The Election of 1812

The election of 1812 was America’s first wartime election. James Madison was a man of peace and hadn’t wanted a war. Unfortunately the continuing refusal of Britain and France to respect the United States’ neutrality made war necessary. The British were the worst offenders since they were in the habit of impressing American sailors into the Royal Navy. The War Hawks in Congress, Especially Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun demanded war to protect the national honor against such egregious abuses. They also hoped that it would be possible for the United States to conquer Canada and seize Florida from Spain.  In June of 1812, Congress declared war at President Madison‘s request and the War of 1812 began.

The United States was not ready for war. The American army was small and better prepared to defend against Indian raids than fight against a professional European army. The state militias were poorly disciplined and often refused to serve outside their states. The charter for the First Bank of the United States had not been renewed because of the Jeffersonians’ hostility to the idea of a national bank and so the United States found it difficult to pay the expenses of a war. The war was not popular in New England. New England had been most harmed by British and French interference with trade, but the New Englanders feared that war would destroy their economy altogether.The US Navy was also small, but the United States had been expanding the number of ships and, backed by privateers, was actually able to hold its own against the largest navy in the world.

The army didn’t do so well. The invasion of Canada was a disaster. The British counter attack into Chesapeake Bay resulted in the capture of Washington and the burning of the White House. Only the fact that the British were preoccupied with defeating Napoleon prevented America from outright defeat in the first years of the war. Eventually, the Americans were able to learn from their mistakes and as the war progressed were able to win victories against the British and their Native American allies. With the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the causes for disputes between the United Kingdom and the United States ended and, in 1815, the two countries made peace, based on the pre-war status quo.

But, all this was in the future. Just a month before the War of 1812 began,  the Democratic-Republican members of Congress met in a caucus and nominated James Madison for another term as president. Since Madison’s vice president died of a heart attack that April, the caucus selected Elbridge Gerry of  Massachusetts  for vice president. Not everybody was happy with this slate and the Democratic-Republicans in the New York legislature decided to support DeWitt Clinton, the mayor of New York City and George Clinton’s nephew.

Since their strength was in New England, the Federalists opposed the War of 1812. There was some support for Chief Justice John Marshall, but ultimately the Federalists decided in their caucus in September to support DeWitt Clinton in the hope that he would deliver New York for them. A caucus in Pennsylvania nominated Jared Ingersoll,  the state’s attorney general for vice president. Clinton agreed to support Ingersoll in order to win Pennsylvania. A few Federalists supported Rufus King.

Clinton and his supporters ran a two sided campaign. In New England, he was a man who wanted peace and deplored the damage the war caused to New England’s economy. In the South and West, he supported a vigorous prosecution of the war. It didn’t work. Madison won reelection without too much trouble. Clinton had gotten more votes than any Federalist candidate since Adams but it wasn’t enough. The final results in the popular vote were 140,431 or 50.4% for Madison and 132,781 or 47.6% for Clinton, although only nine of the eighteen states chose their electors by popular vote. In the electoral college Clinton won 89 votes. He won New England, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware. Madison won the west and south along with Vermont, giving him 128 electoral votes. It was a closer election for Madison than his first one, but he got a second term.

 

The Election of 1812

The Election of 1812

 

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