Annals of the War
Notes on "The Strife of Other Days"
1. "A soldier raised an idol." Napoleon Bonaparte was born in 1769; was chosen First Consul of France in 1799; was proclaimed Emperor of the French in 1804; and died in 1821. The record of his career is one of the marvels of history. Though his military career was at first identified with the French Revolution, he did not fail to be idolized by a revolutionized France, even after he had seized the reins of government as one of the most encroaching absolute monarchs the world has ever known.
2. "The world wool-gathering." The achievements of Napoleon on the battlefields of Europe seemed to stun the world of his time, as if no combinations on the part of the nations could possibly stay his hand as a conqueror. The problem of his career still carries with it a dizzying effect on our modern ideas of law and order. The age in which he lived seemed to have become for the moment, through his effronteries of rule, the slave of false ideals. Under present-day international relationships, a Napoleon would be all but an impossibility.
3. "Encroachment from the twain." When war had once been proclaimed, it was stated openly in the Legislative Assembly held at York (Toronto) that the Americans, in their threatened invasion of Canada, were being influenced by Napoleon. Be this as it may have been, it is well known that the Emperor's hatred of England and Englishmen was so intense that he could not refrain from denouncing them on all occasions; and on one occasion, indeed, he so far forgot his imperial dignity as to offer a personal insult to the British ambassador at his court in Paris. The enmity of the United States towards the same power has been referred to elsewhere, and it is not too much of a poetic licence to say that there was at least a partnership of hatred on the part of France and the new republic against British ascendency,
4. "Where Wellington and Soult outvie." Wellington was sent to take charge of the British army in the Peninsular War in 1808: Soult was appointed commander-in-chief of the French army in the same war in 1809.
5. "Pleading terms of war and peace." James Madison, after serving under President Jefferson as Secretary of State, came to the presidency in 1809. Josiah Quincy was a prominent member of Congress from 1805 to 1821. Madison's attitude on the question of the invasion of Canada does not seem to have been born of the higher statesmanship. Quincy, on the other hand, persistently withstood the "war-party" even to the point of accusing its adherents of cowardice in their views against England, and of claiming that their outcry of hatred was more or less a party device for the providing of the partisans of the Madison administration with lucrative positions in the American army. Madison, we know to a certainty, went so far in his pleadings against Great Britain, as to announce on one occasion that, since Napoleon was the first to abrogate his obnoxious Berlin Decree before Great Britain had consented to annul its Orders in Council, the latter had to bear the burden of blame for the international friction that had fomented the desire for war.
6. "Inflamed by rebel frays." The War of Independence virtually began in 1773, when the "Boston Affair" took place, though it was not until 1775 that the first collision in arms took place at Lexington, a year before the formal signing of the Declaration of Independence. The war was brought to an end in 1783. When John Adams, the first of the American ambassadors to the Court of St. James, was presented to George III, that monarch is reported to have said: "I was the last man in the kingdom to consent to the independence of America; but, now that it is granted, I shall certainly be the last man in the world to sanction a violation of it."
7. "Trading checks." The Berlin Decree, issued in November, 1806, by Napoleon while he was holding his court in that city comprised nineteen articles, each of which went to explain that "the British Isles were in a state of blockade," as far as the despot could will the same. The British Orders in Council were issued in 1807, prohibiting all trading with France and the allied nations under Napoleon's sway. Afterwards Napoleon issued his so-called Milan Decree, Milan being another of his capitals; and according to it declared that every vessel submitting to be searched by British cruisers or paying any tax duty or licence money to the British government, or sailing for a British port, would be looked upon as a lawful prize to any French cruiser on the high seas. Napoleon had said that he desired to see America a naval rival to Great Britain. But how his attempts at humbling England, through the enforcing of such promulgations as the above, were going to lead to the aggrandizement of the commerce of the United States, very soon became more and more of a puzzle to the ship-owners of that country. As an attempt at providing relief from the outer tension arising from Napoleon's enactment in its antagonism to the British enactment, the so-called "Embargo" was called into being by the American Senate, which had for its effect the issue of an idle threat to both France and England that the ports of the United States would be closed against both French and British vessels, if the two European belligerents con- tinued to enforce their obnoxious demands.
8. "Nought can restrain the Corsican." There was no end to the insolence of Napoleon towards the country he was impotent to subdue. The Bourbon princes had sought a refuge in England, but this "elevated Corsican Corporal" who delighted in making a football of princes, issued his orders to the "land of the free" that these royal-born refugees should be driven from beyond the borders of Britain. He also had the effrontery to demand that all editors discovered in Britain criticizing his military movements or administrative acts should be severely punished. He even went the length of issuing instructions to his consular agents in England to procure for him all information to be had relating to the approaches to the harbours in that country, as a prelude to actual invasion. Indeed his emissaries were suspected of being everywhere—in Ireland to stir up rebellion against England, and in America to urge the "war-party" to persevere in the political campaign that had for its final design the declaration of war. He had laid his conquering hand upon so many of the European nations that to be dictator on both sides of the Atlantic seemed, at one time, to be the only culmination that would satisfy his ambitions.
9. "When Lafayette espoused our cause." Lafayette, a captain of French dragoons, fitted out a schooner at his own expense, in order that he might carry across the Atlantic a body of men to take part in the American Revolution. He landed at Georgetown in 1777. For a time he acted as a major-general under Washington, furnishing clothing and camp-equipment to his own men, and otherwise giving of his ample means to the American cause against Great Britain. He revisited the United States in 1784. He died in 1834, at the ripe age of seventy-nine, while residing at Paris.
10. "Sharing with Bonaparte." This may be taken as a poetic licence. Yet, whenever the news was carried across the Atlantic that Napoleon had gained another victory, the idea came to prevail that the victor would not stay his hand from conquest until he was able to dictate terms to every part of the world. That he was willing to share with the American republic the partitioning of the governance of the world was given colour to by his sale of Louisiana to the latter power for fifteen million dollars, without concerning himself as to what the people of Louisiana thought about such a transfer at such a small sum.
11. "The right of search." This was the feature of the British Orders in Council which led to the most virulent indignation against England on the part of the American people. The matter of the Leopold attacking the Chesapeake on the high seas for deserters from the British navy has been referred to elsewhere. Previous to this, a British cruiser, the Leander, had fired into a coasting vessel hailing from New York and had killed its captain. Other American vessels had suffered in the same way, though without loss of life. Thereafter, there was issued what was called the Bayonne Decree by Napoleon, the last of his international promulgations against Great Britain as mistress of the seas, directing the seizure of all vessels sailing under any flag but the French flag; though, strange to say, such a measure only seemed to inflame the Americans more and more against England. Such a decree was virtually laughed at by the merchantmen of British ports. The protection of a powerful fleet was their safeguard, while American vessels, besides being subject to the right of search, with no French fleet to protect them, were now in danger of being seized by any French cruiser as well. The right of search, it may be said, was persevered in, to Britain's discredit, until the affair between the American frigate, the President, and the British sloop-of-war, the Little Belt, brought on a crisis of public opinion throughout the new republic that enhanced the virulencies of the "war-party" to have President Madison finally proclaim war against Britain and her colonies.
12. "When Arnold made his way." General Benedict Arnold invaded Canada in 1775, with the primary object of taking Quebec as a first step towards coercing the people of Canada to throw in their luck with the new republic. The campaign ended in defeat and in the death of Arnold's superior officer, General James Montgomery.
13. "The nonchalance of England." The feeling in England, up to the moment of war being proclaimed, had been lulled with the thought that the new republic had its hands too full with its own internal affairs to undertake a war with any outside nation. Besides, it had not been so long since Canadians had given their kinsmen on the other side of the boundary line to understand that they preferred to live under the protection of Great Britain rather than to be absorbed by the United States.
14. "The far St. Joseph." This, the most westerly British fortified post in Canada at the time of the war, was the first to report a British victory in 1812. It consists of an island of considerable extent, lying in the narrow waters of Lake Huron to the east of Sault Ste. Marie. Captain Roberts had been put in charge of this station by General Brock, as a precautionary protection to the fur-traders of the North-west; and, when war was proclaimed, the decision that had to be come to was whether the outpost itself should be abandoned and its garrison organized as an attacking party to lay siege to its next-door neighbour, Fort Michillimackinac, which belonged to the United States, and which usually went by the name of Mackinaw. This latter fort stood on a small island lying in the strait of the same name that connects the waters of Lake Michigan with those of Lake Huron, just round the comer from the British outpost which went by the name of Fort George. Between the two places there was a distance of not more than fifty miles; and the moment that final despatches arrived from York, instructing Captain Roberts to use his own discretion as to the manner of his proposed attack on the rival fort, an expedition set out on the 16th of July, 1812, and arrived next morning at the American fort. Roberts had under his charge over six hundred men, including regulars, militia and Indians, while the threatened fort had no more of a garrison than sixty-one men. What was to be gained by resisting the besiegers, with so many Indians to aid them with their atrocities? Indeed, there was nothing for them to do but capitulate; and, as soon as Captain Roberts had made a demand for surrender, the place was immediately evacuated without the shedding of a drop of blood. The victory at Michillimackinac was thus one of the easiest possible, though it was none the less far reaching in its effects. As a first victory for Canada, the event had a very depressing effect on the American army around Detroit; and, when the defeated garrison arrived at that place to repeat their dismal tale in the hearing of General Hull, it became but the prelude to that wavering commander's surrender to General Brock. The spoils of Michillimackinac included seven hundred packages of valuable furs; while the seizure of the place transferred for the time being the main oversight of the western fur-trade to the British Colonial Office, at the same time giving an impetus to the friendly feeling of the Indian tribesmen towards the British interest. The term Michillimackinac means "big turtle," having been originally applied by the aborigines to the island, on account of its massive resemblance to that animal. It was first located by La Salle in 1679, when he was on his way to discover the course of the Mississippi.