A Ruinous and Unhappy War: New England and the War of 1812

A Ruinous and Unhappy War: New England and the War of 1812

A Ruinous and Unhappy War: New England and the War of 1812

A Ruinous and Unhappy War: New England and the War of 1812

Excerpt

The War of 1812 against Great Britain was the first war declared by the United States, and the first, but by no means the last, prosecuted over the objections of a sizeable portion of the citizenry. The most persistent, organized, and vociferous opposition arose from that oldest region of the country — New England. Commercial, political, and religious interests in the region contested the war on multiple grounds, but rested their case on a foundation of States’ rights. The Federalists, the minority political party in the country, controlled much of New England and led the contrariness and contention.

The war originated as a side show of the Napoleonic Wars sweeping Europe. The long-running conflict between Britain and France dominated world affairs at a time when American businessmen and farmers relied on European exports and imports, much of it carried by New England shipping. But Napoleon and France objected to outside trade with the English. And, just as naturally, Great Britain disapproved of third-party trade with France. Both countries adopted restrictions and interdicted American and other neutral ships headed to or near their enemy. In the United States, sides were taken. New England tended to consider France the principal antagonist. President James Madison saw it differently. He believed Great Britain to be the real threat and deserving of armed retaliation. Madison outlined his case to a Congress dominated by his Democratic Republican party. And Congress took his side and voted for war in June 1812.

Federalist majorities in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island opposed and resisted the conflict at every stage. Vermont, New Hampshire, and the District of Maine harbored numerous although fewer war critics. Thus, the perception prevailed in other parts of the country and for a time in Great Britain that the region as a whole rejected the war policies of the national government. Truth be told, while war opponents gained a great deal of attention, other elements in the region made considerable contribu-

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