Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in
VOA Special English.
The United States
and Britain agreed late in December of eighteen fourteen to end the war between
them. The peace treaty was signed the day before Christmas at Ghent, Belgium.
It took several weeks for word of the agreement to reach Washington. This
resulted in two events that would not have happened had communications across
the Atlantic been faster.
One of the events
was the battle of New Orleans. British forces had begun the attack about the
time the peace treaty was being signed in Ghent. The American commander,
General Andrew Jackson, had prepared his defenses well. He won a great victory
against the British in a battle that was unnecessary, because the war was
Now, Maurice Joyce
and Jack Moyles continue our story.
The other event was a
convention of New England Federalists at Hartford, Connecticut. The meeting
began in the middle of December and lasted through the first few days of
January. Most of the representatives
were from Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. There were a few from New Hampshire and Vermont.
The Federalists called
the meeting to protest the war with Britain. Many of them had opposed the war
from the beginning. Federalist state governments refused to put their soldiers
under control of the central government.
And Federalist banks refused to lend to the government in Washington.
During the early part
of the war, many businessmen in the New England states traded with the enemy.
All these things had caused people in other parts of the country to turn
against the Federalists. This, in turn,
caused some Federalist extremists to talk of taking the New England states out
of the union.
There was some fear that
representatives to the Hartford convention would propose a separate and
independent government for New England. Such a proposal -- while the nation was
at war with Britain -- would seriously threaten America's future. Not only were
the representatives at Hartford to protest the war, they also were there to
plan a convention to change the United States Constitution. They wanted changes
that would protect the interests of the New England states. These states felt
threatened because new states were being created from the western territories.
These new states would weaken
the power of New England. Some of the more extreme Federalists, led by Timothy
Pickering, believed Britain would capture New Orleans. By doing so, Britain
could control the Mississippi River, which the western states needed to move
their products to market. "If the British succeed against New
Orleans," wrote Pickering, "and I see no reason to question that they
will be successful, then I shall consider the Union as cut in two. I do not
expect to see a single representative in the next Congress from the western
Not all the representatives at
the convention were as extreme as Pickering. The majority of them were more moderate.
They did not want to split the union. They only wanted to protect the interests
of the New England states. These more moderate federalists controlled the
secret meetings and prevented any extreme proposals. They were able to do so
because of the Republican strength in New England. True, the federalists
controlled the governments of these states, but only by small majorities. There
would surely have been violence had the federalists tried to take these states
out of the union.
The federalist leaders made a
public statement at Hartford, January fifth. They sharply criticized the war
and President Madison. But they said there was no real reason to withdraw from
the central government. New England's problems, they said, resulted from the war
and from the Republican government in Washington.
Then the Federalists listed the
changes they wanted in the Constitution. They wanted to reduce the
congressional representation of the southern states, where slavery was
permitted. They wanted new states added to the Union only if two-thirds of
Congress approved. They wished to reduce the power of the central government to
interfere with trade.
The Federalists wished to limit
to four years the time that a man could serve as president. And they wanted only
men born in the United States to serve in the government. Three of the
Federalists were chosen to take this list of proposals to Washington and give
it to President Madison. By the time they arrived, Washington had received the
news of the peace treaty signed at Ghent. The war was over.
The three Federalists met with
Madison. They made only small talk and said nothing about the demands of the
The Federalist Party found
itself greatly embarrassed by the peace.
Its leaders had long denounced the war and said Britain could not be
defeated. Many of them had traded with the enemy. Some had even worked with the
British against their own country. They had even threatened to break up the
Union. While there was some question about how the war would end, the
Federalist Party had supporters. But
once the war was over, its supporters vanished. And the party itself soon
disappeared, even in New England.
The Senate acted quickly to
approve the treaty with Britain. On February seventeenth, eighteen fifteen,
President Madison declared the war officially ended. It had lasted two years and eight months. The United States had
suffered thirty thousand casualties -- killed, wounded, or captured. But the war had united the American people.
Albert Gallatin, Madison's treasury secretary and one of the negotiators at
Ghent, explained it this way:
"The war has renewed and
reinstated the national feelings and character which the revolution had given
and which were becoming weaker. The
people now have more general objects of attachment with which their pride and
political opinions are joined. They are more American. They feel and act more
like a nation."
On the following
Fourth of July, the nation celebrated its thirty-ninth anniversary of
independence. In Washington, the man
who wrote the "Star-Spangled Banner," Francis Scott Key, spoke at the
countrymen," he said, "we hold something rich in trust for ourselves
and all the rest of mankind. It is the fire of liberty. If it is ever put out,
our darkened land will cast a sad shadow over the nations. If it lives, its
blaze will enlighten and gladden the whole earth. "
President Madison had been
elected to his second term in eighteen twelve, the year the war started. The next presidential election was in
eighteen sixteen. Madison continued the tradition, begun by Washington and
followed by Jefferson, of only serving eight years as president.
Republican members of the House and Senate met March fifteenth to choose their
presidential and vice presidential candidates.
Three Republicans wanted to be
president: Secretary of State James Monroe, former Senator and Secretary of War
William Crawford, and New York Governor Daniel Tompkins.
Monroe received sixty-five votes.
Fifty-four of the lawmakers voted for Crawford. With Monroe chosen as
the presidential candidate, the Republicans then chose Governor Tompkins as
their vice presidential candidate.
The Federalists did not meet to choose a presidential candidate. But electors
from three of the New England states promised to vote for a New York
Federalist, Rufus King. Nineteen states
voted in the elections of eighteen sixteen. That will be our story next week.
Our program was
written by Frank Beardsley. The narrators were Maurice Joyce and Jack Moyles.
For transcripts, MP3 and podcasts of our programs, along with historical
images, go to voaspecialenglish.com.
Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION – an American history
series in VOA Special English.
This is program #49 of
MAKING OF A NATION