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Launching the Nation: Federalists and Jeffersonians, The Threat of a Second War with Britain

Battle of Tippecanoe, United States interior, British terms, President Madison, War Hawks

The United States declared war on Britain in 1812. The first cause of the war was British interference with American shipping. The second was military assistance that the British in Canada were providing to the Native American peoples of the United States interior. In Ohio, Native Americans defeated two American armies before being defeated themselves by American troops under General “Mad” Anthony Wayne in 1795. They and indigenous peoples in other parts of the Northwest Territory continued to resist white encroachment. Beginning in 1805, the Shawnee, Delaware, and other northern tribes formed an unprecedentedly large political and military alliance under the Shawnee leader Tecumseh. Americans under William Henry Harrison, governor of the Indiana Territory, attacked and defeated them at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. But Tecumseh’s army, along with Creeks from the South who had joined him, were a serious threat to white settlement. All of this Native American resistance was encouraged and supplied by the British in Canada.

After the embargo failed, most northeastern representatives in Congress were willing to reconcile with Britain on British terms. Westerners and Southerners, however, would not compromise the safety of western settlements and the freedom of the seas. Led by young members who came to be called War Hawks (including Henry Clay, the 34–year–old Speaker of the House), Congress prepared for war. It would be the first war declared under the Constitution, and President Madison was careful to leave the actual declaration to Congress. But in June 1812 he sent a message to Congress listing British crimes on the ocean and on the frontier. The message ended “We behold … on the side of Britain a state of war against the United States, and on the side of the United States a state of peace toward Britain.” Congress, led by Southern and Western Jeffersonians, declared war two weeks later.

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