In Search of America: Transatlantic Essays, 1951-1990

By Marcus Cunliffe | Go to book overview
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Brigham of Massachusetts, after presenting the usual Federalist version of the war, said of the President: "Indeed, he has not seen much service -- he has not had the experience of Bonaparte; but there is no doubt but he is hearty in the cause, and has conducted the war according to the best of his ability."39 That is as good an assessment of his stature as commander-in-chief as we are likely to get.

After all, it is basically the same statement as the one made by his political supporters. Charles Jared Ingersoll, though writing a generation afterward, was a Republican Congressman in the War of 1812. According to Ingersoll, Madison

went through the war meekly, . . . no doubt with anxious longing for the restoration of peace, but without ever yielding a principle to his enemies or a point to his adversaries; leaving a United States, which he found embarrassed and discredited, successful, prosperous, glorious and content. A constitution which its opponents pronounced incapable of hostilities, under his administration triumphantly bore their severest brunt. Checkered by the inevitable vicissitudes of war its trials never disturbed the composure of the commander-in-chief, always calm, consistent and conscientious, never much elated by victory or depressed by defeat, never once by the utmost exigencies of war, betrayed into a breach of the constitution.40

Neither opinion is an unqualified panegyric. An implication of Ingersoll's appraisal is that the United States was lucky to get off so lightly or that Madison slept more tranquilly than circumstances always warranted. But he and Brigham would agree that, for the United States, it is just as well that its commanders- in-chief have not "had the experience of Bonaparte"; and we may agree with them.


The best account of the period is still Henry Adams, History of the United States during the Administration of Jefferson and Madison, 9 vols. ( New York, 1891). Irving Brant has a biography in progress, but the latest volume, James Madison:

Ingersoll, Historical Sketch of the Second War Between the United States . . . and Great Britain ( Philadelphia, 1845), 1: 262.


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