The Papers of James Madison, Presidential Series, Volume Five: July 10, 1812-February 7, 1813
Nelson, Paul David, South Carolina Historical Magazine
The Papers of James Madison, Presidential Series, Volume Five: July 10, 1812-February 7, 1813. Edited by J. C. A. Stagg, Martha J. King, Ellen J. Barber, Anne Mandeville Colony, Angela Kreider, and Jewel L. Spangler. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004. Pp. xxv, 718; $70, cloth.)
In this volume of The Papers of James Madison, editor J. C. A. Stagg and his able staff edited the documents that passed between President Madison and his various audiences from July 10, 1812, to February 7, 1813. For anyone wishing to see Madison at his best, this is not a particularly edifying collection. Madison found himself mired in the opening battles of the War of 1812, groping in an unprecedented situation to systematize his role as commander in chief under the Constitution, realizing that the war effort was seriously underfinanced-and not doing a very good job as president. In addition, he was conducting sensitive negotiations with the governments of Great Britain, France, and Spain and attempting to win reelection to a second term in office. Madison had just suffered a rebuff from the British after having outlined the conditions to end the war that had only just begun: cessation of impressments and acceptance of America's definition of neutral rights on the high seas.
To coerce the enemy into negotiations, Madison appointed two army commanders with the intention of invading and conquering Canada during the upcoming summer. In the Northwest, Brigadier General William Hull, under orders from secretary of War William Eustis, would penetrate Upper Canada from Detroit, while Major General Henry Dearborn would attack Montreal and the Niagara Peninsula from the east. The two operations, totally uncoordinated and poorly led, went badly from the outset. Hull invaded Canada on July 12 with the intention of capturing Fort Malden. Beset by doubts and quarreling with his officers, he withdrew on August 8. The enemy immediately besieged Detroit, which Hull surrendered on August 16. For this ignominy, Hull later was court-martialed and sentenced to be shot, but Madison saved him from the ultimate penalty. With the Northwest in a panic, Madison urged Dearborn to relieve pressure on this region by initiating military operations against Niagara and Montreal.
Dearborn, however, was worried about going on the offensive while unsure about support from the New England states. A flurry of antiwar sentiment had been let loose in that region, supported by the Federalist party. Town meetings throughout the Northeast were passing resolutions against the war, and Madison's reasons for it, that were duly forwarded to the president (and appear in this volume). Madison, understandably distressed by the fury and quantity of these messages, wrote Thomas Jefferson on August 17, "The seditious opposition in Mass. …