“War Hawks” of the Twelfth U.S. Congress, 1812

“War Hawks” is a new coined phrase name for the democratic party that promises to become current in the federal papers. This is manufactured for the purpose of deceiving the people into the impression that the democrats have been desirous of provoking hostilities with England. ..Yet we are “war hawks” for maintaining those rights which we struggled for so long and so successfully, but which those peaceable lambs of federalism would have yielded at once to their much loved “mother Britain.”

The term “war hawk” has always been thought for the past century to have been coined by the prominent Virginia Congressman John Randolph of Roanoke, a staunch opponent of entry into the war in 1812, but now the ownership has been found to be in error.

The phase goes back as early as 1793 prior to the Quasi-War (1797-1800) with France. The phrase is rather an informal Americanism to describe a political position for war to be aggressive by diplomatic and ultimately military means, to improve one’s government or political party. In June 1812, as the nation prepared for a declaration of war against Britain, to was used to described members of the Twelfth U.S. Congress who advocated war against Britain and who had key positions to considerable influence in the course of congressional debates.

The phase has evolved into an informal term usually contrasted with the word dovish, alluding to a peaceful dove, and hark in modern use, describes those, like a bird of prey who seeks war. In Congress, the twenty or so members of the “war hawks” were Democratic-Republicans who had been imbued with the ideals of the American Revolution, and were primarily from southern Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio and the western territories calling for an “Onward to Canada” invasion.

Those for war were mostly Republican-Congressional members who advocated towards war for the interference of the Royal Navy in American commerce of impressment of American sailors and to cripple the American economy and prestige by the English Orders of Council. There was never an “official” list of the war harks, rather it was used to described about a dozen congressional members and no less than the U.S. Speaker of the House Henry Clay of Kentucky and John Calhoun of South Carolina, both major players in American politics. Others were Richard Johnson (KY); William Lowndes (SC), Langdon Chevers (SC), Felix Grundy (TN) and William W. Bobb (GA).

Older members of the party led by U.S. President James Madison and Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallantin tried unsuccessfully to defeat the war hawks movement feeling the nation was not yet prepared for war. Yet, on June 18, 1812 by a vote of 79 to 49 in the U.S. House of Representatives, and of 19 to 13 in the U.S. Senate, war was declared.

Sources: The Maryland Republican, July 15, 1809; The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict by Donald R. Hickey (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1990).

Published in: on April 1, 2011 at 7:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Declaration of War, June 18, 1812

“Every body in this quarter [Albemarle County, Va.] expects the declaration of war as soon as the season will permit the entrance of militia into Canada…” Former President Thomas Jefferson to President James Madison, March 26, 1812.

The act was written by the U.S. Attorney General William Pinkney of Maryland, who in the spring of 1813 resigned to be commander of the 1st Rifle Battalion of Maryland with detachments that fought at  the Battle of Bladensburg (August 24) and North Point, Sept. 12, 1814.

AN ACT – Declaring War between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and there dependences thereof, and the United States of America and their territories.

Be it enacted by the senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled that War be and the same is hereby declared to exist between the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Ireland & the dependencies thereof & the United States of America & their territories; and that the President of the United States be and he is hereby authorized to use the whole land and naval force of the United States to carry the same into effect, and to issue to private armed vessels of the United States commissions or letters of marque and general reprisal in such form as he shall think proper, and under the seal of the United States against the vessels, goods and effects, of the government of the same United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and of the subjects thereof. June 12, 1812. Approved JAMES MADISON.

On the final passage of the act in the Senate, the votes were 19 to 13 and in the House, 79 to 49.

Sources: Jefferson and His Time: The Sage of Monticello by Dumas Malone (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1981),91; Baltimore Federal Gazette, June 19, 1812.

Published in: on March 29, 2011 at 10:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Brig. General Leonard Covington (1768-1813)

Leonard Covington

Leonard Covington

Leonard Covington, the son of Levin and Susannah (Maguder) Covington was born in Aquasco, Prince George’s County, Md., on October 30, 1768. At 24 years of age he entered the U. S. Army as a cavalry cornet (Mar. 14, 1792); a lieutenant of U.S. Dragoons in 1793, joining the army under General Wayne during the Battle of Fallen Timbersand subsequently promoted to a captaincy. On Sept. 12, 1795 he resigned and returned to Maryland engaging in agricultural pursuits; a Maryland Delegate (1802, 1807-09): U.S. House of Representatives (1805-1807). In January 1809 he was appointed lieutenant colonel of the U.S. Light Dragoons; colonel February 1809 serving at various stations (Baton Rouge, West Florida, 1810) and Fort Adams on the Mississippi (1810) until he was ordered to the Canadian frontier and appointed brigadier general on August 1, 1813.

In 1796 he married his second wife Rebecca Mackall of Calvert County and issued five children. He was mortally wounded at the Battle of Chryslers Field, Upper Canada on November 11, 1813, while animating his men forward in a charge, his last words being “Independence Forever.” He died at French’s Mills, N.Y., on November 14, 1813; his remains were removed to Sackets Harbor, Jefferson County, N.Y., August 13, 1820; place of burial now known as Mount Covington.

In early 1814, Fort Patapsco located to the west of Fort McHenry was renamed in his honor taking an active role in the Battle for Baltimore in Sept. 1814.

Source: Biographical Directory of the United States Congress; ‘Memoir of Leonard Covington’ by Benjamin Leonard Covington Wailes (Natchez Printing and Stationary Co., 1928): Marylanders Who Served the Nation, byGerson G. Eisenburg (Annapolis: Maryland State Archives, 1992).

Published in: on March 25, 2011 at 6:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Congressman Charles Goldsborough (1765-1834)

Photo of portrait of Charles Goldsborough by C. Gregory Stapko. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-1006

He was the son of Charles and Anna Maria (Tilghman) Goldsborough of Hunting Creek, Cambridge, Md., a member of one Maryland Eastern Shore’s most oldest and prominent familes.

On April 2, 1813, two months after British warships entered the Chesapeake to enforce the blockade, Charles Goldsborough informed a congressional colleague, Harmanus Bleecker of New York, concerning the British depredations and consequent suffering among his constituents:

“…our bay trade has suffered extremely. Some of my poor neighbors are among the suffers, having lost their vessels and with them the principal source of support to their families…Our intercourse with Baltimore is entirely cut off, and consequently all of our means of procuring money. Should this blockade of the part of the bay continue three months longer, the Inhabitants of the Eastern Shore will be in extreme distress both for supplies for their families, and money to purchase them with. The War physics [is] working very well. No man, (not even the leading democrat) speaks in favor of the war. All express a wish for its termination. There will be nothing among us but poverty and privation…The old Muskets, which had been lying by for years in ignoble idleness and rust, were rubbed up, and some new ones procured. All the uniform coats which had been formerly got for show were now put on for fight; every hat was garnished with a red muslin band, the drums beat to Arms, and [the] American standard was unfurled…”

The British had anchored off Goldsborough’s Horn Point farm, but made no attempt to land. The British departed on March 20th, and sailed up the Chesapeake.

In June 1812, as a federalist he was one of three Maryland congressmen to vote against a declaration of war. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania in 1784, he had served in the Maryland State Senate (1791-1795, 1799-1801); U.S. House of Representatives (1805-1817) and as Governor of Maryland (1818-1819). He died on December 13, 1834 and was buried at Christ Episcopal Church Cemetery in Cambridge, Md.

Sources: Eisenberg, Gerson G. Marylanders Who Served the Nation: A Biographical Dictionary of Federal Officials from Maryland. (Annapolis: Maryland State Archives, 1992); Easton Album by Norman Harrington (Easton: Historical Society of  Talbot County, 1986).

Published in: on March 25, 2011 at 10:25 am  Leave a Comment