James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness (2009)
Captain Thomas Macdonough and his fleet saved "America's Bacon", so-to-speak, at Plattsburg
on Lake Champlain. Macdonough, using the geography of the lake to his advantage, surprised the advancing British, similar to Benedict Arnold at the Battle of Valcour Island in 1776. After two hours exchanging cannon fire, the British retreated north, and were no longer a threat to invade the U.S. from Canada. Also, despite repeated attacks at great cost, the British were unable to re-take Fort Niagara.
The British response to the failures in New York State was to reorganize and mass their military force in Chesapeake Bay. Secretary of State James Monroe asked SecWar Armstrong to be sure and safeguard America's important documents in Washington, D.C., and even offered his services as a spy on horseback, monitoring British movements. Armstrong refused Monroe on both counts . . . Armstrong had convinced himself that the British were not heading towards the nation's capital, but to Baltimore.
At the "Bladensburg Races", 7500 US soldiers/militia abandoned the field against 4000 British troops, with over 2000 American never firing a shot (some soldiers ran so fast in retreat that they entered D.C. before their President). Monroe was on his horse going against the torrent of retreating soldiers, trying to find the commander, General William Winder, to reorganize at least some of the men. The best Winder could do was to order his men (that were still in the area) to head to Baltimore . . . Monroe didn't abandon the capital until 8 pm.
The buildings that received the worst "treatment" by the British were the White House and the House section of the Capitol Building. President Madison, badly shaken, named Monroe Secretary of War pro tem as well as the Supreme Military Commander. Monroe, armed with de facto dictatorial powers, ordered hastily-built defenses erected around Washington, D.C. in order to try and defend another British attack. Monroe deployed 7000 men in strategic areas, and made sure all available artillery was ready and properly located.
Monroe issued orders to General Andrew Jackson to take is 1000+ men from Mobile (AL) to New Orleans, promising 10,000 more soldiers in support. Monroe replaced the impotent and ineffective General Winder at Baltimore, which proved to be a very wise decision when the British made their move on the city. Monroe also browbeat banks to loan the federal gov't $5 million with only Monroe's signature as collateral; New York City loaned Monroe $1 million.
After the defeat of the British at Fort McHenry, the British fleet sailed to Jamaica, leaving the Chesapeake, at least in force. By then, Monroe WAS the Executive Branch; Madison deferred to Monroe on almost every decision. Monroe also instructed the Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander James Dallas, to start the process for chartering a 2nd National Bank by arranging for a capital outlay of $50 million. But Congress gutted the Bank Bill, so much so that President Madison vetoed the bill when it reached his desk.
Meanwhile, Jackson did not go to New Orleans right away as ordered. Instead, Jackson believed that Spain was ready to assert itself in Pensacola in what was left of Spanish West Florida (President Madison had taken the westernmost section of Spanish West Florida in 1810), so Jackson and his army headed in that direction. Spain freaked out, and asked Britain for help, and four British warships entered Mobile Bay, and started shelling Jackson's fort. Jackson's artillery scored a very lucky shot, sinking one of the British ships. At that point, Jackson felt that he had more-than-enough reason to take the Spanish strongholds at Pensacola, and was able to do so fairly easily, since there wasn't very much Spanish resistance.
Unbeknownst to the government, John Quincy Adams at Ghent (Belgium) had signed a treaty that accepted a return to the status quo before the war. Spanish West Florida remained in U.S. possession, but nothing was really settled in terms of the most vital American interests, especially concerning the borders. As a result of the War of 1812, 1877 Americans were killed, 4000+ were wounded, the US Gov't was millions of dollars in debt, which led to a depressed economy in the short-run and national bankruptcy. While none of the government's pre-war goals were achieved, Americans celebrated as if they had won the war. News of New Orleans, followed by Ghent, convinced America that they had defeated Great Britain in a "2nd War of Independence". Then, a third piece of news reached Americans - the Hartford Convention, which resulted in the destruction of the Federalist Party as a major player in American politics, since they were seen by most Americans as the Party of Disloyalty and Secession.
Monroe received the lion's share of the glory and credit since the area between the Appalachian Mountains and Mississippi River were no longer threatened by foreign invasion. Westward expansion to the region increased tremendously; never before in human history had so much land been transferred to "commoners". With the increase in property ownership came the right to vote, which led to seismic shifts in the American political, economic, and social landscapes in the 1820's. And finally, Congress authorized a 2nd National Bank, which, belatedly, started the process of solidifying the federal government's finances.
Monroe was near collapse, having worked basically non-stop for the previous six months. President Madison's popularity had rebounded (he was far more popular leaving office than was Jefferson), but Monroe's popularity was reaching stratospheric levels. Monroe was, in effect, acting as the nation's President and Commander-in-Chief even after the war, exhausted though he was. Since he had far more free time on his hands, Monroe read John Marshall's lengthy biography on George Washington, and the volumes changed how Monroe would make decisions as a public figure and as President.
Crawford had refused Madison's offer of Secretary of War in 1811 when the US and Great Britain were on the verge of war, and served as a minister in Europe until he accepted the once-again-offered post of Secretary of War in 1815 after the War of 1812. Crawford became Madison's Secretary of the Treasury in 1816, and Monroe would retain Crawford as his Secretary of the Treasury for his entire Presidency.
During the months before the Election of 1816, both candidates, James Monroe for the Republicans, and Rufus King for the Federalists, didn't actually campaign for President, in that there was no point since party membership had drastically declined. King and the Federalists had nothing to criticize or attack, since the war was over, the economy was doing very well, and an increasing number of Americans were entering the propertied-class due to Westward Expansion. Monroe's popularity and credibility were such that the Federalists had no real chance to reclaim the White House (which had become the nickname of the President's Mansion after it was rebuilt after the British attack). The election of James Monroe as the nation's fifth President ushered in the "Era of Good Feelings" in 1817 . . .