Henry Clay and The War of 1812

The War of 1812? Yeah, Amer­i­ca was at war two hun­dred years ago. It’s rather a for­got­ten war in our past. Seems the British and the French were hav­ing a war, and both of them decid­ed that if the Unit­ed States was trad­ing with the oth­er, those ships ply­ing the Atlantic Ocean were fair game to stop and loot. Not only that, but the British were fond of stop­ping Amer­i­can ships and impress­ing our sailors, that is, declar­ing them British desert­ers and tak­ing them. Some want­ed to declare war on Britain, or even both Britain and France, despite not hav­ing much of an Army or Navy. Or, mon­ey, for that mat­ter. Pres­i­dent Madi­son was­n’t in favor of declar­ing war. And, a lot of Amer­i­can’s who had noth­ing to do with ship­ping or sail­ing, weren’t eager to go to war.

Enter Hen­ry Clay. In 1810-11, at the age of thir­ty-four, he’d already served two terms in the Sen­ate, but he ran for a seat in the House and won. He was imme­di­ate­ly elect­ed to the posi­tion of Speak­er of the House. He was­n’t the only new face in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Almost half of the incum­bents, many old men, lost their seats to young men. Clay rep­re­sent­ed a west­ern state (Ken­tucky), and was a Demo­c­ra­t­ic-Repub­li­can (a par­ty that lat­er split into you-know-who). Like most elect­ed offi­cials, he lived in a board­ing house. (The new city of Wash­ing­ton, D.C. had few suit­able accom­mo­da­tions.) Clay took a lead­er­ship role, not only in the after-hours meet­ings, but in his office as Speak­er. Before 1811, Speak­er was more of a cler­i­cal role, but Clay took it to the promi­nent posi­tion it now occu­pies. He and those young men who had replaced the old guard want­ed to go to war. They were the orig­i­nal, the War Hawks of 1812. And Clay filled his com­mit­tees with those of like mind.

There were polit­i­cal and legal maneu­vers from both sides of the war debate. France was cap­tur­ing our ships, burn­ing them, and impris­on­ing the Amer­i­cans in French jails. Eng­land was tak­ing up to one thou­sand of our men each year from our ships. Final­ly Pres­i­dent Madi­son issued a ten­ta­tive call to war against Eng­land (every­one agreed that mak­ing war against all of Europe was impos­si­ble) list­ing five points of con­tention. 1. Impress­ment of our sailors. 2. British ships hov­er­ing near our ports to harass our ships. 3. Block­ades of our ports. 4. Orders-in-Coun­cil, which was the British assump­tion that they ruled the entire Atlantic Ocean. 5. The renew­al of Indi­an war­fare in the west-assumed to be stirred up by Eng­land and Canada.

The House passed the bill, the Sen­ate then passed the bill, and the Pres­i­dent signed the bill that began the War of 1812. There were oth­er rea­sons and advo­cates besides Clay, but he was a leader who stood out.

I found most of this mate­r­i­al in a book, The War of 1812 by Har­ry L. Coles, part of the Chica­go His­to­ry of Amer­i­can Civ­i­liza­tion. Some­how, I learned very lit­tle about the War of 1812 in school. The old­er I get, the more I real­ize that his­to­ry is much more inter­est­ing that I thought it was—at least in school.

Did you learn a new fact today? Can you tell me some­thing new as well? Love to hear it!



Henry Clay and The War of 1812 — 6 Comments

  1. Nor­ma, I share your enthu­si­asm for the study of roots. Last week, I was engrossed in the Jaco­bite Rebel­lion. I try to uti­lize sev­er­al resources because it seems there is a lot of spin in human mem­o­ries. Agen­das abound. Yours was an inter­est­ing post.

  2. I work at two liv­ing his­to­ry muse­ums, one inter­prets the mid 1700, the sec­ond the New Repub­lic. My boss, same guy at both sites, says the Rev­o­lu­tion won our polit­i­cal inde­pen­dents, the War of 1812 won our eco­nom­ic independence.
    I expect­ed more recog­ni­tion of the war in 2012, but I guess we were too busy gear­ing up for the civ­il war remembrances.

  3. Yes, I expect­ed more recog­ni­tion of the War of 1812. Actu­al­ly, Cana­da had more reen­act­ments in 2012, since they were pro­tect­ing their bor­der from us 200 years ago. (There were those Amer­i­cans who fig­ured they could over-run Cana­da in a cou­ple of weeks and add that ter­ri­to­ry to the U.S.) Per­haps there will be some recog­ni­tion of the burn­ing of the White House and the Amer­i­can’s vic­to­ry sav­ing Bal­ti­more, both in 1814.

  4. hel­lo Norma,
    your blog address was on goodreads, and I am a lover of his­to­ry and could­n’t resist tak­ing a peek here…
    my con­tri­bu­tion is due to watch­ing a spe­cial recent­ly on West Point. Thomas Jef­fer­son urged con­gress to estab­lish our first mil­i­tary acad­e­my — although he had pre­vi­ous­ly been opposed to doing such a thing — because our coun­try was so poor­ly pre­pared and equipped to fight the War of 1812. he real­ized if the coun­try was to sur­vive we need­ed to train mil­i­tary lead­ers. thus West Point was born.

  5. MaryJo, glad to have you vis­it. Stop by any time! I’m try­ing to post a his­to­ry item every Wednes­day (which usu­al­ly appears on Goodreads the next day). I’m work­ing up to the mys­tery and spooks part of my blog.

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