The Debate over War in Congress, 1811

From the Annals of the Congress of the United States, 12th Congress, First Session. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1853. 423-426, 479-484, 599-602.

[Felix Grundy:]

      It is not the carrying trade, properly so called, about which this nation and Great Britain are at present contending. Were this the only question now under consideration, I should feel great unwillingness (however clear our claim might be) to involve the nation in war, for the assertion of a right, in the enjoyment of which the community at large are not more deeply concerned. The true question in controversy, is of a very different character; it involves the interest of the whole nation: It is the right of exporting the productions of our own soil and industry to foreign markets. . . .

      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. . . .

      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. . . .

  [John Calhoun:]

      It is never safe but under the shield of honor. Sir, I only know of one principle to make a nation great, to produce in this country not the form but real spirit of union, and that is, to protect every citizen in the lawful pursuit of his business. He will then feel that he is backed by the Government; that its arm is his arms, and will rejoice in its increased strength and prosperity. Protection and patriotism are reciprocal. This is the road that all great nations have trod. . . .

      Will the country be less able to repress insurrection? Had we anything to fear from that quarter, which I sincerely disbelieve, in my opinion, the precise time of the greatest safety is during a war, in which we have no fear of invasion-then the country is most on its guard; our militia the best prepared; and standing force the greatest. Even in our Revolution no attempts were made by that portion of our population; and, however, the gentleman may frighten himself with the disorganizing effects of French principles, I cannot think our ignorant blacks have felt much of their baneful influence. I dare say more than one half of them never heard of the French Revolution. . . .

      Sir, discovering no disposition on the part of Britain to relax in her Orders in Council, to cease her oppression, or to make restitution for the damages we have sustained; but on the contrary, a manifest disposition to persist in her lawless aggressions, it therefore becomes necessary not to depend any longer on countervailing restrictive systems, but to adopt something of a character more energetic, and more congenial to the wishes of the American people. Sir, while I thought there was the most distant probability of obtaining justice by peace measures, I was an advocate for peace; but, sir, when I see not the least prospect of a revocation of her destructive Orders in Council of the releasement of our impressed countrymen, a relinquishment of the principle of impressment, nor restitution for damages, I am for assuming a war attitude-consequently shall vote for the report of the committee, because I believe the force there contemplated will be an efficient force, and adequate to the purposes intended, to wit, the subjugation of the British North American Provinces. . . .

  [Henry Clay:]

      What are we to gain by war, has been emphatically asked? In reply, he would ask, what are we not to lose by peace?-commerce, character, a nation's best treasure, honor! If pecuniary considerations alone are to govern, there is sufficient motive for the war. Our revenue is reduced, by the operation of the belligerent edicts, to about six million dollars, according to the Secretary of the Treasury's report. . . .

      Today we are asserting our claim to the direct trade-the right to export our cotton, tobacco, and other domestic produce to market. Yield this point, and tomorrow intercourse between New Orleans and New York-between the planters on James river and Richmond, will be interdicted. For, sir, the career of encroachment is never arrested by submission. It will advance while there remains a single privilege on which it can operate. . . .

      What! shall it be said that our amor patriae is located at these desks--that we pusillanimously cling to our seats here, rather than boldly vindicate the most inestimable rights of the country? Whilst the heroic Daviess and his gallant associates, exposed to all the perils of treacherous savage warfare, are sacrificed themselves for the good of their country, shall we shrink from our duty?



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