He concurs that the American victory at Plattsburgh may result in a treaty, writing with unaccustomed enthusiasm: “May all your hopes be realized!”
“Our negotiation is spinning out and unless our government brings it to a close will be a mere chancery suit. Last Monday we received a note eluding for the second time our request for an exchange of projets [treaty drafts]. They talk of etiquette and of the advantage of receiving the first...
“Our negotiation is spinning out and unless our government brings it to a close will be a mere chancery suit. Last Monday we received a note eluding for the second time our request for an exchange of projets [treaty drafts]. They talk of etiquette and of the advantage of receiving the first projet, instead of giving it. We shall therefore send them the first projet.”
The U.S. was unprepared for the War of 1812, and the fortunes of war proved vacillating. There were successes, such as William Henry Harrison’s victory in the Battle of the Thames, in which Tecumseh was killed, and Oliver H. Perry’s victory on Lake Erie. But there were also failures, such as a winter expedition against Montreal; also, Fort Niagara was lost, Black Rock and Buffalo were burned, and great quantities of provisions and stores destroyed. The American hope of conquering Canada began to look like a dream, and the threat remained that the British and their Indian allies might yet gain a hold over territory in the American west in order to create an Indian buffer state between the U.S. and the Mississippi River. The British blockade of the U.S. eastern seaboard was constantly growing more rigid; not a single American man-of-war was on the open sea. Meanwhile the discontent with the war prevailing in New England, which was destined to culminate in the Hartford Convention, continued to be active and to threaten rebellious outbreaks. But the most ominous event was the downfall of Napoleon’s prospects, the likely conclusion of peace in Europe, and, in consequence, the liberation of the military, naval, and financial resources of Great Britain for a vigorous prosecution of the war in America. The Americans initially agreed to mediation to end the war, but instead in early 1814 the British offered direct peace talks to be held at Ghent in Belgium. The U.S. accepted that offer.
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.
The negotiations did not get underway until August 8. At the opening session the British demanded that the country now occupied by the states of Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin, the larger part of Indiana, and about one third of Ohio, should be set apart for the Indians, to constitute a sort of Indian sovereignty under British guaranty, and to serve as a “buffer,” a perpetual protection of the British possessions against American ambition. They demanded also that the United States should relinquish the right of keeping any armed vessels on the Great Lakes; and, in addition to all this, they asked for the cession of a piece of Maine, and for the right of navigating the Mississippi. This all added up to a surrender of American independence and was a painful shock to the U.S. envoys. All they could do was promptly reject the conditions. President Madison had in the meantime sent instructions authorizing the U.S. negotiators to treat on the basis of the status ante-bellum – substantially, to restore things to the state in which the war had found them.
With Napoleon abdicating in April 1814, Britain was able to dispatch a sizable number of Wellington’s veterans to fight in North America. These were primarily battle-hardened veterans of the Peninsular War against French-occupied Spain. What followed was the most formidable British invasion of the War of 1812 – the invasion of northern New York, commenced on August 31,1814. The British, under General George Provost, got to Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain with a huge army of 11 000. Then, on September 11, a British naval squadron under Captain George Downie sailed into battle against a smaller American naval force under Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough, who was waiting at Plattsburgh Bay on Lake Champlain. Shortly after the battle began, Downie was killed, and after several hours of fighting, the British surrendered. Prevost then called off the land battle, and the British retreated to Canada. That single action by Prevost tipped the scales in favor of the Americans, and when the news reached Ghent and Paris in late October, it gladdened the Americans (Crawford was euphoric, while Adams was hopeful but remained a little skeptical), but while making no immediate change in the British negotiators’ public position, it reinforced the sentiment within the British leadership that the war must be ended. It would result in forcing them to lower their demands and accept as a basis for peace the U.S. position of status quo antebellum.
Little progress was made in negotiations through October, and as November opened there was still no comprehensive draft treaty covering all the war’s issues. The Americans sought each party to make a draft, and then exchange drafts. But the British saw a competitive advantage in forcing the Americans to act first, and also claimed this was a matter of etiquette; they refused to prepare a draft. This the U.S. delegation considered petty and inappropriate, but the Americans decided to make the draft themselves. On November 10 the American draft for a comprehensive treaty was provided to the British. This was the first draft treaty of Ghent, and it contained 15 points.
Autograph report signed, Ghent, November 6, 1814, to Crawford, exposing the British negotiating strategy, and the American willingness to do a draft treaty, saying the delegations had better make progress or the efforts would be for nought, and hoping that the victory at Plattsburgh would in fact result in a treaty. “Mr. Gallatin and myself have received your favor of 25th unto. and I have also to acknowledge that of the 26th addressed separately to me. We shall reply jointly to the former, but that gentleman thinks there is no occasion for immediate urgency on the subject, and I rely upon his judgment. Our negotiation is spinning out and unless our government brings it to a close will be a mere chancery suit. Last Monday we received a note eluding for the second time our request for an exchange of projets [treaty drafts]. They talk of etiquette and of the advantage of receiving the first projet, instead of giving it. We shall therefore send them the first projet. But what are we to expect from plenipotentiaries who are obliged to send to their Privy Council for objections of etiquette and questions who shall give or receive the first draft?
“I thought they were waiting partly for the issue of the campaign in America. But success and defeat there produces the same result upon them. The instant they knew of their achievements at Washington and Penobscot, they shifted their ground; rose in their demands, and proposed the basis of uni possidetis [each side keeps what it has taken]. When they heard of their defeats at Baltimore and on Lake Champlain, it became indispensable to wipe off the disgrace upon their arms, and to prosecute the war upon a larger scale. It is from Vienna, and not from America that the balance of peace or war will preponderate.
“I heartily share in all your exultation at our late success [at Plattsburgh], and in all your wishes for the future. If I am lagging in the rear of some of your hopes it is from a sluggishness in the anticipation of good, for which I have no reason to thank the character of my imagination. Certainly what you foresee is more probable than what has actually happened. May all your hopes be realized! We have received a passport for the transit. The Chauncey sailed on the 5th instant.”
Soon after this report, the British accepted status quo antebellum, and the negotiations got serious. The Treaty of Ghent was signed December 24, 1814. The United States gave up its designs on Canada, which left Britain free to cease looking over its shoulder at North America. It could concentrate its efforts elsewhere. In return, Britain stopped supporting the Indians in the “buffer state” in their fight against the encroaching Americans. Their withdrawal was the death knell to the Indian’s efforts; and they were the true losers in the war. The way to the American west was now open, the great impediment removed.
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