Celebrating 17 years

"Peace Upon Honorable Terms"

The United States Ratification of the Treaty of Ghent
Page 2

« Continued from previous page

William Henry Crawford, the U. S. Minister to France, was quite informed and interested in the treaty making process. However, his dispatches do not reveal a great deal about France's views on the treaty. His dispatch of December 28 mentions the peace, but only in passing. He states that the return of peace would make it necessary to fill the various consulates in France. [30] Crawford again mentions the peace in his February 20 dispatch, but, again, mentions it only briefly. However, he clearly takes it for granted that the United States would ratify the treaty. [31] Apparently, he was not yet aware that it had been.

The silence of the foreign powers seems to speak for itself. Indeed, Crawford, in an encoded letter to the commissioners dated May 12, 1814, writes:

I have resorted to the ordinary means of obtaining access to the emperor of Russia [and to] his confidential servants. I have not succeeded, and shall make no other effort. [There seems to be] a systematic shyness for everything American near the allied sovereigns. The Monitor of Friday last [An important Paris Newspaper] announced that ambassadors [to] his majesty would be received by him the next day in the hall of his throne. I was not among their numbers...and the very attending of my absence excludes all idea of forgetfulness and I assume intentional neglect. [32]

This letter, obviously encoded lest it offend an intercepting European power and potential ally, demonstrates that, especially during the peace process in Europe, Britain's allies were unwilling to offend her by in any way showing sympathy for the United States. France, and her newly restored monarch Louis XVIII, were in a particularly tenuous position, as Louis was greatly indebted to Britain for restoring the throne, and rather depended on Britain to help him, at least for the moment, maintain it.

However, the London Times reported that "the French rejoice at this event, as it puts an end to the blockade of the American harbors, and opens the United States to the commerce of France, equally at least, with that of England." [33] Certainly, this was not an official reaction on the part of the French government, but, it does indeed seem rational for French merchants to welcome the news of peace with open arms. As to the treaty itself, silence prevailed.

Gallatin's theory that the European powers were not concerned with the War of 1812 may be correct, but they also may have simply been withholding their opinions for fear of offending Great Britain, then the world's number one power. Lawrence Kaplan, at least in the case of France, agrees with this conclusion. He writes that, though there was most likely pro-American sentiment in France, the British presence there following Napoleon's defeat made any official expression of such sentiment unwise. Moreover, the restored Bourbon monarchy depended on British favor, as did Tallyrand, who was counting on Britain to help restore France's influence at the Congress of Vienna. [34] Thus, confirming the implications of Crawford's letter, it seems that the European powers either had no opinions on the treaty or chose not to express them. More important for the purposes of this study, no negative views seem to have been expressed.

Though not an official statement from the government, one of the earliest news reports of the treaty from the December 26 Ghent Courant, stated that "it is understood that the conditions are favorable to the Americans, who maintain their territory inviolate, without losing a foot of it." [35] There was no foreign power laughing at the pitiful Americans who had been humiliated in war and peace by the British. Perhaps, this alone gives us some insight into the merits of the treaty and America's post-war international stature. Perhaps, as other historians have suggested, the war and the treaty did in fact help boost America's international status to some extent.

Reaction in the British Press was very mixed. The London Times took a decidedly negative view of the peace treaty. However, the paper did not condemn the treaty on the grounds that, having accomplished none of the stated goals, the Americans had accepted a hollow treaty. Rather, it lambasted British handling of the war and the peace process. The January 2 edition lamented that, because of the War of 1812, "The Navy of Britain is disgraced forever: and, oh! shame! The fame of the immortal Nelson is eclipsed by the vaunts of the vulgar braggart Rodgers." [36] Certainly, as Wellington himself pointed out, the navy's failure to control the Great Lakes was a great obstacle to winning the war. In fact, in a letter to Lt. General Sir. George Murray, he wrote, "I have told the ministers repeatedly that a naval superiority on the lakes is a sine qua non of success in war on the frontier of Canada, even if our object should be solely defensive." [37] Thus, The Times was lambasting its own country for bungling the war effort and, the peace.

The same article, however, expressed extreme doubt that the treaty would be ratified, which would open the door for Britain, with her "powerful army and General of the highest reputation (Wellington)," to either compel ratification or to "punish its non-ratification." [38] Clearly, the author's pride, as was likely the case with many Britons, was damaged, and he longed to have yet one more opportunity for Britain to save face. Another article expresses this exact sentiment:

Hostilities are not to be suspended [until ratifications, by provision of the treaty]. This part of the Treaty, at least we hope, will be religiously attended to by Government. Let us yet see one of our first Generals [probably referring to Wellington] sent out. Let us yet behold a British force in America, capable of intimidating Madison and his Congress. Let us yet hope to see the war concluded with one blow, that may ├źnot only chastise the savages into the present peace, but make a lasting impression.' [39]

Overall, it seems this paper's contributors did not have a very high opinion of the Americans, so the "defeat" at their hands would have been all the more humiliating for them. Surely, if Britain had held out a little longer, America would have been humiliated instead. Of course, not everyone in Britain shared this rather bitter point of view, nor did they see the treaty as such a defeat for Britain (conversely seeing it as a victory for the United States).

The London Chronicle welcomed an end to the war, and saw no reason why the United States would not quickly ratify the treaty (again hinting that it favored the United States). The author, however, condemned Britain's handling of the war and the subsequent peace process. He writes,

With respect to the conduct of Ministers in the contest with America, there can be but one opinion, and that is that they have disgraced this country by their mismanagement of the war, and by the extravagances of the claims they put forth, and which they were forced to give up. [40]

Moreover, the author believed that the terms of the treaty were "as favorable as could be expected, after the disgraceful manner in which the war has been conducted on our part." Especially troubling, however, were the articles in the treaty requiring Britain to restore all United States territory, including Maine, and the "absurdity of leaving points of importance to future adjustment," which would, just as assuredly as the Ghent negotiations had, be bungled by Britain's diplomats. [41] Thus, The Chronicle also saw the treaty as a defeat for Britain, but it was one that she well deserved. In any case, peace was welcome.

In the United States, the reaction to the news of peace and the treaty itself was much different. Everywhere, it seems, some response was elicited, and the responses were almost universally positive. The logical place to begin is by examining the reactions of some of the nation's leading political figures, paying special attention to those who would, in following years, become a major force in American politics.

It also seems logical that one should begin with the President — James Madison. First, Madison's special message to the Congress of February 18 gives a fair indication of where he stood. He announced:

The late war, although reluctantly declared by Congress, had become a necessary resort to assert the rights and independence of the nation...Peace, at all time a blessing, is peculiarly welcome, therefore, at a period when the causes for the war have ceased to operate. [42]

As we have seen, Madison's view was quite common. Monroe expressed it in a message sent to the Military Committee of the Senate on February 22. He wrote that "with Great Britain, an honorable peace is signed, but it must be admitted that the peace in Europe laid the foundation for the peace between the United States andGreat Britain. [43] " Essentially, he expressed the fairly common view that peace in Europe eliminated Britain's need for impressment. Whatever the circumstances involved, Madison appears to have been quite pleased with the treaty. He ratified it immediately upon receiving it, and the following month, on March 4th, issued a proclamation calling for a day of thanksgiving. In the proclamation, he wrote that "He [God] reared them [the U.S.] into the strength and endowed them with the resources which have enabled them to assert their national rights and to enhance their national character. [44] " Thus, as Madison believed the peace in Europe made peace between America and Britain more easily attainable, he also believed the United States had been successful in at least "asserting" its national rights. Both he and Monroe were well aware of Britain's initial demands (at one point asking the United States to cede nearly a third of its territory to create an Indian state), and were thus able to place the treaty in its proper context. The peace, he believed, was honorable. [45]

Thomas Jefferson, Madison's longtime friend, also was happy to see peace return, though he was not quite as accepting as Madison. In a letter to William Henry Crawford, he commented:

I am glad of it [the peace], although no provision being made against the impressment of our seamen, it is in fact but an armistice, to be terminated by the first act of impressment committed on an American Citizen...If England is now wise or just enough to settle peaceably the question of impressment, the late treaty may become one of peace, and of long peace. [46]

His endorsement was certainly not as enthusiastic as others, but, once again, he does not seem to feel the country was dishonored in any way. Like Madison, he believed the nation made a good stand for its honor, but he also indicates that the treaty, silent on impressment, was so in the hopes that the British would maintain their abandonment of the practice. One can only assume he thought the British would abandon it because the war in Europe had ended. Jefferson believed there was no point in fighting over a mute point. If, however, Britain did not abandon its practice, America must stand up one more time and fight for its national honor. At this point, the treaty had kept that honor intact.

John C. Calhoun who, along with Henry Clay, had been one of the most vocal proponents of war, also agreed that Britain's signing the treaty represented an abandonment of impressment. He believed that "to have continued fighting the war on that ground [principle of impressment] would have been fighting to resist a speculative claim, on the part of the British government, which in practice had ceased." [47] However, Calhoun went further. In fact, he went much further than most of its defenders ever would. He thought that the very idea that America had sacrificed any rights because the treaty did not directly address impressment was preposterous. Rather, Calhoun said:

The benefit of the claim to the British can never compensate for the injury she might sustain by provoking us to war, in resistance of it, and in defense of the personal liberty of the citizens. In the late war, this nation has acquired a character which will secure respect to its rights...I feel pleasure and pride in being able to say, that I am of a party which drew the sword on this question, and succeeded in the contest: for, to all practical purposes, we have achieved complete success. [48]

Thus, Calhoun believed the principle of impressment to be indefensible. It's exclusion from the treaty was of no consequence, more so now since Britain — and all Europe — knew America would not allow its rights to be trampled upon.

Finally, and quite surprisingly, two major figures said very little on the subject. Daniel Webster did not comment directly on the treaty, but he was never very hopeful that the British would sit down and agree to an honorable peace. Rather, Webster felt the British would stop at nothing to crush the United States. As late as January 11, 1815, he wrote:

I am fearful the day of peace is still distant. We can hardly see, on the face of the correspondence at Ghent, anything very important in difference between the parties, and, if we looked no further, we might hope that the negotiation would come to an amicable conclusion. But England, in the meantime, is reinforcing her armies and navies, and incurring great expense in fitting out expeditions against this country. This looks as if she did not expect peace. [49]

Despite his pessimism, one must note that he had nothing negative to say towards the commissioners and their handling of the negotiations. In fact, he seems quite pleased with their efforts. Webster only thought that Britain had no intention of giving up anything, which, of course, the did.

Andrew Jackson, the man whose reputation gained the most from the war, also had very little to say. Again, he made no direct comment on the treaty. For the most part, his correspondence relates to military matters, which seem to have consumed nearly all of his time and energy (as well they should have). However, Jackson was not without his opinions, and they seem to be similar to those of Webster in one respect: He did not believe Britain was at all interested in peace. In October, 1814, he wrote to John Rhea and expressed his anger over the British burning Washington. Furthermore, he believed that "the folly of an attempt of negotiation I hope is seen and felt by all. That our commissioners have been sent for, has been presumed, and peace will not again be asked for by the American nation. [50] " Jackson, the rather nationalistic military man, saw it as a matter of national honor.

However, about a month after the Battle of New Orleans, Jackson received word that the treaty had been ratified. He only commented that it was with "great satisfaction" that he received this news. [51] He had decisively defeated the British at New Orleans, and, perhaps, he thought they had been humbled. Certainly, if Jackson believed the treaty had dishonored the country, he would not have refrained from expressing his outrage.

Overall, no matter what their reasoning, not one of these major figures objected to the treaty itself. Not one of them attacked it as being dishonorable to the nation. Thus, the Senators who were to ratify the treaty heard no criticism from three fronts — the American commissioners, foreign powers or major political figures at home. However, there is one major element that needs to be examined before one examines the Senate's actions — the press. There too, one finds an enormously positive response to the treaty.

Determining public opinion in 1815 is no easy task. There were no polls or focus groups. However, one can examine what the people were reading about major events in the American newspapers. One can also see, to some extent, how people responded to various events through newspapers reports. Keeping that in mind, by examining papers from the period, one finds that public reaction to the peace and the treaty itself was positive. There was very little criticism of the treaty itself, and nowhere does one find denunciations of it as dishonorable to the nation. Usually, where one finds criticism, it is directed toward those who declared and conducted the war. Early nineteenth century American had hundreds of newspapers, many concentrated in New England. Thus, it is not possible to examine all of them in a paper of this length. It is possible, though, to examine many of the major papers, providing a good geographical representation, from approximately November 1814 to May 1815.

First, the reader must — of course — be aware that news of peace did not reach the people in a vacuum. Two major news stories immediately proceeded news of peace. News of the Hartford Convention had been printed since it began meeting in December 1814, but it's proceedings were published in mid-January for the first time. The January 19th Maryland Gazette reported that delegates from five states (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Connecticut) met in opposition to the war's conduct. The representatives were outraged by the great losses and blundering on the part of the United States Government. The delegates proclaimed:

When a great and brave people shall feel themselves deserted by their government, and reduced to the necessity either of submission to a foreign enemy, or of appropriating to their own use, those means of defense which are indispensable to self preservation, they cannot consent to wait passive spectators of approaching ruin. [52]

Moreover, to rectify the situation, the convention delegates proposed the following drastic measures: First, the states should assume their own defense. This directly violated the Constitution. Second, "a reasonable portion" of taxes raised by the United States Government should be retained by the states for defensive purposes. [53] All of this, in the minds of most Americans, could be summed up by one terribly ominous word — disunion. This disunion, caused by the war, must have made peace all the more desirable to every supporter of the Union, thus creating a favorable climate of opinion for the treaty's reception.

This terrible news, however, was quickly supplanted by the greatest news of all the war — Jackson's victory at New Orleans on January 8, 1815. Though it occurred after the treaty had been signed, news of the treaty would not reach America until February 11, and some papers would not report it until as late as February 23. In any event, reports of the victory began arriving in the second week of February. On February 9, the news arrived in Maryland. The report of "glorious intelligence" intimated that the British attack on Jackson's forces had been repulsed on January 8. The British commander was killed, and more than two thousand enemy troops were also killed, wounded, or captured. [54]

In Connecticut, the news came a day earlier. In a news extra entitled "American Mercury Extraordinary" that paper reported the same details. However, it's headline was indicative of the mood. It read, "Blessed tidings...Praise the Lord for the avenging of Israel. [55] " The paper also reported that news of the victory arrived in New York on February 7, and quotes a New York source as saying that "perhaps no event which has occurred since the commencement of hostilities with Great Britain will prove in its consequences more important." [56] Thus, when news of the peace arrived, the atmosphere was intense. Again, this would help create a favorable climate of opinion for the treaty's reception. News of disaster and disunion had finally been eclipsed by news of a great victory. Keeping this in mind, it is little wonder that reports of peace reflect a great feeling of salvation.

The news was first reported in Washington on February 14, but was still only considered a rumor at that date. Still, the story of this rumor was given a very large headline reading, "Rumor of Peace." [57] The next day, the peace was confirmed, and the paper reported that,

We have the pleasure to announce that the treaty of peace between the United States and Great Britain...was last evening delivered by Mr. Carroll...We are happy to add that the treaty is thought in all respects to be honorable to the nation and the negotiators. [58]

The following day, more reports were issued, along with a rather long column rejoicing over the peace. A portion of it read thus:

Republicans rejoice! For the men of your heart...have conducted you through a glorious contest, under every disadvantage, to an honorable peace with a powerful and arrogant enemy. Federalists rejoice! For that your opposition has been unavailing in checking the measure of your government.

In essence, the editors felt that this treaty was something all Americans should respect. It was not peace alone that should be celebrated, but it was "an honorable peace." Two days later, the treaty was printed in full, and an illumination of the city — in celebration of peace (not the treaty itself) — was proclaimed.

One finds this to be the common model. The February 14 American Mercury reported the news enthusiastically:

Peace! Peace! Scarce had we done rejoicing at the glorious victory of the gallant Jackson — a victory which, in point of celebrity, has no parallel in the military annals of the world — when we received the BLESSED TIDINGS OF A TREATY OF PEACE (their emphasis). [59]

The paper also reported that the London Times, a ministerial paper which claimed the treaty was very favorable to the United States, denounced it as a surrender on the part of the British. The Mercury also announced celebrations in honor of peace (again not the treaty itself) in Hartford:

It is impossible to describe the sensations which this glorious event exited among all classes of our citizens — the ringing of bells, the beating of drums, and shouts of joy...which were heard through the night...best describe the public feeling. [60]

In the absence of opinion polls, this is perhaps the best indication of public feeling one can find, especially in a generally Federalist area that participated in the Hartford Convention. Would such jubilant celebration have occurred if the United States has been forced to cede nearly one third of its territory in a shameful treaty with Britain, as their ministers had initially demanded? Would it occurred if the American ministers had given up control of the Great Lakes, as the British ministers demanded? Of course not! To suggest otherwise would be ludicrous. Peace itself was a joyous event, but it was so because the peace was honorable.

Elsewhere in New England (and across the country for that matter), the people also received the news of peace with jubilation. The New Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth), on February 21, announced preparations in Portsmouth to celebrate the "honorable peace." The Providence Gazette announced the peace on February 18th, again, rejoicing at the news of a "treaty of peace on honorable terms."

Continued on next page »

 

[30] "William Henry Crawford to James Monroe, 26th December, 1814," Diplomatic Dispatches from U. S. Ministers to France, 1789-1906. (Microform).

[31] "Crawford to Monroe, 20th February, 1815," Ibid..

[32] "Extract of a letter from W. Crawford, Paris, 12th May, 1814," Records of Negotiations Connected with the Treaty of Ghent: Dispatches from the American Commissioners, August 1813-July 1815, National Archives, Washington (Microform). The code used in most of this letter can be found in Ralph Weber, United States Diplomatic Codes and Ciphers, 1775-1938, (Chicago: Precedent Publishers, 1979). The code number is WE028.

[33] The London Times, January 2, 1815.

[34] Lawrence Kaplan, "France and the War of 1812," The Journal of American History 57.1 (June, 1970): 44.

[35] The Ghent Courant, December 26, 1814, quoted in The London Times, January 4, 1815.

[36] The London Times, January 2, 1815.

[37] "The Duke of Wellington to Lt. General Sir George Murray, December 22nd, 1814, Paris," in Walter Wood, ed., The Despatches of Field Marshall The Duke of Wellington During his Campaigns in India, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, The Low Countries, and France, and Relating to America, from 1799 to 1815 (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1902), 429.

[38] The London Times, January 2, 1815.

[39] Ibid., December, 29, 1814.

[40] The London Chronicle, December 29, 1814.

[41] Ibid.

[42] "Special Message to the Congress, 18th February, 1815, Washington," The Writings of James Madison. ed. Galliard Hunt. 9 vols. (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1900-1910) , 8:324.

[43] "Monroe to the Military Committee of the Senate, 22nd February, 1815, Washington," ed. Stansilaus Murray Hamilton. 7 vols. (New York: AMS Press, 1969), 1:322.

[44] "Proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer, 4th March, 1815, Washington," Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789-1908, ed. James D. Robinson (Washington: Bureau of National Literature and Art, 1908) 1:552.

[45] For a more comprehensive treatment of Madison during the war, Ralph Ketcham's James Madison: A Biography provides a good account of his handling of the war in general, but only briefly deals with the treaty. Ketcham's account, however, does seem to confirm that Madison was preoccupied with a host of domestic troubles, directing the war effort in general, and quite deprived on information from Ghent while the negotiations were taking place. Ketcham's is probably the best single volume Madison biography. The most detailed account of Madison's life and career, however, can be found in Irving Brant's six volume biography, James Madison. Volume six, Commander in Chief, 1812-1836, deals directly with the war and the treaty.

[46] "Thomas Jefferson to William Henry Crawford, 11th February, 1815, Monticello," The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Andrew A. Lipscomb (Washington: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1903), 14:243-244.

[47] "Speech on the Results of the War, 27th February, 1815, Washington," The Papers of John C. Calhoun, ed. Robert L. Meriwether (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1959-), 1:281-282.

[48] Ibid, 282.

[49] "Daniel Webster to William F. Rowland, 11th January, 1815, Washington," The Papers of Daniel Webster, ed. Charles M. Wiltse (Hannover, NH: The University Press of New England, 1974), 1:180.

[50] "Andrew Jackson to John Rhea, 10th October, 1814, Mobile," The Papers of Andrew Jackson, ed. Sam B. Smith and Harriet Chappell Owsley (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1980-), 3:156.

[51] "Jackson to John Lambert, 13th March, 1815, New Orleans," Smith and Owsley, 3:309.

[52] "Proceedings of the Hartford Convention," Maryland Gazette(Annapolis), 19th January, 1815.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 9th February, 1815.

[55] "American Mercury, Extraordinary," American Mercury(Hartford), 8th February, 1815.

[56] Ibid.

[57] National Intelligencer(Washington), 14th February, 1815.

[58] Ibid., 15th February, 1815.

[59] American Mercury (Hartford), 14th February, 1815.

[60] Ibid.