The United States, Great Britain, and British North America from the Revolution to the Establishment of Peace after the War of 1812

By A. L. Burt | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XV
THE TREATY OF GHENT

UNTIL the fall of Napoleon knocked the bottom out of the War of 1812, the American government sought peace in vain and rather pathetically. The first move, after the abortive armistice discussions, was the passage of the foreign seamen act, which the President signed on the last day of the session in March, 1813. Upon the termination of the war with Britain, it would exclude all foreigners from service in any public or private vessel of the United States. Though it was a sincere effort to persuade Britain that impressment was no longer necessary, we need not regret that it was delayed so long. There is no ground for believing that it would have prevented the war which it could not stop. The problem of deserting sailors was too vital to Britain for her to trust any foreign solution, and her own solution was not yet repugnant to international law.1 As for the United States, the cure would have been about as bad as the disease. The injury it would have wrought to American commerce and shipping, as well as to the national character,2 is a measure of the desperate hope with which it was initiated.

The second move was the acceptance of the Tsar's offer to mediate between the United States and Britain, which coincided with the completion of the first move3 and was dependent upon it. The acceptance was eager, for the offer came when Madison's world was falling about his ears. He had counted on a Napoleonic victory over Russia to bring Britain to terms, but now the country was learning of Napoleon's catastrophic failure. The mediation proposal had been sent during the French occupation of Moscow, when Alexander was most anxious to relieve his new friend and only ally of this embarrassing American war, and it was unaccompanied by any intimation of how Britain would regard it. But the black news from Europe vetoed any suggestion of delay in seizing the helping hand held out from Russia. John Quincy Adams, the resident minister in St. Petersburg, Albert Gallatin, and James A. Bayard, a patriotic Federalist leader from Delaware, were appointed

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1
See supra, pp. 212-213.
2
Adams, VI, 457.
3
The offer was presented and accepted informally in February, and then formally in March. C. M. Gates, "The Peace Negotiations between Great Britain and the United States, 1812-1814," an unpublished thesis deposited in the Graduate School of the University of Minnesota, 1934, p. 35. The Russian minister suggested mediation in January. Elizabeth Donnan (ed.), "Papers of James A. Bayard, 1796-1815," Annual Report of the American Historical Association, 1913, II, 204, n. 3.

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