Congress Debates Going to War, 1811

Congress Debates Going to War, 1811

Americans were not united in their support for the War of 1812. In these two documents we hear from members of congress as they debate whether or not America should go to war against Great Britain.


Felix Grundy, Dec 9, 1811

What, Mr. Speaker, are we now called on to decide? It is, whether we will resist by force the attempt, made by that Government, to subject our maritime rights to the arbitrary and capricious rule of her will; for my part I am not prepared to say that this country shall submit to have her commerce interdicted or regulated, by any foreign nation. Sir, I prefer war to submission.

Over and above these unjust pretensions of the British Government, for many years past, they have been in the practice of impressing our seamen, from merchant vessels; this unjust and lawless invasion of personal liberty, calls loudly for the interposition of this Government. To those better acquainted with the facts in relation to it, I leave it to fill up the picture. My mind is irresistibly drawn to the West.

Although others may not strongly feel the bearing, which the late transactions in that quarter have on this subject, upon my mind they have great influence. It cannot be believed by any many who will reflect, that the savage tribes, uninfluenced by other Powers, would think of making war on the United States. They understand too well their own weakness, and our strength. They have already felt the weight of our arms; they know they hold the very soil on which they live as tenants at sufferance. How, then, sir, are we to account for their late conduct? In one way only; some powerful nation must have intrigued with them, and turned their peaceful disposition towards us into hostilities. Great Britain alone has intercourse with those Northern tribes; I therefore infer, that if British gold has not been employed, their baubles and trinkets, and the promise of support and a place of refuge if necessary, have had their effect.

If I am right in this conjecture, war is not to commence by sea or land, it is already begun: and some of the richest blood of our country has already been shed…

This war, if carried on successfully, will have its advantages. We shall drive the British from our Continent – they will no longer have an opportunity of intriguing with our Indian neighbors, and setting on the ruthless savage to tomahawk our women and children. That nation will lose her Canadian trade, and, by having no resting place in this country, her means of annoying us will be diminished. The idea I am now about to advance is at war, I know, with sentiments of the gentleman from Virginia: I am willing to receive the Canadians as adopted brethren; it will have beneficial political effects; it will preserve the equilibrium of the Government. When Louisiana shall be fully peopled, the Northern States will lose their power; they will be at the discretion of others; they can be depressed at pleasure, and then this Union might be endangered – I therefore feel anxious not only to add the Floridas to the South, but the Canadas to the North of this empire…

Annals of Congress, 12th Cong., 1st sess., 425-427.

Available through the Library of Congress


John Randolph, December 10, 1811

An insinuation has fallen from the gentleman from Tennessee, that the late massacre of our brethren on the Wabash had been instigated by the British Government. Has the President given any such information? Has the gentleman received any such, even informally, from an officer of this government? Is it so believed by the Administration? He had cause to think the contrary to be the fact; that such was not their opinion. This insinuation was of the grossest kind – a presumption the most rash, the most unjustifiable. Show buy good ground for it, he would give up the question at the threshold – he was ready to march to Canada. It was indeed well calculated to excite the feelings of the Western people particularly, who were not quite so tenderly attached to our red brethren as some modern philosophers; but it was destitute of any foundation, beyond mere surmise and suspicion….

He could but smile at the liberality of the gentleman, in giving Canada to New York, in order to strengthen the Northern balance of power, while at the same time he forewarned her that Western scale must preponderate. Mr. R. said he could almost fancy that he saw the Capitol in motion towards the falls of Ohio – after a short sojourn taking its flight to the Mississippi, and finally alighting on Darien; which, when the gentleman’s dreams are realized, will be a most eligible seat of Government for the Republic (or Empire) of the two Americas!…

This war of conquest, a war for the acquisition of territory, and subjects, is to be a new commentary on the doctrine that republics are destitute of ambition—that they are addicted to peace, wedded to the happiness and safety of the great body of their people. But it seems that this is to be a holiday campaign—there is to be no expense of blood, or treasure, on our part—Canada is to conquer herself…

What, sir, is the situation of the slaveholding states? … should we therefore be unobservant spectators of the progress of society within the last 20 years—of that silent but powerful change wrought by time and chance, upon its compositions and temper? When the fountains of the great deep of abomination were broken up, even the poor slaves had not escaped the general deluge. The French revolution had polluted even them. Nay, there had not been wanting men in that house witness to their legislative Legendre, the butcher who once held a seat there, to preach upon that flood these imprescriptible rights to a crowded audience of blacks in the galleries—teaching them that they are equal to their masters; in other words, advising them to cut their throats. Similar doctrines were disseminated by peddlers from New England and elsewhere throughout the southern country… While talking of taking Canada, some of us were shuddering for our own safety at home.”

…Name, however, but England, and all our antipathies are up in arms against her. Against whom? Against those whose blood runs in our veins; in common with whom we claim Shakespeare, and Newton, and Chatham, for our countrymen; whose form of government is the freest on earth, our own only excepted, from whom every valuable principle of our institutions had been borrowed – representation, jury trial, voting the supplies, writ of habeas corpus – our whole civil and criminal jurisprudence – against our fellow Protestants identified in blood, in language, in religion with ourselves…


Annals of Congress, 12th Cong., 1st sess., 445-452.

Available through the Library of Congress