liverpool, and London, were presented to the house of Lords on the 17th and 21st of March [1808.], while a bill affirming the action of the Privy Council in the matter was pending. Henry Brougham, an eminent barrister, was the advocate of the petitioners, and was heard with profound attention, on the 6th of April, in that body of peers of the realm of which, a little more than twenty years afterward, he became a distinguished member. 6 Already, in the month of March, resolutions moved against them by Lords Erskine, St. John, Holland, and Lauderdale, and a protest signed by the Earls of Lauderdale, King, and Albermarle, had prepared the way for Brougham’s argument. These documents contained, within their brief limits, close and sound arguments on the whole subject. The motion of Erskine discussed the illegality of the new system in a constitutional view. Lord St. John’s treated of its repugnance to the law of nations. Lord Holland’s set forth with great clearness its effects upon British intercourse with foreign nations; and Lord Lauderdale’s motion showed its prejudicial tendency to British commerce in general. The protest of the three peers named discussed more particularly the consequences on the cotton trade. 7 But the efforts of these statesmen and the array of facts set forth in the minutes of evidence taken at the bar of the House of Lords, before a Committee of the whole House, on the subject of the orders, 8 were insufficient to move the majority, and the ministry triumphed. The bill affirming the action of the Council and making it permanent was passed, and Parliament fixed the amount of tribute in the form of "transit duties," just referred to, which neutrals must pay to England for permission to navigate the ocean without fear of sea-robbers.

Napoleon, inspired by the keenest sagacity, expressed his approbation of the Embargo. He was then in Spain, ostensibly for the purpose of crushing royal intrigues for the good of the people, but really in preparing a throne for his brother Joseph. Murat, with a competent force, occupied Madrid in March [1808.], and in June Joseph was declared by the Emperor to be King of Spain. From Bayonne, in March, Napoleon issued a decree directing the seizure and confiscation of all American vessels in France, or which might arrive there; and when Minister Armstrong remonstrated, he was given to understand that the Emperor expected the Embargo to be full and perfect. "No American vessel," said the French minister craftily, "can be lawfully abroad since the passage of the Embargo Act; and those pretending to be such must be either English, or, if American, vessels which come under the ban of the Milan Decree because of subserviency to the British orders. The Emperor well knew that there were a large number of American vessels afloat which, under the temptation of immense profits, were sailing under British licenses; and others were evading French prohibitions by forged documents, which indicated that they had come directly from America. This leak in his Continental System Napoleon was determined to stop, and for that purpose his Bayonne Decree was effectual.

The Spaniards resisted the attempts of Napoleon to place his brother on their throne, and there was a general uprising of the Dons. The whole Spanish Peninsula and the Spanish colonies in Central and South America were thrown open to British commerce, and by so much weakened the effect of the American Embargo on that commerce. A repeal of the orders in Council as they related to Spain, and also to Portugal, whose royal family had lately fled to Brazil and opened a vast country there, immediately followed. On the receipt of intelligence concerning these facts, petitions from several maritime towns in the United States were sent to the President, praying for a suspension of the Embargo Act as to Spain and Portugal; but he declined, saying, "To have submitted our rightful commerce to prohibitions and tributary exactions from others would have been to surrender our independence. To resist them by arms was war, without consulting the state of things or the choice of the nation." He contended that the Embargo, "besides saving to our citizens their property, and our mariners to their country," gave time for the belligerent nations to revise a conduct as contrary to their interests as it was to our rights. As to Spain, he wisely suggested that her resistance might not prove (as it did not) effectual.

But the President had already taken some measures in the direction of repeal. As early as the close of April [April 31 (sic. – WDC; 06/17/2001.)] he had sent instructions to Pinkney in London and Armstrong in Paris, authorizing them to offer a repeal of the Embargo on certain conditions. To England such repeal was offered on condition of her recalling her orders in Council. To France Armstrong appears to have offered, in addition to a repeal of the Embargo Act, a declaration of war against Great Britain in the event of her not recalling her offensive orders after the Emperor should have withdrawn his Berlin, Milan, and Bayonne decrees. 9

Canning spoke for his government in a very courteous but extremely sarcastic note, assuring Mr. Pinkney of the kindly feeling of his majesty toward the United States, but expressing his unwillingness to change the policy involved in those orders, under the present aspect of the case. He could not see the impartiality of the Embargo which Mr. Pinkney claimed; 10 nor did his majesty feel inclined to recall his orders while the proclamation of the President concerning the interdiction of British ships of war in American waters remained in full force. 11 He alluded to the timeliness of the Embargo in assisting France in her blockade of Europe, but expressed an unwillingness to believe that the Americans intended, or could have any interest in "the subversion of the British power." 12 The letter concluded with a hope that a perfect understanding between the two governments might be maintained. But its tone was so ironical – so disingenuous and uncandid – so full of the spirit of a selfish strong man in his dealings with a weak one, that it irritated the American minister to whom it was addressed, and the administration that made the overture, not a little.

Mr. Pinkney expressed his views strongly against a repeal of the Embargo Act in a letter to Mr. Madison. "The spirit of monopoly," he said, "has seized the people and government of this country. We shall not, under any circumstances, be tolerated as rivals in navigation and trade. . . . If we persevere we must gain our purpose at last. By complying with the policy of the moment we shall be lost. By a quiet and systematic adherence to principle we shall find the end of our difficulties. The Embargo and the loss of our trade are deeply felt here, and will be felt with more severity every day. The wheat harvest is likely to be alarmingly short, and the state of the Continent will augment the evil. The discontents among their manufacturers are only quieted for a moment by temporary causes. Cotton is rising, and will soon be scarce. Unfavorable events on the Continent will subdue the temper, unfriendly to wisdom and justice, which now prevails here. But, above all, the world will, I trust, be convinced that our firmness is not to be shaken. Our measures have not been without effect. They have not been decisive, because we have not been thought capable of persevering in self-denial – if that can be called self-denial which is no more than prudent abstinence from destruction and dishonor."

The French Emperor maintained an ominous silence on the subject. He made no response to Armstrong’s proposition, and this reticence was quite as offensive as Canning’s irony. "We have somewhat overrated our means of coercion," Armstrong wrote to the Secretary of State [August 31, 1808.]. "Here it is not felt; and in England, amid the more recent and interesting events of the day, it is forgotten. I hope, unless France shall do us justice, we shall raise the Embargo, and make, in its stead, the experiment of an armed commerce. Should she adhere to her wicked and foolish measures, there is much more besides that we can do; and we ought not to omit doing all we can, because it is believed here that we can not do much, and even that we will not do what little we can."

At home the Embargo Act met with the most violent opposition in various forms. It was talked against and acted against, especially by the leaders of the opposition in the Eastern States. They excited a very strong sectional feeling by calling it sometimes a "Virginia measure," at others a "Southern measure," and at all times a "subserviency to French dictation." They declared that it was a blow aimed intentionally at the prosperity of New England, she having greatly the preponderance in commercial and navigating interests; and that, while the whole country felt the injury inflicted by the Embargo Act more than England or France, that injury fell mostly upon the Eastern States. This deceptive statement, made chiefly for political effect, was contradicted by the commercial statistics of the United States. 13

Infractions of the Embargo were open and frequent all along the New England coast, for the magistrates winked at them; and smuggling became so general, especially by way of Lake Champlain, that the first active services of the newly-created army were enforcements of the laws on the Northern frontier, under the direction of Wilkinson, while gun-boats were sent into several of the Eastern ports for the same purpose. The leaders of the opposition, hoping to break down the Democratic party, made the Embargo Law as odious as possible, cast obstacles in the way of its execution, and used every means to induce England to believe that it was so unpopular that it would be speedily repealed in the face of the continuance of her orders in Council. "They are now playing a game," the President wrote, "of the most mischievous tendency, without perhaps being themselves aware of it. They are endeavoring to convince England that we suffer more from the Embargo than they do, and if they will but hold out a while we must abandon it. It is true, the time will come when we must abandon it. But if this is before the repeal of the orders in Council, we must abandon it only for a state of war. The day is not distant when that will be preferable to a longer continuance of the Embargo. But we can never remove that, and let our vessels go out and be taken under these orders, without making reprisals. Yet this is the very state of things which these Federal monarchists are endeavoring to bring about; and in this it is but too possible they may succeed. But the fact is, if we have war with England, it will be solely produced by these manœuvres." 14

An "Anglican party," a mere political myth in former years, was now a practical reality. 15

Another form of opposition to the Embargo was a declaration of several eminent lawyers of Massachusetts that it was unconstitutional; and very soon the doctrine of the Virginia nullifiers, as put forth in the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions of 1798, so decidedly condemned by the Federalists as tending directly to disunion, was speedily proclaimed by that same party all over New England as being orthodox. When it was known that the party was defeated, and that Madison was elected President, the unpatriotic cry of disunion was heard throughout New England, in the deceptive accents of proclamations that a state, as such, has a right to declare void any act of the National Congress that might be deemed unconstitutional. That doctrine was as boldly proclaimed in the Eastern States as it had been in Virginia and the South ten years before. 16 The arguments used by the Virginia nullifiers and secessionists in 1798 against the Alien and Sedition laws were used in New England in 1808 against the Embargo laws. Happily we are far enough removed from the din of that old conflict of parties to view the contest dispassionately, and perceive that we can, with just charity, declare that these New England leaders were no more real disunionists at heart than were Jefferson and Madison, and that both parties, having confidence in the people, ventured to use dangerous weapons in their partisan strife for the supremacy, feeling, as Jefferson said in his inaugural address, already cited, that there was safety in tolerating a great error "when reason is left free to combat it."

The second session of the Tenth Congress was commenced on the 7th of November [1808.], and, at the earliest possible moment after the organization, the opposition opened their batteries upon the Embargo in various forms. In both houses motions for a repeal or modification of the act were presented, and long and warm debates ensued. But in both houses there was a decided majority in favor of sustaining the measure, and these were supported by resolutions in favor of the Embargo passed by the Legislatures of New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. The whole country was agitated by the discussion of the question, and in private and public assemblies the great incubus upon commerce was the topic which occupied all minds, and shaped the tenor of general conversation.

The history of parties, their tactics and manœuvres, their struggles and animosities at that time, bearing as they do, more or less directly, upon the subject of this volume, form a very interesting chapter in the chronicles of the nation for the student of our history. Our plan and space do not admit of even an outline narrative of those purely partisan conflicts, and we must pass on to a rapid consideration of events which speedily caused war between the United States and Great Britain.

The policy of the administration being fully sustained, more stringent measures for enforcing the Embargo were adopted. The Enforcing Act, as it was called, caused such opposition and exasperation in New England, that action among the people and in State Legislatures assumed the aspect of incipient rebellion. Then it was that disunion sentiments, just alluded to, were freely uttered in nearly all the region eastward of the longitude of the Hudson River. Many wise men began to regard civil war as possible, if not inevitable. Some weak-kneed members of the administration part in Congress were disturbed by the mutterings of the thunder indicating an approaching tempest, and, for the purpose of pacifying the discontented people, the majority passed an act [January 19, 1809.] appointing the last Monday in May following as the time for the assembling of the new Congress, when a repeal of the Embargo would occur, and the alternative of war with Great Britain be accepted.

This postponement of the repeal and the expressed intention of going to war called forth from Quincy, 17 the Federal leader in the lower House, a most withering, denunciatory speech – a speech that stung the dominant party to the quick, and rankled like a thorn for a long time. He treated their assertion that war would be the alternative of repeal with the most bitter scorn. He had heard enough of that "eternal clamor," he said, and, if he could help it, the old women of the country should no longer be frightened by the unsubstantial bugbear. He taunted them with cowardice, and declared his conviction that no insult, however gross, that might be offered by France or Great Britain, could force the majority into a declaration of war. "To use a coarse but common expression," he said, "they could not be kicked into a war." He declared that all the officers for the new army were partisans of the administration. "If the intention had been," he said, "to unite the nation as one man against a foreign enemy, is not this the last policy which any administration ought ever to have adopted? Is not a party army the most dreadful and detestable of all engines, the most likely to awaken suspicions and to inspire discontent?" He then sneered at the idea of going to war with England – the great maritime power of the world – with "but one frigate and five sloops in commission," while the administration had not "resolution enough to meet the expenses of the paltry little navy rotting in the Potomac!"

Quincy’s lash stirred up a strong war feeling throughout the Democratic party, and stimulated the administration to more vigorous efforts for increasing the army and navy. The Southern members, with Williams, of South Carolina, at their head, vehemently opposed every expenditure for the navy. That violent sectionalist, with the shallowness and selfishness of his class, could perceive no other American interest but that of cotton worth fighting for or preserving. The "transit duty" imposed upon neutral merchandise by a late action of the British government was the chief object of his ire and assault, and because of that measure he was eager to go to war. Dazzled by the increase of the cotton trade, he believed that product of Carolina to be the King of Commerce, around which all other interests should revolve as satellites or courtiers. "The great staple," he said, "of the country – cotton – worth more than any two others, is coerced into Great Britain, and is absolutely prohibited from re-exportation altogether. . . . You are to raise cotton to carry to the British dominions, and nowhere else! ‘What does this amount to? Any thing short of the assumption of the sovereignty of the soil? And yet gentlemen can not see any cause of war! All the objections made to war with Great Britain – want of revenue, want of ships, want of objects of attack, destruction of commerce, danger to our liberties from standing armies – are nothing but disguises for want of patriotism, and contemptible cowardice."

Yet, when Joseph Story, the afterward eminent jurist, with a broader statesmanship, a wiser forecast, and a true national patriotism, suggested a fleet of fifty fast-sailing frigates for the protection of all the industrial interests of the United States, and the support of the dignity and independence of the government, scarcely a man was to be found from the region southward of the Delaware to second his views; and Williams declared that if the rights of America were only so to be saved, he was for abandoning them at once. "Impatient as he was to fight for the rights of the cotton-growers, he had not the least idea of going to war for the rights of ship-owners. While urging the navigating interest to submit quietly to destruction, in hopes of forcing a wider market for cotton, he declaimed with the most perfect unconsciousness about the self-sacrifice of the South and the selfishness of the North!" 18 – a most untruthful and ungenerous assertion, which has been constantly repeated ever since by unscrupulous demagogues for selfish purposes, to the material injury of the whole country, and especially of the slave-labor states.

The outside pressure upon the administration against the Embargo Act became too great for resistance, and on the 1st of March, 1809, it was repealed. As a pacific countervailing measure, to induce the European belligerents to respect the rights of neutrals, a Non-intercourse Act was passed, by which the commerce of America was opened to all the world except to England and France, and British and French ships of war were equally excluded prospectively from American ports. This measure was denounced by the opposition with more bitterness, if possible, than the Embargo Act. It was declared to be actual war in disguise – a cowardly obedience to French mandates – an attempt to produce hostilities with Great Britain at the instigation and for the benefit of Napoleon. Strange as it may appear to us, this foolish bugbear – this Gallic mask of demagogues for disturbing the nerves of the timid – was still effective, and the country was so agitated by the alarmists that the paralysis of industry continued. The wings of partially-released commerce fluttered timidly in harbors, because its imagination pictured whole bevies of war-hawks abroad.

Relief soon came, and the doves of peace whitened the horizon. For some time the administration, persuaded of the incompetence of the Embargo to effect its intended purposes, had been unofficially negotiating with Mr. Erskine, the British minister resident at Washington, for a settlement of the disputes between the two governments, and Mr. Madison took the Presidential chair on the 4th of March, vacated by Mr. Jefferson, with a sanguine expectation that the beginning of his administration would be signalized by some promise of peace and prosperity for his country.

Mr. Erskine had made such representations to his government that Mr. Canning instructed him to offer to propose to the Americans a reciprocal repeal of all the prohibitory laws upon certain conditions. But these conditions were so partial to England – requiring the Americans to submit to the detested "rule of 1756," and to allow British cruisers to capture all American vessels attempting to trade with France – that they were rejected. But an arrangement was speedily made, by which, upon the orders in Council being recalled, the President should issue a proclamation declaring a restoration of commercial intercourse with Great Britain, but leaving all restrictive laws against France in full force. Mr. Erskine offered, in addition, reparation for the insult and injury in the case of the Chesapeake, and also assured the American government that Great Britain would immediately send over an envoy extraordinary "invested with full powers to conclude a treaty on all points of the relations between the two governments." This arrangement was completed on the 18th of April [1809.]. On the following day the Secretary of State received a note from Mr. Erskine, saying, "I am authorized to declare that his majesty’s orders in Council of January and November, 1807, will have been withdrawn, as respects the United states, on the tenth day of June next." On the same day President Madison (only forty-four days after his inauguration) issued a proclamation [April 19.] declaring that trade with Great Britain might be renewed after the tenth day of the following June. 19

This proclamation was hailed with the greatest joy throughout the United States as an omen of brighter days. The voice of partisan strife was hushed, and President Madison was lauded as the representative of the whole American people, and not of a party only. He was toasted and praised by the Federalists, invited to their feasts, and hailed as a Washingtonian worthy of all confidence. The foolish idea of "French influence" was dispelled, and every body indulged in millennial anticipations. England was lauded for her generosity and magnanimity, and in the House of Representatives John Randolph offered the following resolution on the 2d of May: "Resolved, That the promptitude and frankness with which the President of the United States has met the overtures of the government of Great Britain toward a restoration of harmony and freer commercial intercourse between the two nations meet the approbation of this House." The warmest Federalists supported the resolution, and a contemporary says that the praise of the President by his former political enemies was so universal that "the Democrats grew jealous. They were afraid of losing the attachment of the President, whose election they had made such exertions to secure."

The joy of the Americans was brief. On the 31st of July Mr. Erskine communicated to the President the mortifying fact that his government had refused to affirm his arrangement. This refusal was made ostensibly because the minister had exceeded his instructions, and was not authorized to make any such arrangement. It was charged that this was not the true reason, because the arrangement as made was perfectly just to both parties, and more favorable to England than to the United States. To America it offered simply a repeal of the orders in Council and atonement for the outrage on the Chesapeake; to England it offered a restoration of all the advantages of a vast and valuable commerce, and a continuance of non-intercourse between the United States and France. The most plausible conjectures for the disavowal of an arrangement so desirable were, first, that the implied censure of the British government respecting the conduct of Admiral Berkeley, contained in one of the letters of the Secretary of State to Mr. Erskine, 20 so irritated the old monarch, who had always hated the Americans, that he refused his assent; secondly, that the recent violent proceedings in New England in relation to the enforcement of the Embargo Act deceived the British ministry into the belief that the American government would be compelled by popular clamor to repeal the Embargo, and leave England’s restrictive policy unimpaired. To the comprehension of the writer, the true reason for the rejection may be found in the fact that such an arrangement would interfere in a deep-laid scheme to break up the American Union, by fomenting sectional antagonisms based chiefly upon the clashing of apparently diverse interests. Two years later it was discovered that the British authorities in Canada had an accredited agent in Boston for that purpose, the British government ignorantly supposing the opposition of the Federalists to be real disloyalty. 21 Whatever may have been the true reason for the rejection, the historical fact remains that England spurned the olive-branch so confidingly offered. The orders in Council stood unrepealed, Mr. Erskine was recalled, 22 and a proclamation of the President of the United States, dated 9th of August, 1809, declared the Non-intercourse Act to be again in full force in regard to Great Britain. The British government also issued orders to protect from capture such American vessels as had left the United States in consequence of the President’s proclamation of April preceding.

The blessings of the opposition, so freely showered upon the administration when the blossoms of May and the leaves of June were unfolding, returned to their bosoms, and at the season of the harvest-moon curses flowed out as freely. It was charged that Madison and his Cabinet were acquainted with Canning’s instructions to Erskine; that they knew the latter had exceeded his instructions, and that there was no expectation of the arrangement being confirmed by the British government; and that the whole affair was a pitiful trick of the administration to cast the odium of continued restrictions upon commerce from their own shoulders upon that of the British ministry. The partisan war was soon revived in all its rancor.

Francis James Jackson, who had been the British minister at Copenhagen in 1807, succeeded Mr. Erskine. He was an unscrupulous diplomat, and, because of his complicity in the unwarrantable attack by British land and naval forces upon the capital of Denmark in early September, 1807, he was known as "Copenhagen Jackson." 23 The infamy of that affair made every person connected with it odious to the people of the United States. It was a foul blot upon the boasted civilization and Christianity of Great Britain; and the sending of Jackson, who had been a conspicuous actor in the tragedy, as minister to Washington while causes for serious irritation between the two governments existed, was regarded as a meditated insult by the extreme members of the dominant party.

Jackson was received with cool courtesy, but his deportment soon excited the thorough dislike of those with whom he came in contact. He was insolent, irritable, and quarrelsome. He had an unbounded admiration of the greatness of the people he represented, and a corresponding contempt for the people he had been sent to. He regarded the Americans as an inferior people, and treated the officers of government with the hauteur which he had practiced toward weak and bleeding Denmark when he negotiated with her at the mouths of British cannon. His manners were so offensive that, after the second verbal conference with him, Secretary Smith refused any farther correspondence except in writing. The insolent diplomat was offended, and wrote an impudent letter to the secretary. He was soon informed that no farther communications would be received from him. Disappointed and angry, he left Washington, with every member of his diplomatic family, and retired to New York. 24 The American government requested his recall, and early in 1810 he was summoned back to England. But his government manifested the greatest indifference as to its relations with the United States. The request for his recall was received with the most perfect coolness, and no other minister was sent to Washington until early in 1811.

In the early part of 1810 [March.] the President received intimations from abroad that a way was probably opened for a repeal of the restrictive orders and decrees. M. de Champagny (Duke de Cadore), the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, in a letter to Minister Armstrong, said that if England would revoke her blockade against France, the latter would revoke her Berlin Decree. 25 Minister Pinkney, still in London, on receiving this information, approached the British ministry on the subject, and he expressed to his own government his hope that the restrictive measures of the belligerents would be speedily removed. 26 To aid in negotiations to that effect, Congress, on the 1st of May, 1810, repealed the Non-intercourse and Non-importation laws, and substituted an act excluding both British and French armed vessels from the waters of the United States. It farther provided that, in case either Great Britain or France should so revoke or modify its acts before the 3d of March, 1811, as that they should cease to violate the neutral commerce of the United States, and if the other nation should not, within three months thereafter, in like manner revoke or modify its edicts, the provisions of the Non-intercourse and Non-importation laws should, at the expiration of the three months, be revived against the nation neglecting or refusing to comply.

When this act was communicated to the French government, M. de Champagny addressed a note to Minister Armstrong, dated 5th of August, 1810, officially declaring that "the decrees of Berlin and Milan are revoked, and that after the first day of the following November they will cease to have effect; it being understood that, in consequence of this declaration, the English shall revoke their orders in Council, and renounce the new principles of blockade which they have wished to establish, or that the United States, conformably to their law, will cause their rights to be respected by the English." This was explicit, and the President doubted not it was sincere. Therefore, in accordance with the provisions of the act of the 1st of May, he issued a proclamation on the 2d of November announcing this revocation of the French decrees, and declaring the discontinuance, on the part of the United States, of all commercial restrictions in relation to France and her dependencies. On the same day the Secretary of the Treasury issued an order to all collectors of the customs to act in conformity with the President’s proclamation, but to enforce against English war vessels, and against her commerce, the law of May [May 1, 1810.] after the 2d of the following February, unless, meanwhile, information should be received by the President of the revocation of her orders in Council.

The United States had been made to doubt Gallic faith. Professing to be indignant at what seemed to be partiality shown to England by the Americans in their restrictive acts, Bonaparte had caused the seizure and confiscation of many American vessels and their cargoes. Armstrong remonstrated from time to time, and finally, when notified that a large number of these vessels were to be sold, he presented a vigorous protest [March 10.], and recapitulated the many aggressions which American commerce had suffered from French cruisers. This just remonstrance was ungenerously responded to by a decree, issued by the Emperor from Rambouillet on the 23d of March, 1810, which declared that "all American vessels which should enter French ports, or ports occupied by French troops, should be seized and sequestered." Under this decree, many American vessels and millions of American property were seized. But it was supposed that the proclamation of the President on the 2d of November would annul these hostile proceedings, and release the vessels. On the contrary, the French government simply suspended the causes in the Council of Prizes [December 25.] until February, 1811, in order to ascertain whether the United States would enforce the proclamation of November against Great Britain. At the same time the French government abstained from furnishing the American government with formal official evidence of any decree relating to the revocation of former edicts, and the whole matter rested upon the simple letter of the Duke of Cadore (Champagny) to Mr. Armstrong [August 5.].

Great Britain took advantage of this fact, and resisted the application to rescind her orders, on the ground that she was furnished with no evidence that the decrees had been rescinded, because the French government had never promulgated any edict for this revocation. But she had the evidence of the French minister’s explicit declaration, on which the action of the United States government was based, as well as a general order of the French government to the Director General of Customs [December 25.] not to apply the Berlin and Milan Decrees to American vessels entering French ports after the 1st of November, 1810. These official declarations of the French government were sufficient for the United States, and should have been for Great Britain, for, if faith could not have been placed in them, decrees from the same source would have had little value. But France and England were playing such a desperate game, that they not only rightfully suspected each other of duplicity continually, but doubted the sincerity of the United States, although that government had never, in the smallest degree, broken its faith with either. England refused to recall her orders in Council; Bonaparte refused to make any indemnity for the seizures under the Bayonne and Rambouillet Decrees, and American commerce was left in a state of the most painful suspense.

Having exhausted all arguments in endeavoring to convince the British ministry of the reality of the French revocation, 27 and to effect a recall of the orders, Mr. Pinkney left England and returned home, satisfied that, while she could sustain herself in the prosecution of the war, she would never yield an iota of her power to oppress the weak. At this very time, spurned as they had been, the United States proceeded to open another door of reconciliation, by an act of Congress providing that, in case at any time "Great Britain should revoke or modify her edicts, as that they shall cease to violate the neutral commerce of the United States, the President of the United States should declare the fact by proclamation, and that the restrictions previously imposed should, from the date of such proclamation, cease and be discontinued." 28

To this friendly proposition England was deaf. She would listen to no appeals to her justice or her magnanimity. For long years she had been the aggressor and the oppressor, and yet she refused to heed the kindly voice of her best friend when it pleaded for simple justice. At that very time she was exercising, by the might of her navy, the most despotic sway upon the ocean, and committing incessant injuries upon a friendly power. She had, at that time, impressed from the crews of American merchant vessels, peaceably navigating the high seas, not less than SIX THOUSAND MARINERS who claimed to be citizens of the United States, and who were denied all opportunity to verify their claims. She had seized and confiscated the commercial property of American citizens to an incalculable amount. She had united in the enormities of France in declaring a great proportion of the terraqueous globe in a state of blockade, effectually chasing the American merchant from the ocean. She had contemptuously disregarded the neutrality of the American territory, and the jurisdiction of the American laws within the waters and harbors of the United States. She was enjoying the emoluments of a surreptitious trade, stained with every species of fraud and corruption {original text has "corrruption".}, which gave to the belligerent powers the advantage of a peace, while the neutral powers were involved in the evils of war. She had, in short, usurped and exercised on the water a tyranny similar to that which her great antagonist had usurped and exercised on the land. And, amid all these proofs of ambition and avarice, she demanded that the victims of her usurpations and her violence should revere her as the sole defender of the rights and liberties of mankind! 29

At about the time when Mr. Pinkney left England, Augustus J. Foster, who had been secretary to the British legation at Washington, was appointed [February 15, 1811.] envoy extraordinary to the United States, charged with the settlement of the affair of the Chesapeake and other matters in dispute between the two governments. 30 He had just fairly entered upon the duties of his peaceful mission, when an event occurred that produced great complications and ill feelings.

Since the favorable arrangement with France, British cruisers hovering upon the American coast had become more and more annoying to commerce. A richly-laden American vessel bound to France had been captured within thirty miles of New York; 31 and early in the month of May a British frigate, supposed to be the Guerriere, Captain Dacres, stopped an American brig only eighteen miles from New York, and a young man, known to be a native of Maine, was taken from her and impressed into the British service. 32 Similar instances had lately occurred, and the government resolved to send out one or two of the new frigates 33 immediately for the protection of the coast trade from the depredators.


The President, Captain Ludlow, was then anchored off Fort Severn, 34 at Annapolis, bearing the broad pennant of Commodore Rodgers, the senior officer of the navy. The commodore was with his family at Havre de Grace, seventy miles distant; 35 the President’s sailing-master was at Baltimore, forty miles distant; her purser and chaplain were at Washington, an equal distance from their posts, and all was listlessness on board the frigate, for no sounds of war were in the air. Suddenly, at three o’clock in the afternoon of the 7th of May, while Captain Ludlow was dining on board the sloop-of-war Argus, lying near the President, the gig was seen, about five miles distant, sailing at the rate of ten miles an hour, with the commodore’s broad pennant flying, denoting that he was on board. 36 Rodgers was soon on the President’s quarter-deck. He had received orders [May 6, 1811.] from his government to put to sea at once in search of the offending British vessel, and on the 10th he weighed anchor and proceeded down the Chesapeake, with the intention of cruising off New York as an inquirer concerning the impressment. He stopped on his way down the bay for munitions, and on the 14th passed the Virginia capes out upon the broad ocean. He lingered there as an observer for a day or two, and at about noon on the 16th, Cape Henry bearing southwest, and distant about forty miles, he discovered a strange sail on the eastern horizon. The squareness of her yards and symmetry of her sails proclaimed her a war vessel. She was bearing toward the President under a heavy press of sail. Thinking she might be the offender, the President stood for the stranger, and at two o’clock displayed her broad pennant 37 and ensign. The stranger made several signals. These were unanswered, and she bore away southward. 38 Anxious to speak with her, Rodgers gave chase. The President gained upon her, and at three in the afternoon was so near that her hull was seen upon the horizon; but the breeze slackened, and night fell upon the waters before the two vessels were near enough to each other to discern their respective characters.

At twenty minutes past eight in the evening the President brought-to on the weather-bow, or a little forward of the beam of the stranger, and, when within about a hundred yards of her, Rodgers hailed, and asked "What ship is that?" No answer was given, but the question was repeated from the stranger, word for word. After a pause of fifteen or twenty seconds Rodgers reiterated his inquiry, and, before he could take his trumpet from his mouth, was answered by a shot that cut off one of the main-top-backstays of his vessel, and lodged in her mainmast. He was about to order a shot in return, when a gun from the second division of his ship was fired. 39 At almost the same instant the antagonist of the President fired three guns in quick succession, and then the rest of her broadside, with musketry. This provocation caused the President to respond by a broadside. "Equally determined," said Rodgers, "not to be the aggressor, or suffer the flag of my country to be insulted with impunity, I gave a general order to fire." 40 In the course of five or six minutes his antagonist was silenced, and the guns of the President ceased firing, the commander having discovered that his assumed enemy was a feeble one in size and armament. But, to the surprise of the Americans, the stranger opened her fire anew in less than five minutes. This was again silenced by the guns of the President, when Rodgers again demanded "What ship is that?" The wind was blowing freshly at the time, and he was able to hear only the words, "His majesty’s ship – " but the name he could not understand. He immediately gave the name of his own vessel, displayed many lights to show his whereabouts in case the disabled ship should need assistance, and bore away.

At dawn the President discovered her antagonist several miles to the leeward, and immediately bore down upon her to offer assistance. Lieutenant Creighton was sent in a boat to learn the names of the vessel and her commander, to ascertain the extent of damage, offer assistance, and to express the regret of the commodore that necessity on his part had led to such results. Lieutenant Creighton brought back the information that the ship was the British sloop-of-war Little Belt, 18, Captain A. B. Bingham, who had been sent to the waters off Charleston, South Carolina, in search of the Guerriere, and, not finding her, was cruising northward for the same purpose, according to his instructions. 41 Captain Bingham politely refused aid, because he did not need it, and sailed away to Halifax, where he reported to "Herbert Sawyer, Esq., Rear-admiral of the Red," the commander-in-chief on the American station. 42 The President proceeded on her voyage toward New York, and "off Sandy Hook," on the 23d [May, 1811.], Commodore Rodgers wrote the dispatch to the Secretary of the Navy from which the foregoing facts have been drawn.

The reports of the occurrence by Rodgers and Bingham were utterly contradictory in respect to the most essential fact, namely, as to the aggressor. Rodgers stated positively that he hailed twice, and his words were repeated by the stranger; that she first fired one shot, which struck his vessel, then three shots, and immediately afterward the remainder of her broadside, before he opened his guns upon her, except the single one which one of the deserters declared was discharged by accident. This account was fully corroborated, before a court of inquiry, by every officer and some of the subordinates who were on board the President, under oath. On the contrary, Captain Bingham reported that he hailed first, and that his words were twice repeated from the President, when that vessel fired a broadside, which the Little Belt immediately returned. This statement was fully corroborated before a court of inquiry, held at Halifax on the 29th of May [1811.], by the officers of the Little Belt, and two deserters from the President, under oath. Bingham and his supporting deponents declared that the action lasted from forty-five minutes to one hour; while Rodgers declared that it lasted altogether, including the intermissions, not more than fifteen minutes. 43 Bingham also intimated in his dispatch that he had gained the advantage in the contest. 44

When intelligence of this affair went over the land it produced intense excitement. Desires for and dread of war with England were stimulated to vehement action, and conflicting views and expressions, intensified by party hate, awoke spirited contentions and discussions in every community. The contradictions of the two commanders were in due time made known, and added fuel to the fires of party strife. Each government naturally accepted the report of its own servant as the true one. Not so with all the people of the United States. The opposition politicians and newspapers, with a partisanship more powerful for a while than patriotism, took sides with the British; and, eager to convict the administration of belligerent intentions, while at the same time they inconsistently assailed it because of its alleged imbecility and want of patriotism in not resisting and resenting the outrages and insults of Great Britain, or making efficient preparations for such resistance and resentment, circulated a report, with the fiercest denunciations, that Rodgers had sailed with orders from Washington to rescue by force the young man lately impressed from a Portland brig. 45 They exultingly drew a comparison between the late and present Democratic administration, the former denying the right of the Leopard to take a seaman by force from the Chesapeake, the latter ordering Rodgers to do what Captain Humphreys had been condemned by the Americans and punished by his own government for doing. Rodgers himself, who had behaved most prudently, gallantly, and magnanimously in the matter, received his full share of personal abuse from the opponents of the administration; and, strange as it may seem, when the question was reduced to one of simple veracity on the part of the two commanders, a large number of his countrymen, even with the overwhelming testimony of all the officers and many of the subordinates of the President against that of five officers and two deserters produced by Captain Bingham, were so misled by party zeal as to express their belief that the British commander uttered nothing but truth, and that Rodgers and his people all committed perjury! But these ungenerous and unpatriotic assaults soon lost their chief sustenance when the Secretary of State officially declared that no orders had been given for a forcible rescue of the impressed American; and the satisfaction of Mr. Foster, the British minister at Washington (who had requested an inquiry into the conduct of Rodgers), that the statements of that commander were substantially true, was manifested by the fact that the subject was dropped in diplomatic circles, was never revived there, and the affair of the Chesapeake was settled in accordance with the demands of the government of the United States.

But while the two governments tacitly agreed to bury the matter in official oblivion, the people of the respective countries, highly excited by the event, would not let it drop. It increased the feeling of mutual animosity which had been growing rapidly of late, and widened the gulf of separation, which every day became more and more difficult of passage by kindly international sentiments; and when the Twelfth Congress assembled, a month earlier than usual [November 4, 1811.], the administration party in and out of that body was found to be decidedly a war party, while the Federalists, growing weaker in numbers every day, were as decidedly opposed to war.



1 The formation of new regiments brought into the service several men who became conspicuous in the War of 1812. Among them was Wade Hampton, of South Carolina, who had been in the army of the Revolution, and was now made a brigadier general. Among the colonels were Smythe and Parker, of Virginia, and Boyd, of Massachusetts. Peter Gansevoort, of New York, also of the Continental army, was made a brigadier. Zebulon Pike was promoted to major, and Winfield Scott and Zachary Taylor both took offices in the army, the former as a captain, and the latter as a lieutenant.

2 The engraving on the following page shows the different forms of the gun-boats at that time. The group is made from drawings presented to me when visiting the navy yard at Gosport, opposite Norfolk, in Virginia, in the spring of 1853. I am indebted to Mr. James Jarvis for them. The drawings were made by one who assisted in their construction, and who was then engaged in service at Gosport.

3 Among those who ridiculed the gun-boat system was Colonel John Trumbull, the artist. According to that system, he said, "Whenever danger shall menace any harbor, or any foreign ship shall insult us, somebody is to inform the governor, and the governor is to desire the marshal to call upon the captains of militia to call upon the drummers to beat to arms and call the militia-men together, from whom are to be drafted (not impressed) a sufficient number to go on board the gun-boats and drive the hostile stranger away, unless, during this long ceremonial, he should have taken himself off. – TRUMBULL’S Reminiscences of his own Times, page 252.

4 In the political poem quoted from on page 164, the author thus alludes to Mr. Jefferson at that time:

"And thou, the scorn of every patriot name,
Thy country’s ruin, and her councils’ shame!
Poor, servile thing! derision of the brave!
Who erst from Tarleton fled to Carter’s cave;
Thou, who, when menaced by perfidious Gaul,
Didst prostrate to her whiskered minion fall;
And when our cash his empty bags supplied,
Did meanly strive the foul disgrace to hide.
Go, wretch, resign the Presidential chair,
Disclose thy secret measures, foul or fair;
Go search with curious eye for horned frogs
’Mid the wild wastes of Louisiana bogs;
Or where Ohio rolls his turbid stream,
Dig for huge bones, thy glory and thy theme."

5 This vessel was built as a small frigate of 24 in Charleston, South Carolina. She was cut down to a sloop, then raised to a frigate; finally cut down to a sloop again, and, about the year 1830, was entirely rebuilt as a first-class ship. – COOPER’S Naval History of the United States, ii., 116.

6 This was the now (1867) venerable Lord Brougham. He had recently made London his residence, having practiced law in his native city of Edinburg until 1807. He entered Parliament as a whig in 1810, and was a coworker with Clarkson, Wilberforce, and Granville Sharpe in favor of the negro slave. He was the vindicator of Queen Caroline against the persecution of her infamous husband, King George the Fourth. His voice and pen were ever on the side of reform and humanity. In 1830 he became a peer, and Lord Chancellor of England. He has ever held a high place in literature, his first contributions having appeared in the Edinburg Review, at its commencement in 1802. In his several departments of labor as philosopher, law reformer, statesman, and critic, he has ever stood pre-eminent. He has resided much at Cannes, in France, during his later years, on account of ill health.

During the late Civil War in America, Lord Brougham wrote and spoke in favor of the insurgents, who were fighting for the perpetuation of the slave system which he had opposed all his life, and against the government whose most zealous adherents were avowed Abolitionists.

7 According to the statement of that protest, the amount of cotton wool exported to England from the United States in 1807 was "250,000 bags, amounting, at £12 per bag, to the value of £3,000,000."

8 Printed, with the motions and protest alluded to, and an abstract of Brougham’s speech, in a thin volume of about two hundred pages.

9 Armstrong’s Instructions said, "Should she [France] set the example of revocation, Great Britain would be obliged, either by following it, to restore to France the full benefit of neutral trade, which she needs, or, by persevering in her obnoxious orders after the pretext for them had ceased, to render collision with the United States inevitable."

Pinkney’s Instructions said, "Should the French government revoke so much of its decrees as violate our neutral rights, or give explanations and assurances having the like effect, and entitling it, therefore, to a removal of the Embargo as it applies to France, it will be impossible to view a perseverance of Great Britain in her retaliatory orders in any other light than that of war, without even the pretext now assumed by her."

10 "If considered as a measure of impartial hostility against both belligerents," wrote Mr. Canning, "the Embargo appears to his majesty to have been manifestly unjust, as, according to every principle of justice, the redress ought to have been first sought from the party originating the wrong. And his majesty can not consent to buy off that hostility, which America ought not to have extended to him, at the expense of a concession made, not to America, but to France."

11 Alluding to the failure of Rose’s mission in regard to the affair of the Chesapeake, Mr. Canning, with singular unfairness, remarked, speaking of the President’s proclamation which that affair drew forth concerning British vessels of war, "The continuance of an interdiction which, under such circumstances, amounts so nearly to direct hostility, after the willingness professed, and the attempt made by his majesty to remove the cause on which that measure had been originally founded, would afford but an inauspicious omen for the commencement of a system of mutual conciliation; and the omission of any notice of that measure in the proposal which Mr. Pinkney has been instructed to bring forward, would have been of itself a material defect in the overture of the President."

12 "By some unfortunate concurrence of circumstances," said Mr. Canning sarcastically, "without any hostile intention, the American Embargo did come in aid of the ‘blockade of the European Continent’ precisely at the very moment when, if that blockade could have succeeded at all, this interposition of the American government would most effectually have contributed to its success."

These words of Canning were caught up by the opposition in America as additional evidence that the administration were playing into the hands of Napoleon, and the old cry of "French party" was vigorously revived for a while.

13 According to official tables, the value of the exports of the United States from 1791 to 1813 was $1,343,047,000. Of this amount the exports of the Eastern, Middle, and Southern States were in value as follows:

Five Eastern States


Four Middle States


Six Southern States and District of Columbia


or for the New England States less than one fourth of the whole amount.

14 Jefferson to Dr. Lieb, of Philadelphia, June 23, 1808.

15 The following clause in a resolution adopted at a public meeting in Topsfield, Massachusetts, on the 15th of January, 1807, expressed the sentiments, and Illustrated the actions of a large class of Americans at that time: "This assembly can not refrain from expressing its conviction that neither the honor nor the permanent interests of the United States require that we should drive Great Britain, if it were in our power, to the surrender of those claims [right of search, impress, and confiscation] so essential to her in the mighty conflict in which she is at present engaged – a conflict interesting to humanity, to morals, to religion, and the last struggle of liberty."

16 A memorial from the town of Bath, in Maine, to the Massachusetts Legislature, dated December 27, 1808, contained the following resolution: "That a respectful address be forwarded in the name of the people of this town to the Legislature of this commonwealth, stating to them the wrongs and grievances we already suffer, and the painful apprehensions we experience of speedily having our calamity increased by the addition of still more restrictive and arbitrary laws; expressing to them our approbation of the measures they have already adopted upon the subject, and requesting them to take such other immediate steps for relieving the people, either by themselves alone or in concert with other commercial states, as the extraordinary circumstances of our situation require."

In Gloucester, Massachusetts, a town meeting resolved, on the 12th of January, 1809, "that to our state government we look for counsel, protection, and relief at this awful period of general calamity."

The people of Boston, in a memorial dated January 25, 1809, said: "Our hope and consolation rest with the Legislature of our state, to whom it is competent to devise means of relief against the unconstitutional measures of the general government; that your power is adequate to this object is evident from the organization of the confederacy."

The opposition press uttered many violent and inflammatory appeals to the people. A hand-bill was circulated in Newburyport which contained the following sentences: "Let every man who holds the name of America dear to him stretch forth his hand and put this accursed thing, the EMBARGO, from him. Be resolute; act like the sons of liberty, of GOD, and of your country; nerve your arms with VENGEANCE against the DESPOT who would wrest the inestimable gem of your independence from you, and you shall be conquerors!"

"We know," said the Boston Repertory, "if the Embargo be not removed, our citizens will ere long set its penalties and restrictions at defiance. It behooves us to speak, for strike we must if speaking does not answer."

"It is better to suffer the amputation of a limb [meaning the severance of New England from the Union"], said the Boston Gazette, "than to lose the whole body. We must prepare for the operation. Wherefore, then, is New England asleep? Wherefore does she submit to the oppression of enemies in the South? Have we no Moses who is inspired by the God of our fathers, and will lead us out of Egypt?"

"This perpetual Embargo," said Russell, in the Boston Centinel, "being unconstitutional, every man will perceive that he is not bound to regard it, but may send his produce or merchandise to a foreign market in the same manner as if the government had never undertaken to prohibit it. If the petitions do not produce a relaxation or removal of the Embargo, the people ought to immediately assume a higher tone. The government of Massachusetts has also a duty to perform. The state is still sovereign and independent."

The above passages have been cited to give an idea of the state of public feeling under the pressure of the Embargo. Never had the patriotism of the people greater temptations than at the gloomy period of utter commercial stagnation or ruinous fluctuation from 1808 to 1812, inclusive of those years.

17 Josiah Quincy was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on the 4th of February, 1772. He was educated at Harvard University, in Cambridge, where he was graduated in 1790. He entered upon the practice of the law in Boston. In 1804 he was elected to a seat in the National Congress, and held that position eight successive years. In 1813 he declined a reelection. He was chosen a senator from Suffolk, and was a representative in the upper House of the Legislature of Massachusetts for four successive years. He was speaker of the lower House in 1820, and the following year was appointed judge of the Municipal Court of Boston. In 1823 he was chosen mayor of that city, and held the office six consecutive years, when he declined a re-election, He was chosen President of Harvard University in 1829, and held that honorable position until his resignation in 1845, from which time he enjoyed leisure in private life, but always actively alive to events around.

Mr. Quincy was an author of reputation, his most considerable works being A History of Harvard University, in two volumes, with illustrations by his daughter; Memoir of his father (Josiah Quincy) and others; A Memorial History of Boston, etc. Mr. Quincy lived until the 2d day of July, 1864, when he died at his country seat in Quincy, Massachusetts, in the ninety-third year of his age. He and the late Lord Lyndhurst (son of Copley, the painter) were born in Boston on the same night, and the same physician attended both mothers.

The writer visited him when he was in his ninetieth year, and had the pleasure and profit of his conversation concerning past days; and when he spoke of having a distinct recollection of being carried out of Boston by way of the British fortifications on the Neck in 1775, and undergoing a purification by sulphur vapor on account of small-pox in the city, I seemed to be talking with a patriarch indeed – a man whose memory embraced the stirring events of much of the two centuries. He was born at the opening of the just rebellion of a great people against real tyranny, and lived to speak patriotic words in condemnation of a most unrighteous rebellion of a few demagogues against, as one of their number had but recently said, "the most beneficent government on the face of the earth."

18 Hildreth’s History of the United States, Second Series, iii., 126.

19 After the usual preamble citing the action between the government and "the Honorable David Montague Erskine, his majesty’s envoy extraordinary," he said, "Now, therefore, I, James Madison, President of the United States, do hereby proclaim, that the orders in Council aforesaid will have been withdrawn on the said tenth day of June next; after which day the trade of the United States with Great Britain, as suspended by the act of Congress above mentioned, an act laying an embargo on all ships and vessels in the ports and harbors of the United States, and the several acts supplementary thereto, may be renewed."

20 Secretary Robert Smith, in a letter to Mr. Erskine on the 17th of April, said, "I have it in express charge from the President to state that, while he forbears to insist on a farther punishment of the offending officer, he is not the less sensible of the justice and utility of such an example, nor the less persuaded that it would best comport with what is due from his Britannic majesty to his own honor."

21 For an account of this matter, see Chapter XI. of this work.

22 Mr. Erskine was the eldest son of the celebrated English orator and lord chancellor. In the year 1800 he married the daughter of General John Cadwalader, of Philadelphia, with whom he lived until 1843, when she died. His eldest son he named Thomas Americus, and is still living, I believe, the successor to his father’s title. In 1848 Lord Erskine married again. This wife died in April, 1851, and he again married in December, 1852. His last wife was the widow of Thomas Calderwood Durham, Esq., of Largo and Palton. He had children only by his first wife. He succeeded to his father’s titles in 1823. He was educated for the law at Trinity College, Cambridge, but was much of his life in diplomatic service. He was British envoy at Washington from 1806 to 1810, and afterward represented his country at the courts of Wurtemberg and Bavaria. In 1843 he retired from public life, and died on the 19th of March, 1855.

23 The British government strongly suspected that Denmark would acquiesce in the dictates of the French emperor, and become the ally of the conqueror. If so, the Danish fleet would fall into his hands, and England’s life might be imperiled. She therefore sent a formidable armament to the Baltic, accompanied by Jackson as envoy extraordinary, to negotiate with the Danish government, the basis of which was an English protectorate of Danish neutrality, on condition that its fleet should be deposited in British ports until the termination of the war with France. The Danish government rejected this degrading proposal, and claimed the rights of a neutral, independent nation, whereupon the British armament of twenty-seven sail of the line, and twenty thousand land troops, under the respective commands of Admiral Gambier and Lord Cathcart, attacked Copenhagen. The splendid cathedral, many public buildings and private houses, were destroyed, and with them two thousand lives. The city was on fire from the 2d until the 5th of September. A great part of the city was consumed, when a flag of truce was displayed by the Danish commander. The Danish fleet and a large quantity of naval stores were surrendered. But the indignant Danish government refused to ratify the capitulation, and issued a declaration of war against England. Russia, indignant at the shameful treatment of Denmark, also declared war against England, and issued a manifesto on the 30th of October ordering the destruction of all British ships and property.

24 Jackson found a residence in the city too uncomfortable, on account of the detestation in which he was held, and he took up his abode at Claremont, the seat of the Post family, at the present Manhattanville, now Jones’s Hotel, a fashionable place of resort.

25 See letter of Armstrong to the Secretary of State, January, 1810, in American State Papers. The manner of the correspondence of Minister Armstrong with the French government at this time appears to have excited the hot displeasure of the Emperor, who wrote to M. de Champagny on the 19th of January, 1810, as follows:


"MONSIEUR DUKE DE CADORE, – You must see the minister from America. It is beyond all ridiculous that he writes of things that one does not comprehend. I prefer that he should write in English, but at length, and in a manner that we can understand. How is it that in affairs so important he contents himself with writing letters of four lines? Speak to the secretary who is here; speak also to the secretary who is about arriving from America. Send by a courier extraordinary a dispatch in cipher to make them understand that that government is not represented here; that its minister don’t understand French – is a morose man, with whom one can not deal; that all obstacles would be removed if we had an envoy to talk with. Write in detail on the matter. Let me know what effect the letter from Altenburg has had in the United States – what has been done, and what is proposed. Write to America in such manner that the President may know what a fool has been sent here.



26 Letter of Pinkney to the Secretary of State, February 28, 1810, in American State Papers.

27 The British ministry, in their refusal to rescind the orders, made a strong point of the fact that one of the conditions in Champagny’s letter was the renouncing by the English what were called the "new British principles of blockade," namely, the blockading of all commercial unfortified towns, coasts, harbors, and mouths of rivers. Bonaparte claimed that it ought to be confined to fortified places. Great Britain would not relax an iota of her pretensions in this matter.

28 Act of Congress, passed 2d of March, 1811.

29 See Dallas’s Exposition of the Causes and Character of the late War.

30 In announcing this appointment, the British ministry assured Mr. Pinkney of the most pacific feelings of their government toward that of his own, and that the delay in filling the place caused by the recall of Jackson was not because of any indisposition to keep up friendly diplomatic relations, but from a desire to make a satisfactory appointment, and also from late interruptions to official business owing to the mental disability of the king and the establishment of a regency. The king had shown signs of insanity in 1788, and a Regency Bill was submitted to Parliament in December of that year. The king recovered, and in February following it was withdrawn. In 1810 the physicians of the king announced his confirmed insanity, and on the 5th of February, 1811, his son, the Prince of Wales, afterward George the Fourth, went before the Privy Council in great state, and was sworn in as regent of the kingdom. He held that office until the death of his father in 1820, when he became king.

31 Hildreth, Second Series, iii., 245.

32 Although the sea was running high, the captain of the Spitfire (the arrested brig) went with the young man on board the frigate, and assured the commander that he had known him from boyhood as a native of Maine. The insolent reply was, "All that may be so, but he has no protection, and that is enough for me." – New York Herald, May 11, 1811.

33 The American navy then in active service consisted of the President, Constitution, and United States, 44 each; the Essex, 32; John Adams, 24; Wasp and Hornet, 18 each; Argus and Siren, 16 each; Nautilus, Enterprise, and Vixen, 12 each; and a large flotilla of gun-boats, commanded principally by sailing-masters selected from the officers of merchant vessels. – Cooper, ii., 118.

34 The present Fort or Battery Severn, composed of a circular base and hexagonal tower, is upon the site of a fort of the same name, erected, with other fortifications, in 1776. It was then little more than a group of breast-works. These were strengthened at the beginning of the war in 1812. The present fort, seen in the picture, is rather a naval than a military work, its principal use being for a practice-battery for the students in the Naval Academy there, and for the defense of the naval arsenal, school, and officers’ quarters. That academy (which was removed to Newport, Rhode Island, on the breaking out of the civil war in the spring of 1861, and its buildings at Annapolis used for hospital purposes during the conflict) was to the navy what the West Point Academy is to the army. The grounds about Fort Severn are very beautiful, and delight the eyes of all visitors. In addition to the Naval Monument there, already mentioned (page 124), are others, both elegant and expensive.


35 The residence of Commodore Rodgers at Havre de Grace, at that time, was yet standing when I visited that town in November, 1861. It stood at near the junction of Washington and St. John Streets, and was occupied by William Poplar. It was a two-story brick house, substantially built, and well preserved, as seen in the engraving on the next page. It will be referred to again, in an account of my visit to Havre de Grace above alluded to.

36 Letter from an officer on board the President in the New York Herald, June 11, 1811.

37 A pennant is a streamer made of a long, narrow piece of bunting, worn at the mast-heads of vessels of war. A broad pennant is a square piece of the same material, placed at the mast-head of the commodore’s flag-ship. It is sometimes spelled pendant and pennon. The latter is not, strictly, a streamer. It is a shorter flag, split at the end, and used on merchant vessels. In the Middle Ages it was carried by knights at the heads of their lances. It is sometimes used poetically for a streamer or banner.

38 "Made the signal 275, and finding it not answered, concluded she was an American frigate," wrote the commander of that vessel to his superior on the 21st of May. Each nation has a system of naval signals of its own, unknown to all others, and changed frequently, and for that reason Commodore Rodgers could not answer. These signals comprise a system of telegraphic signs, by which ships communicate with each other at a distance and convey information, or make known their wants. This is done by means of a certain number of flags and pennants of different colors, peculiarly arranged, which indicate the different numerals from 1 to 0. Particular flags or pennants are also used for specific purposes; for example, one pennant is called the interrogative, and, when hoisted, signifies that a question is asked; while another flag signifies affirmative, negative, etc. To correspond with the flags, signal-books are formed, with sentences or words which these flags represent. These books contain a list of the most common words in the language, with a table of such geographical names, as are likely to be needed at sea, and also a list of the ships belonging to the navy of the country. *New American Cyclopœdia, article SIGNALS.

To give the reader a practical idea of the working of naval signals, I introduce graphic and explanatory descriptions from Rodgers and Black’s Semaphoric Signal-book, approved by the Secretary of the Navy, J. Y. Mason, in 1847. These signals are composed of nine flags and five short pennants, capable of making 100,000 signals.


These flags and pennants are seen in the engraving, No. 1. There are three colors, namely, red, white, and blue. The red and blue are represented by shading, the lines of the former being perpendicular, and of the latter horizontal. Each of the flags has the same signification as the number above it.

The pennants are used for duplicating or repeating. They are intended as substitutes for the numbers of such flags as are already in use; for example, in the signal number 2325 the figure 2 occurs twice. Having but one flag to represent that figure, another is substituted to answer its purpose, and this is done by using a pennant termed duplicate. The four pennants in the lower section of engraving No. 1 represent 1st, 2d, 3d, and 4th duplicates in the order of common enumeration. The first duplicate always repeats the number of the upper or first flag (the counting is always downward) of the signal with which it is hoisted; the 2d duplicate repeats the second flag, and so on. The first duplicate, hoisted singly, is answering pennant; the 2d, hoisted singly, is No; the 3d, hoisted singly, is Yes; and the 4th, hoisted singly, is numeral signal. 0, or cipher pennant, hoisted singly, is alphabetical signal.


Engraving No. 2 shows four examples of the use of the signals, in all of which the duplicates are used. By attention to the above explanations, the operation will be readily understood. The first section of the engraving No. 2 represents the number 2295, opposite which, in the signal-book, will be found the words, "The commodore wishes to see you." The second section represents the number 2329 – "Can you spare a compass!" In these two the 1st duplicate is used, repeating the number of the first or upper flag. In the third section is represented number 6404 – "Prepare for action." In the fourth section, number 7226 – "Strange sail on the starboard." In these two the second duplicate repeats the number of the second flag hoisted. The recipient of the information conveyed by the signals writes down the numbers on a slate, and then readily finds the meaning by referring to the corresponding number in the signal-book.


In a calm the signals are displayed on a more horizontal line, as seen in engraving No. 3, which represents number 1307 – "Is becalmed, and requires a steam-boat to tow."

The same flags and pennants are also used for alphabetical signals, to spell a word or name. The 0, or cipher signal, is hoisted singly, as the preparatory signal, after which the 0 or cipher signal is placed above or below the flags where required, as seen in engraving No. 4, and indicated in the alphabet below.


During the autumn and winter of 1811 and 1812, when war with England seemed to be inevitable, the attention of Commodore Rodgers was much occupied with the subject of land telegraphs for army purposes, and naval signals. He invented a telegraph which was adopted. On the 31st (sic. – WDC, 06/17/01) of April, 1812, he wrote to the Secretary of the Navy from the President, then lying in Hampton Roads, recommending a change in the naval signals, several years having elapsed since the system of day signals then in use had been introduced. He thought it had become known to the British navy. In that letter, preserved in the Department at Washington, he sent a drawing made in accordance with the proposed change. His suggestions were adopted, and the signals delineated in the engraving No. 5, on the next page, copied from Rodgers’s manuscripts, were those used during the War of 1812.


A frequent change in the arrangement of the signal flags is necessary, for obvious reasons. The code of signals used in the United States Navy just previous to the late civil war was prepared by a board of officers consisting of Commodores M‘Caulay and Lavalette, and Commanders Marchand and Steedman. It was adopted by the Navy Department in 1857. In 1859 another board of officers tested and approved a system of night signals invented by B. F. Coston, of the United States Navy. In October, 1861, they were adopted in the United States army. A new system of signals for both the army and navy was arranged by Major (afterward Colonel) Albert J. Myer, which was used throughout the war. Major Myer was the chief signal officer during all that time, and is now (1867) at the head of the signal department of the army.


* These signal-books, when prepared for actual service at sea, are covered with canvas, containing a plate of lead on each side sufficient to sink them. This is for the purpose of destroying them, by throwing them into the sea when a vessel is compelled to strike her colors, to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy. The annexed picture of a signal-book so covered and leaded is from a drawing of one before me which was used by Commodore Barney. It is about nine inches in length. The lead is stitched into the canvas cover. It was found among Barney’s papers, which that indefatigable antiquary of Philadelphia, John A. M‘Allister, secured from destruction, and deposited for safe keeping with the collections of the Pennsylvania Historical Society. Those papers were kindly placed at my disposal by Mr. M‘Allister, and from them I gleaned much valuable material used in the preparation of a portion of this work.

39 Two English seamen, who professed to have been deserters from the President, testified at Halifax that this gun was discharged by accident. - London Times, December 7, 1811.

40 Rodgers’s dispatch to the Secretary of the Navy, May 23, 1811.

41 These instructions were dated at "Bermuda, this 19th day of April, 1811," signed by H. N. Somerville, by command of Admiral Sawyer, and addressed to "Arthur Batt Bingham, Esq., commander of his majesty’s sloop Little Belt." In the instructions he was enjoined to be "particularly careful not to give any just cause of offence to the government or subjects of the United States of America: and to give very particular orders to this effect to the officers you may have occasion to send on board ships under the American flag."

42 Bingham reported his vessel much damaged in her masts, sails, rigging, and hull; many shot through between wind and water, and many shot imbedded in her side and all her upper works, with the starboard pump shot away. He told Creighton that he had all necessary materials on board for making sufficient repairs to enable him to reach Halifax.

43 John Rodgers was born at Havre de Grace, in Maryland, in 1771. He entered the navy as lieutenant, on the 9th of March, 1798, and was the executive officer of the Constellation, under Commodore Truxtun, when the Insurgente was taken. See page 103. He was appointed captain in March, 1790, and he was in active service during the naval operations in the Mediterranean until 1805. He was the oldest officer in rank in the navy at the time of the occurrence narrated in the text. He was the first to start on a cruise with a squadron after the declaration of war in 1812. His efficient services during that war will be found detailed in future pages. From April, 1815, until December, 1824, he served as president of the board of Navy Commissioners, and from 1824 until 1827 he was in command of a squadron in the Mediterranean. On his return in 1827 he resumed his place at the board, and held it for ten years, when he relinquished it on account of failing health. He died at Philadelphia in August, 1838. The portrait above given was copied from an original painting in the Navy Department at Washington.

44 "The action then became general, and continued so for about three quarters of an hour, when he [the American] ceased firing, and appeared to be on fire about the main hatchway. He then filled. I was obliged to desist from firing, as the ship falling off, no gun would bear, and had no after-sail to keep her to." – Dispatch to Admiral Sawyer, May 21, 1811.

45 The charge was apparently justified by the tenor of a letter, already referred to, purporting to have been written by an officer on board the President on the 14th of May, but whose name was never given. He wrote: "By the officers who came from Washington we learn that we are sent in pursuit of the British frigate who had impressed a passenger from a coaster. Yesterday, while beating down the bay, we spoke a brig coming up, who informed us that she saw the British frigate the day before off the very place where we now are; but she is not now in sight. We have made the most complete preparations for battle. Every one wishes it. She is exactly our force, but we have the Argus with us, which none of us are pleased with, as we wish a fair trial of courage and skill. Should we see her, I have not the least doubt of an engagement. The commodore will demand the person impressed; the demand will doubtless be refused, and the battle will instantly commence. . . . The commodore has called in the boatswain, gunner, and carpenter, informed them of all circumstances, and asked if they were ready for action. Ready was the reply of each." - New York Herald, June 3, 1811.



Transcription and html prepared by Bill Carr, last updated 10/20/2001.

Please provide me with any feedback you may have concerning errors in the transcription or any supplementary information concerning the contents. [email protected]

Copyright Notice: Copyright 2001. All files on this site are copyrighted by their creator. They may be linked to but may not be reproduced on another site without the specific permission of their creator. Although public information is not in and of itself copyrightable, the format in which it is presented, the notes and comments, etc., are. It is, however, quite permissible to print or save the files to a personal computer for personal use ONLY.