“Wonderful age! Wonderful man! Wonderful nation!” writes Clay of Napoleon, just 3 days after Napoleon marches into Paris for the 100 Days
He gives his assessment of the prospects of the Bank bill: “The Bank bill had not passed as we supposed. The President returned it on the 30th of Jan. to the Senate, objecting not against its Constitutionality but to the expediency of its particular provisions.” And the Battle of New Orleans: “The...
He gives his assessment of the prospects of the Bank bill: “The Bank bill had not passed as we supposed. The President returned it on the 30th of Jan. to the Senate, objecting not against its Constitutionality but to the expediency of its particular provisions.” And the Battle of New Orleans: “The loss of the British in their New Orleans expedition is estimated at 4000.”
On August 8, 1814, talks began at Ghent, Belgium, that would ultimately result in a treaty ending the War of 1812. The head of the American negotiating team was John Quincy Adams, the U.S.’s most experienced diplomat. The four men who served with him were carefully selected by President Madison to reflect the varieties of political sentiment in the United States. Foremost among them was Henry Clay, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and a noted War Hawk. Albert Gallatin had served as Secretary of the Treasury for both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. James Bayard was a U.S. Senator belonging to the Federalist Party who had been an opponent of the war, and was one of the 13 Senators to vote against declaring it. However, once the war began he supported the war effort. Jonathan Russell was acting U.S. ambassador to Britain when war was declared. Sent to Ghent as a negotiator, he was also serving as ambassador to Sweden and Norway. He proved instrumental in achieving the final peace terms.
William H. Crawford was U.S. ambassador to France during the negotiations, and was responsible for superintending the American consuls in Europe and keeping them informed of developments. More than that, he was an advisor to the President on the happenings on the Continent. As Ambassador to the Court of one of the two major adversaries in the conflicts in Europe, he was also actively involved in the Ghent negotiation process, advising the negotiators and responding to their confidential communiqués. He would later serve as Secretary of War and Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Madison and Monroe.
In late December, the Treaty was signed with the British, and in February, it was ratified in the US Senate. It took time for the news of the ratification to reach Europe, where Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams were tasked with negotiating a commercial treaty with the British to supplement their diplomatic efforts.
At the same time, America’s finances had taken a huge hit during the war. The War of 1812 had been raging for two years. The U.S. government faced a very challenging financial situation, brought on by restricted trade and almost two decades of seizures of merchant ships at sea, and now by a war on its own soil. Revenues were down to about one half of what was required, and prospects were for a $50 million shortfall by the end of the year. It needed to take steps to raise money, and quickly. Without further funds, there was a real question as to whether the government would be able to pay to maintain the army and navy during wartime. Specie (hard money) payments were severely restricted, and many US banks could not or would not extend the credit. Moreover, merchants would accept Treasury bills only at a steep discount.
To counter this, efforts were afoot to create a new national bank, what would become the 2nd Bank of the United States. Henry Clay was a strong supporter of this, but the initial efforts stalled under President Madison.
Meanwhile news of the Battle of New Orleans reached Europe. This battle was fought after the signing of the Treaty but before news reached US. There 7,500 British soldiers under Sir Edward Pakenham were unable to penetrate the U.S. defenses, and Andrew Jackson’s troops, many of them expert marksmen, decimated the British lines. In half an hour, the British had retreated, General Pakenham was dead, and over 2,000 of his men were killed, wounded, or missing. The victory was more than a military one. It solidified American independence, awakened a strong sense of national identity, and led to a burst of energy and expansion that changed the face of the young country. It also made Andrew Jackson’s career. But some militia forces, a portion from Kentucky, fled the battle ignominiously, and this news had reached Clay as well.
To highlight the importance of events at this time, Napoleon, who had been banished to Elba, had escaped and marched into Paris on March 20 for 100 days on the throne – before his defeat at Waterloo and exile to St. Helena.
Autograph letter signed, 2 pages, London, March 23, 1815, filled with exuberance about the reception of the peace he helped negotiate, and glowing about the resurgence of Napoleon. “I arrived here on the 22nd and experienced no difficulty whatever in getting horses from Paris to Calais, or in any other respect. I have heard of no arrival since the Favorite, which brought neither dispatches nor letters for any of our public agents; but it is stated that the American government would send out immediately charged with dispatches. I have seen an irregular series of newspapers to the 17th Feb. the Bank bill had not passed as we supposed. The President returned it on the 30th of Jan. to the Senate, objecting not against its Constitutionality but to the expediency of its particular provisions. Upon putting it to vote again it was lost in that body. A proposition was again made on the 4th of Feb. to establish a National bank, but I presume the peace will put the subject to rest. This event appears to have been received with great joy, manifested in illuminations, etc. I do not find the proceedings in the Senate on the Treaty; but Mr. Beasly informs me that he has understood the vote was unanimous for its ratification.
“The loss of the British in their New Orleans expedition is estimated at 4000. Jackson’s account of the assault of the 8th of Jan. does not vary from that of the British. But for the cowardice of the Militia (and I am mortified to add a portion of my Countrymen) on the right bank of the Mississippi, Jackson states that the whole of Thornton’s Corps would have been captured.
“If we are to credit the papers of this morning, the denouement of the astonishing scenes began in France before I left it has occurred and Napoleon is again quietly seated on the throne. Wonderful age! Wonderful man! Wonderful nation! The mind is not sufficiently tranquillized to speculate on the consequences of this great event. European peace is out of the question, but who will be the parties to the new War? Will they make war upon him or he on them? Is the same career to be run of blockades, decrees, orders in council, captures, confiscations and burnings?
“I am extremely anxious to hear from poor Bayard. I hope he has recovered. “I shall see Lord Castlereah by his appointment tomorrow, and hope I shall ascertain something from him to enable me to estimate how much longer I shall be detained in Europe. I will thank you to make my respects to Mr. Irving and Mr. Jackson.”
Napoleon only lasted 100 days, and his rule over France was soon relegated to history. The Battle of New Orleans became legend, and the cowardice of a small percentage of American participants was soon forgotten. The Bank did pass and was established, only to have Andrew Jackson bring it to an end during his presidency. And as for Clay’s fellow-negotiator James Bayard, he was ill and would die five months later.
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