History of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States by David Thompson: Chapter 1
Late War, &c. &c.
Effect of the American Rebellion on the public Mind in that Country—French Intrigue with America—Power of Buonaparte—American Interposition in the Peninsular War—American Reasons for declaring War—Propriety of the Right of Search—Extract from the American Exposition of the Causes of the War—Extract from the President's Message—Concurrence of Congress by declaring War—Revocation of the British Orders in Council—Its Effect in America— Extract from the Prince Regent's Proclamation.
The causes from whence originated the rebellion which terminated in the separation of the British North American Colonies (now the United States,) from the mother country, had engendered such a spirit of prejudice, distrust and rancour against Great Britain, in the minds of Americans, that for either the government or the people of that country to judge impartially of any subsequent act of the British government, blindfolded as was America by French policy and French intrigue, seemed to be an exertion far beyond their power to accomplish. While, then. Great Britain was engaged in a war against a powerful usurper who was daily becoming more and more the scourge and terror of the world; when the tyranny of that despot over the surrounding nations seemed to mock all resistance; when his armies had humbled some of the greatest monarchies, and completely blotted others, from the list of independent states; when a general feeling of submissive terror seemed to fill the minds of European continental rulers at the power of his arms; it becomes, then, no matter of astonishment to see, by Americans, every means of policy which Great Britain employed to ensure her own success, in that eventful war, warped and construed into acts of aggression and tyranny against neutral nations.
At the head of the list of reasons assigned by the American government for declaring war against Great Britain, stood the Orders in Council regarding neutral Commerce, and the right of search as claimed and practised by Great Britain upon American vessels navigating the high seas. True, indeed, Great Britain exercised that right—a privilege she never yet had yielded, nor to which her right had ever been questioned, until America had willingly chained herself to the car-wheels of Buonaparte; and then, and not till then, when the creed was faithfully taught to America by France, to answer her own political purposes, did the shouts of tyranny and commercial oppression resound from all the surrounding shores of the Atlantic. But for whom did Great Britain search, when she committed this pretended act of tyranny on America? Was it for American citizens? surely not, but for her own deserters, a description of people who, it is well known, on board of American shipping, had ever found an insecure but ready shelter. Had Great Britain once relinquished her right to search vessels of the United States, both her army and navy, by desertion alone, would have suffered materially.
In a work published since the late war, under the authority of the government of the United States, entitled "An Exposition of the Causes and Character of the War with Great Britain," it is stated, that "up to March, 1811, Great Britain had impressed from the crews of American 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 the opportunity of verifying their claims," And in the same work it is further added, that "when war was declared, the Orders in Council had been maintained with inexorable hostility, until a thousand American vessels with their cargoes had been seized and confiscated under the operations of these edicts"
Another reason assigned, in the work above cited, for declaring war, was stated to be "an open violation of the American waters and an infraction of the fundamental principles of the law of nations by the" pretended "blockade." However, to these might justly be added, together with a few considerations of minor import, the idea of an additional stripe to the national escutcheon by the Conquest of Canada.
In a message from Mr. Madison, the American president, dated June 1st, 1812, recommending immediate war with Great Britain, as the only available means of satisfaction to which they could now resort, for the numerous insults and indignities which the American flag had sustained—all other causes were but as a drop in the bucket, compared with the Orders in Council, both in the extent of the injustice of the measure and in the mischief arising from them to neutral nations. It is there stated, that "these orders were evidently framed so as best to suit the political views and commercial jealousies of the British Government. The consequences which would result from them to neutral nations had never been taken into the account; or, if contemplated or foreseen as highly prejudicial, that consideration had no weight in the minds of those by whom they were imposed."
The United States congress perfectly concurred with the sentiments held forth in the president's message, and followed it up, on the 18th of the same month, with an act of that body (carried by large majorities,) declaring war against Great Britain, &c. offensive and defensive, in due form. On the 23d of the same month, the British Government rescinded the Orders in Council so bitterly complained of; but the arrival of that repeal in America, did not, in the slightest degree, tend to restoring public tranquility. The genius of war, the demon of destruction had already gone abroad, and no concession on the part of Great Britain was sufficient to allay it. It was stated in the public documents of the United States, that "the Orders in Council had not been repealed because they were unjust in their principles and highly detrimental to neutral commerce—on the contrary, the motive of their repeal was obviously selfish and had no reference to the rights of neutral nations. America, to protect herself, and to avenge her wrongs, had prohibited all commercial intercourse with Great Britain. The latter power, thus deprived of her best customer, had no longer a sufficient and regular market for her manufactures and colonial produce; her merchants and manufacturers were nearly ruined; distress and poverty spread themselves over her territories; complaints and petitions poured in from all quarters; and the Orders in Council were repealed, not to render justice to America, but to rescue a large portion of the British people from absolute starvation." Yet, notwithstanding all this, it is stated in the document above alluded to, that, "if the Orders in Council had taken place sufficiently early to have been communicated to the United States government before they had actually declared war, the repeal of these decrees against neutral commerce would have arrested the resort to arms; and that one cause of the war being removed, the other essential cause—the practice of impressment—would have been the subject of renewed negotiation. But the declaration of war having announced the practice of impressment as one of the principal causes, peace could only be the result of an express abandonment of that practice."
In opposition to the reasons assigned by the American government, it was stated in a speech of the Prince Regent of Great Britain, bearing date the 9th day of January, 1813, a few months after the declaration of war, that "the real origin of the contest was to be found in that spirit which had long unhappily actuated the councils of the United States: their marked partiality in palliating and assisting the aggressive tyranny of France; their systematic endeavor to influence the people against the defensive measures of Great Britain, and their unworthy desertion of the cause of other neutral nations. * *
It is through the prevalence of such councils that America has been associated with France, and committed in war against Great Britain. And under what conduct, on the part of France, has the government of the United States thus lent itself to the enemy? The contemptuous violation of the treaty of the year 1800, between France and the United States; the treacherous seizure of all American vessels and cargoes, in every harbor subject to the control of the French arms; the tyrannical principles of the Berlin and Milan decrees, o.nd the confiscations under them; the subsequent confiscations under the Rambuoillet decree, antedated or concealed to render it more effectual; the French commercial regulations, which rendered the traffic of the United States with France almost illusory; the burning of the merchant ships at sea, long after the alleged repeal of the French decrees—all these acts of violence, on the part of France, produced, from the government of the United States, only such complaints as end in acquiescence and submission, or are accompanied by suggestions for enabling France to give the semblance of legal form to her usurpations, by converting them into municipal regulations This disposition of the government of the United States, this complete subserviency to the ruler of France; this hostile temper towards Great Britain—are evident in almost every page of the official correspondence of the American with the French government, and form the real cause of the present war between America and Great Britain." Such might be said to form the prominent features of the discordant views taken by the two governments, as regarded the conduct of each other, and from which source emanated the incessant acrimony and recrimination that so strongly marked their diplomatic relations for a number of years, and ultimately involved the two nations in a most unnatural war.
But before we enter into details, it may not be improper in this place to take an impartial retrospect of the causes which led to an even t so much lamented by the enlightened men of both countries, that we may be the better enabled to decide upon the justice of those pretensions held out by the executive of each nation, and to those who have been accustomed to hear only the one side of the question it will be especially instructive.