Wrapping Up the War of 1812

The Burning of the White House. 1814.

By the end of the War of 1812, President James Madison had weathered what is likely one of the tumultuous years that any president has had to endure. The British had landed a force, marched on Washington, D.C., and burned the White House. President Madison had trusted his Secretary of War John Armstrong when he doubted the possibility of a British invasion, only to be caught off guard when a scouting party, led by Secretary of State James Monroe, located just how close the British were to Washington. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 63-64.

The British marched on Washington, leading President Madison and his cabinet to evacuate the capital. Id. at 65. The British invaded the White House (then called the President’s House), found that it was prepared for a banquet, food and wine prepared, and enjoyed themselves before burning down the executive mansion. Id. citing Washington National Intelligencer, Sept. 2, 1814; Ketcham, Madison, 579.

While President Madison’s Republican Party had a large majority in Congress, the party was badly factionalized. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 68. The “Old” Republicans tightly held their beliefs centered on small government, low taxes, and states’ rights. Id. There were also some Federalists, by 1815 the minority party, and the Federalists proved to President Madison to be the most obstructionist of his foes as they saw to resources and men being diverted from supporting President Madison’s war with Britain. See id.

As the War of 1812 came to a close, General Andrew Jackson fought with the British in New Orleans, as explained further in The War of 1812. After his victory there, he kept the city under martial law, long after news of the peace Treaty of Ghent arrived in New Orleans. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 70. Jackson executed soldiers who attempted to leave before their service term expired, even though everyone knew the war had ended. Id. Then, when the federal district judge, sitting in New Orleans, attempted to challenge Jackson’s imposed dictatorship, Jackson put the judge in jail. Id. Jackson was building a following, despite his cavalier attitude toward the rule of law, and this was a sign of things to come for Americans. See id.

Washington’s burning and Jackson’s actions in New Orleans illustrate the tumult of the War of 1812. Further, these events reflected the political changes that were to come in the decades following the War of 1812. The Federalists, while still somewhat effective, were soon to lose complete power and disband as a political party. The Republicans were to continue to factionalize, and ultimately, General Andrew Jackson’s personality would culminate in a split of the Republican Party. Many Americans would remember his actions in New Orleans, however, and admire his service to the country during the War of 1812.

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