Dissent Against the War of 1812
Digital History ID 260
Although Congress voted strongly in favor of war, the country entered the conflict deeply divided. Many New Englanders were appalled by the thought of becoming allies of Napoeon and of the nation that had indulged in the Reign of Terror. Not only would many New Englanders refuse to subscribe to war loans, but some merchants actually shipped provisions that Britain needed to support its army. In the following selection, a committee of citizens in Boston denounces the drift toward war.
THE Committee appointed by the Town of Boston to take into consideration the present alarming state of our public affairs, and report what measures in their opinion it is proper for the Town to adopt, at this momentous crisis,
THAT...while the temper and views of the national administration are intent upon war, an expression of the sense of this Town, will, of itself, be quite ineffectual, either to avert this deplorable calamity, or to accelerate a return of peace. But believing, as we do, that an immense majority of the people are invincibly averse from a conflict equally unnecessary, and menacing ruin to themselves and their posterity; convinced, as we are, that the event will overwhelm them with astonishment and dismay; we cannot but trust that a general expression of the voice of the people would satisfy Congress that those of their Representatives who have voted in favor of war, have not truly represented the wishes of their constituents; and thus arrest the tendency of their measures to this extremity.
But should this be hopeless, it will enable the people to combine their operations in order to produce, by constitutional means, a change of men and measures, and rescue the Nation from ruin. From the commencement of the system of commercial restrictions, the Inhabitants of this Town (inferior we trust to none in ardent patriotism and attachment to the Union) have appeared to render themselves obnoxious to the national administration, and its partisans in this State, by their foresight and predictions of the utter inefficacy, destructive operation, and ultimate tendency of this unprecedented and visionary scheme. They could discern in it nothing but a deliberate sacrifice of their best interests, and a conformity to the views of France, with whose system it cooperates, and whose approbation it receives; and hostility to Britain, whose interests it wounds, and whose resentment it was calculated to excite. It was for the national government to determine, whether the decrees and aggressions of the belligerent powers (which commenced with the European war) would probably demand of the national honor, retaliation and resistance; or whether the peculiar character of the war, and relative situation of our country, would justify a suspension of our resentment, and an adherence to our pacific policy. In the one case, the years which have elapsed should have been occupied in warlike preparations, which now have been imposing and formidable.
In the other event, it was the dictate of sound policy, to protest against the predatory systems which have annoyed our commerce, and still to have pursued it by all practicable means. But government has adopted neither of these courses. It has not prepared to vindicate our commercial rights upon the Ocean, where alone they are assailed; nor has it permitted the merchant to indemnify himself in any measure for the loss of that commerce which is interrupted, by a participation in that which is left. But by a strange and infatuated policy, under the pretense of resisting the invasion of maritime rights, it has debarred its own Citizens from the use of the Ocean; and professing to avenge the injuries sustained from France and England, it has aggravated them by its own measures. The Decrees of France, the Edicts of England, and the Acts of Congress, though intended to counteract each other, constitute in effect, a triple league for the annihilation of American commerce; and our own government, as if weary of waiting for a lingering dissolution, hastens to dispatch the sufferer, by the finishing stroke of a British war.
Had the policy of government been inclined towards resistance to the pretensions of the belligerents, by open war, there could be neither policy, reason, or justice in singling out Great Britain as the exclusive object of hostility. If the object of war is merely to vindicate our honor, why is it not declared against the first aggressor? If the object is defence and success, why is it to be waged against the adversary most able to annoy, and least likely to yield? Why, at the moment when England explicitly declares her Orders in Council repealed whenever France shall rescind her Decrees, is the one selected for an enemy, and the other courted as a conqueror? These inquiries lead us into contemplations too painful to indulge, and too serious to express....
But under the present circumstances, there will be...no chance for success, no hope of national glory, no prospect but of a war against Britain, in aid of the common enemy of the human race; and in the end an inglorious peace, in which our ally will desert our interest, and act in concert with our enemy, to shackle and restrain the commerce of our infant empire, by regulations in which they will find a common interest....
Therefore Resolved, That under existing circumstances, the inhabitants of this Town most sincerely deprecate a war with Great Britain, as extremely injurious to the interests and happiness of the people, and peculiarly so, as it necessarily tends to an alliance with France, thereby threatening the subversion of their liberties and independence. That an offensive war against Great Britain alone would be manifestly unjust; and that a war against both the belligerent powers would be an extravagant undertaking, which is not required by the honour or interest of the nation.
Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute
Additional information: J.C. Jones and a Committee Appointed by the Town of Boston
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