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But this little Jim Madison, with a cue no bigger than a pipestem, sir,—it is enough to make a man forswear his country!"
Out of one hundred and seventy-five electoral votes, Mr. Madison received one hundred and twenty-two, and with this handsome majority took his seat as President on the 4th of March, 1809. The encroachments of England had brought us to the verge of war. British orders in council destroyed our commerce, and our flag was exposed to constant insult. The British minister, Mr. Erskine, who was disposed to be conciliatory, was recalled, and a Mr. Jackson, a man of insolent address, was sent to occupy his place. He became so unbearable, that the Secretary of State was directed to hold no further communication with him, and the British Government was requested to withdraw him. This was done; but no one was sent in his place. Congress, in its extreme displeasure, passed a resolution declaring the official communications of Mr. Jackson as having been highly indecorous and insolent, approving the conduct of the Executive in requesting his recall, and passing an act of non-intercourse with both England and France, with the latter power in consequence of the Berlin and Milan decrees. Napoleon immediately revoked those decrees, sending word to our Government that they had not been issued out of any unfriendly feeling to us, but as a necessary measure of retaliation against the atrocious orders in council which England had issued.
The act of non-intercourse now remained in full force against England alone. Mr. Madison was a man of peace. Scholarly in his tastes, retiring in his disposition, war had no charms for him. But the meekest spirit can be roused. It makes one's blood boil, even now, to think of an American ship brought to, upon the ocean, by the guns of an English cruiser. A young lieutenant steps on board, and orders the crew to be paraded before him. With great nonchalance, he selects any number whom he may please to designate as British subjects; orders them down the ship's side into his boat; and places them on the gun-deck of his man-of-war, to fight, by compulsion, the battles of England. This right of search and impressment no efforts of our Government could induce the British cabinet to relinquish.
There was a popular meeting held in the city of New York on the 26th of April, 1806; when the resolution was unanimously passed, "That the suffering foreign armed ships to station them
selves off our harbor, and there to stop, search, and capture our vessels, to impress, wound, and murder our citizens, is a gross and criminal neglect of the highest duties of government; and that an administration which patiently permits the same is not entitled to the confidence of a brave and free people."
Where resistance was attempted, the impressment was conducted with unsparing severity. The cudgel and the cutlass were freely used. Those who refused to submit were scourged, placed in irons, and scourged again on the raw wounds until they succumbed. It was proved by official records that more than a thousand American citizens were thus torn from home and friends, many of whom were compelled for years to man British guns, and were thus forced, when the war between the United States and England was opened, to fight against their own flag. No government could be worthy of respect which would not at least attempt to protect its citizens from such outrages.
The following case illustrates that of hundreds. Hiram Thayer was born in Greenwich, Conn. He was a young man of sobriety,
industry, high moral worth, and was greatly endeared to his friends. He was impressed in 1803, with barbarity which would have disgraced an Algerine courser. For five years, in the war which England was then waging against France, he was compelled to serve the British cannon. In 1805, he was transferred on board the British frigate "Statira." In reply to his remonstrances, he was told, that, if he were not submissive and obedient, "he should be tied to the mast, and shot at like a dog." He contrived to get a letter to his father. His friends exerted themselves to the utmost to obtain his release. Gen. Lyman, the American consul at London, applied to the Lords Commissioners in vain for his discharge. Certificates of his nativity were exhibited from the selectmen, town-clerk, and parish minister of his native town.
Still he was held in British slavery all through our second war with England, compelled to fight against his own countrymen. On the 14th of March, 1814, Commodore Decatur sent the father, under a flag of truce, on board "The Statira," which was then one of the British blockading squadron off New London. Commodore Decatur sent with the flag a note to Capt. Capel of "The Statira," saying "that he felt persuaded that the application of the father, furnished as he was with conclusive evidence of the nativity and identity of his son, would induce an immediate order for his discharge." The interview between the father and the son, after eleven years of separation, was most affecting. There was not a doubt, in the mind of a single British officer, of Hiram Thayer's being an American citizen; but they refused to release him, alleging simply that they had no authority to do so. The unhappy man was still detained in this slavery, as atrocious as ever disgraced a Cuban plantation. Not long after this, he fell overboard, and was drowned. A trunk containing portions of his clothing were the only memorials of their loved son which were ever returned to his afflicted parents.
On the 18th of June, 1812, President Madison gave his approval to an act of Congress declaring war against Great Britain. Notwithstanding the bitter hostility of the Federal party to the war, the country in general approved; and Mr. Madison, on the 4th of March, 1813, was re-elected by a large majority, and entered upon his second term of office. This is not the place to describe the various adventures of this war on the land and on the water. Our infant navy then laid the foundations of its renown in grappling
with the most formidable power which ever swept the seas. The contest commenced in earnest by the appearance of a British fleet, early in February, 1813, in Chesapeake Bay, declaring nearly the whole coast of the United States under blockade.
The Emperor of Russia offered his services as mediator. America accepted; England refused. A British force of five thousand men landed on the banks of the Patuxent River, near its entrance into Chesapeake Bay, and marched rapidly, by way of Bladensburg, upon Washington. There was no sufficient force in the vicinity to resist them. Gen. Winder was in command of a few regular troops and some regiments of militia.
The straggling little city of Washington was thrown into consternation. The cannon of the brief conflict at Bladensburg echoed through the streets of the metropolis. The whole population fled from the city. The President, leaving Mrs, Madison in the White House, with her carriage drawn up at the door to await his speedy return, hurried to meet the officers in a council of war. He met our troops utterly routed, and could not go back without danger of being captured. She writes to her sister, under date of Wednesday, Aug. 12, 1814, twelve o'clock at noon,
"Since sunrise, I have been turning my spy-glass in every direction, and watching with unwearied anxiety, hoping to discern the near approach of my dear husband and his friends; but, alas! I can descry only groups of military wandering in all directions, as if there was a lack of arms, or of spirit to fight for their own firesides.
"Three o'clock. - Will you believe it, my sister? we have had a battle, or skirmish, near Bladensburg; and I am still here, within sound of the cannon. Mr. Madison comes not: may God protect him! Two messengers, covered with dust, came to bid me fly; but I wait for him. At this late hour, a wagon has been procured. I have had it filled with the plate and the most valuable portable articles belonging to the house. Whether it will reach its destination, the Bank of Maryland, or fall into the hands of British soldiery, events must determine."
But a few hours elapsed ere the Presidential Mansion, the Capitol, and all the public buildings in Washington, were in flames. A few months after this great humiliation, the British made an attempt upon New Orleans. They were repulsed by Gen. Jackson with great slaughter. Napoleon was now overpowered. The
allied despots were triumphant, and, assembled in Congress at Vienna, were partitioning out the re-enslaved nations of Europe between them. Their one great object was so to divide Europe, that the people should not again have the opportunity to rise against the old régimes of tyranny. Truthfully does "The British Quarterly" say,
"The treaties of Vienna of 1815, though the most desperate efforts have been made by the English diplomatists to embalm them as monuments of political wisdom, are fast becoming as dead as those of Westphalia. In fact, they should be got under ground with all possible despatch; for no compacts so worthless, so wicked, so utterly subversive of the rights of humanity, are to be found in the annals of nations."
England was the leading power in this Congress. The British cabinet, flushed with victory, was never more arrogant than then. England was now prepared to turn her whole immense armament against our country. We were sadly divided among ourselves. The New-England States were so hostile to the war, as seriously to embarrass the Government. Never was our country enveloped in deeper gloom. Commissioners had been sent to Ghent to obtain peace with the British crown, if it could possibly be obtained on any reasonable terms.
About noon of the 13th of February, 1815, a strange rumor was found floating through Washington, that a treaty of peace had been signed at Ghent. Gathering strength as it flew, the whole city was soon in a state of the most intense excitement. Whence came the story, no one could satisfactorily tell. At length, after diligent inquiring, it appeared that a private express had rapidly passed through the city, bearing the important tidings to merchants in the South. Still it was but a rumor. Mr. Gales, editor of "The National Intelligencer," anxious to obtain some reliable information upon an event so momentous, called upon President Madison. He found him sitting alone, in the dusk of the evening, apparently pondering the prodigious change which the news, if true, would produce in public affairs.
The President, always affable, never excited, was inclined to credit the report. He knew that mercantile zeal might outrun political ardor. His manner was so composed, his spirits so tranquil and unruffled, that one not acquainted with his perfect power over himself might have supposed it a matter of much indifference to him whether the report were true or false.