The Dawn's Early Light
The opening of the Supreme Court's February, 1815, term symbolized the atmosphere of national frustration, humiliation and despondency. Proceedings began February 1 in an "uncomfortable and unfit" 1 parlor in a private home because the regular courtroom, although itself untouched by the British torch, was unusable in the smoke-blackened Capitol. Then, just as the gloom seemed overpowering, news of two astonishing events came like lightning flashes from east and west. "ALMOST INCREDIBLE VICTORY -- GLORIOUS NEWS!" headlined the National Intelligence's extra on the battle of New Orleans.2 Hard on the heels of the military triumph in Louisiana came word of the equally spectacular diplomatic one at Ghent, where American negotiators had managed to end the war on the basis of a return to the status quo ante.
The convergence of these events produced an astonishing turnabout of popular attitude. From one end of the country to the other there were fireworks, oratory and parades. "No one stopped to ask," observed Henry Adams on the change, "why a govern____________________