This Day (War Is Declared Edition)

On this day 200 years ago, the United States House of Representatives voted 79 to 41 to declare war on Great Britain. The Senate concurred by a vote of 19 to 13, and hostilities began on June 18. As you can tell by the vote totals and by the map above, the nation was in no way unified, even at this dangerous moment. In his biography of James Madison, Encyclopedia Virginia contributor Jeff Broadwater sets the scene:

When news of the declaration reached Providence, Rhode Island, church bells rang in protest, shops closed, and flags flew at half-mast. After fighting erupted, New England farmers continued to send beef and flour to British armies in Canada. The war’s opponents in New England became known as “Blue-Light Federalists” for the signals they sent to British warships waiting offshore. The governor of Massachusetts refused Madison’s request to mobilize the militia; seventy thousand state troops never saw combat. Connecticut rebuffed a call to provide militia for coastal defense. Madison complained to Congress that if the states could ignore an order of the commander in chief in wartime the United States was hardly one nation, but he did not force the issue, and he probably avoided a civil war.

IMAGES: “This view of his majesty’s ship Shannon, have too, & cooly waiting the close approach of the American frigate Chesapeak …” by Robert Dodd, August 1813 (Library of Congress); the House’s declaration of war (National Archives); map showing how the House of Representatives voted on a war declaration, June 4, 1812 (Flickr user Cartoko)


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