Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

VII.]

The War on the Sea.

193

The Ameri

One English paper proposed that British frigates should run away from the Constitution on the ground that she was a “seventy-four," a "line-of-battle-ship in disguise." There can be no question that the Constitution, President, and United States were the most powerful frigates then afloat. They had been designed with that precise object in view, as armoured cruisers are designed now-a-days. The guns of the Constitution, on August 19th, 1812, sounded the death-knell of impressment and the right of search. It is not necessary to enumerate the other naval encounters of the war, except the notable capture of the American frigate Chesapeake by the Shannon, and that of the American sloop-of-war Argus by the Pelican. Most of the national vessels were kept in port by the British blockading squadrons after 1812.

During the later years of the war, the American privateers continued their hazardous calling. They ran the blockade almost with impunity, and established

can privateers. in turn what might be described as a “privateer blockade” of portions of the British Islands. Many of these privateers were fine large vessels, carrying an armament as heavy as that of a sloop-of-war, and quite the match of an ordinary sixteen-gun brig. Though the fastest vessels then afloat, they were nearly all captured sooner or later. But the loss of one vessel seemed to stimulate the owner to construct another and better one. Some of them were built and placed on the ocean within sixty days. In the course of the war they captured more than two thousand five hundred British vessels, about one-half of which were recaptured while on their way to America.

In the winter of 1814-15, the privateers infested the British coasts to such an extent that a shipowner was fortunate if he could insure his ship for ten even thirteen per cent. for a run across the Irish Channel. At one time they hovered about the mouth of the Thames, and one little schooner of two hundred tons captured a despatch boat in the Straits of C. A.

13

Dover. The great lines of commerce were also carefully watched. One English ship captain reported that his vessel was three times captured and as many times recaptured on a voyage across the Atlantic, adding that he saw no less than ten privateers on that short passage. Profitable commerce was difficult under such conditions; and the British merchants now spoke of the United States as a ‘power whose maritime strength we have hitherto impolitically held in contempt.” Mr John Wilson Croker, at that time Secretary of the Admiralty, threatened with condign punishment an enterprising merchant captain who had abandoned his convoy when within sight of the British coast, and had been captured. “Such illegal acts,' said Mr Croker, are attended with injurious consequences to the trade of the country.”

The contest between Napoleon and Russia had been renewed The Treaty

in June, 1812, four days after the declaration of of Ghent, war against England by the American Congress. 1814.

The principal reason for this new conflict between France and Russia was the refusal of the latter power to enforce the continental system against the Americans or to compel the other Baltic powers like Sweden to enforce it. The Czar saw with some dismay England and the United States, which should have both joined him against France, engaging in a contest with one another. Mr John Quincy Adams, son of John Adams, was at that time American Minister to Russia. In September, 1812, while Napoleon was at Moscow, Mr Adams was informed of the Czar's concern and of his desire to mediate between Great Britain and the United States. On learning of this offer, Madison sent Gallatin and Bayard of Delaware, a Federalist, to act jointly with Adams in any negotiation which m ht ensue. But England, though anxious to give no offence to Russia, could not permit one of the Baltic powers to mediate in a matter which concerned the rights of neutrals. The offer was therefore declined, and this same answer was returned to a

VII.]

The Treaty of Ghent, 1814.

195

second offer of mediation. Lord Castlereagh, the British Foreign Minister, at the same time announced his willingness to negotiate directly with the Americans. But it was not until the summer of 1814 that the negotiators met for the first time. The American Commissioners meanwhile had been reinforced by the addition to their number of Henry Clay and Jonathan Russell. It seems probable that this moment to begin negotiations was chosen by the British government in the belief that the events of the campaign of 1814 would make the Americans more pliable and more willing to surrender territory along the Great Lakes. But the retreat of Prevost and the defence made by Brown at Fort Erie put an end to any hope of an accession of territory, and the negotiation was suddenly brought to a conclusion. The treaty, which was signed at Ghent on December 24th, 1814, was emphatically a treaty of peace, in that it settled none of the questions about which the war ostensibly had been waged. Impressment was not even mentioned in it, and the fall of Napoleon had done away with the continental system. Furthermore, the American right to the fisheries and the British right to the free navigation of the Mississippi, both of which had been discussed in the course of the negotiation,

left for future settlement. News of the peace and of the repulse of Pakenham at New Orleans reached Washington at the same moment. The latter served to make the treaty more palatable. Everywhere the rejoicings were loud and from the heart.

Indeed, it was time that the war was ended, for commissioners from several New England States were then at Washington to lay proposals before the ford Convengovernment, which looked to a dissolution of the tion, 1814-15. Union. New England had borne its full share in the war. This can easily be seen from a brief statement of the contributions of Massachusetts and Virginia. The former contained in 1810, the census year, about seven hundred thousand inhabitants.

we

The Hart

more

Virginia is credited in the same census with nine hundred and seventy thousand inhabitants, including five hundred and fifty thousand negro slaves. The two States were represented in Congress by twenty and twenty-three members respectively - that being also the basis of the apportionment of direct taxes; and it was supposed to represent the relative strength and capacity of the two States. Furthermore, Massachusetts contributed four times as much money to the support of the war as Virginia. She furnished more men to the United States armies than Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina combined men indeed than any State except New York. But the war was unpopular in New England, and the leading men there, mostly of the Federalist party, had no confidence in the administration. At the suggestion of the Federalist chiefs, who seem to have adopted Madison's Virginia Resolutions of 1798 as their text, delegates met at Hartford (December, 1814-January, 1815) and adopted a proposition to permit the New England States to retain the proceeds of the national taxes collected therein for the purpose of paying State armies.

The convention further laid down, in words which must have sounded unpleasantly familiar to Jefferson and Madison, that the States must be the judges and execute their own decisions when the federal government exceeded its powers, on the ground that there was “no common umpire.” Never was a political revolution more ill-timed. The treaty of peace was then on its way to America, and six days before the Hartford Convention adjourned, General Jackson won the Battle of New Orleans. The Commissioners, sent to Washington to arrange for the division of taxes, hurried home amid the jeers of the Republican press. The administration at once leaped into great popularity. The War of 1812 settled two great questions within the

United States. For the first time in its history, the American people in 1815 realized its nationality. The party favourable to England lost

Results of the War.

VII.)

The Hartford Convention.

197

End of Madi. son's Administration.

credit even in its stronghold. After 1815 the Federalist party steadily declined until in 1820 it cast not one electoral vote. Since 1815 the United States has held resolutely aloof from foreign complications, and the American people, which up to that time had been interested in European affairs, seemed suddenly to lose all interest in them. They ceased to be provincial and viewed affairs thenceforward from a national stand-point. The War of 1812, therefore, has been often and correctly called the Second War of Independence.

The war left the United States in a very critical condition so far as the finances were concerned. The revenue of the federal government was derived almost entirely from duties on imports. During the last few years of embargo, non-intercourse, and war, there had been hardly any goods imported and in consequence the revenues of the government had seriously diminished. Congress during those years had been singularly inefficient and had refused to pass any effective measures for restoring the credit of the government. With the return of peace, new forces at once came into existence. Importations were made on a large scale and Congress consented in 1816 to re-charter the United States Bank for twenty years.

The same year saw the passage of the first of a series of tariffs designed to protect the makers of textile goods, and Madison retired from office in 1817 leaving affairs in a most satisfactory condition. His successor was James Monroe, of Virginia, who during the last few years had been the most prominent man in the cabinet.

The old issues which had divided parties were now extinct. The younger Republicans had adopted nationalist principles without losing their popular Good Feelinstincts. The older Republicans, discredited ing." by the failure of the embargo policy and abandoned by their leaders, were obliged to follow the majority of the party. The Federalist party was hardly more than a faction during Monroe's

The “Era of

« AnteriorContinuar »