thomas jefferson, War of 1812

Thomas Jefferson sums up the War of 1812

The following post is by Denise R. Larson, the author of the 2016 edition of History for Genealogists. If you were a reader of the original 2009 edition, you will enjoy the new time lines concerning life on the homefront during America’s 20th-century wars; and fashion and leisure in America from its beginnings through the middle of the 20th century. The fashion and leisure chapter discusses things like the invention of the jigsaw puzzle, publication of Good Housekeeping magazine, and the modeling of the first bikini.

Following, Ms. Larson brings her expert eyes to discussing Thomas Jefferson’s views on the War of 1812:

Though no longer president of the United States, his term having ended in 1809, Thomas Jefferson took an avid interest in the welfare of his country, especially during the War of 1812, which he had unsuccessfully attempted to prevent by the economically disastrous Embargo Act of 1807.

In a letter to William H. Crawford, begun at Monticello February 11, 1815, and transcribed in “The Thomas Jefferson Papers” by the Library of Congress (memory.loc.gov), Jefferson wrote: the “6,000 citizens she (Britain) took from us by impressment have already cost her ten thousand guineas a man…. She might certainly find cheaper means of manning her fleet.”

About the progress of the war: “The first year of our warfare by land was disastrous.… But the second was generally successful, and the third entirely so, both by sea and land.”

After Jefferson heard about the signing of the treaty: “P.S. February 26th. I am glad of it, although no provision being made against the impressment of our seamen, it is in fact but an armistice, to be terminated by the first act of impressment committed on an American citizen.”

The taking of American seamen off ships has been downplayed by historians because it ended with the British victory in the Napoleonic wars and was called an excuse for war as used by expansionists, but Jefferson took it seriously. He saw it as a lack of respect and not to be tolerated if the United States was to take its place among the acknowledged nations of the world.

The settling of the northeast boundaries between British North America and the United States was still a touchy one. Jefferson wrote: “What nonsense for the manakin [possibly meant mannequin] Prince Regent to talk of their conquest of the country east of the Penobscot River! There, as in the revolutionary war, their conquests were never more than of the spot on which their army stood, never extended beyond the range of their cannon shot. If England is now wise or just enough to settle peaceably the question of impressment, the late treaty may become one of peace, and of long peace.”

And so it came to be. England no longer absconded with American seamen on the high seas, and the United States and Great Britain, as well as British North America, which later was officially known as Canada, became great allies in a long peace that has lasted to this day.

Image credit: Thomas Jefferson, via The Library of Congress.