Saturday, May 28, 2016

A valuable historical memory...................

The War of 1812 has largely disappeared from American historical memory.  Neither side won; no great principles were settled.  And yet the Treaty of Ghent marked the end of the first, and very fragile, stage of American political history.  First England, then France, and then England once again had seemed poised to crush the infant republic with its vastly superior military might.  At the same time, both powers played on American sympathies to advance their cause.  The English had exploited the Anglophilia of the New England Federalists, while France had played on the Jeffersonian admiration for the Revolution.  American politics had become precisely what George Washington had feared:  a contest between partisans of foreign powers.  The great statesmen - Washington and Adams, Jefferson and Madison - had tried to rise above this bitter debate, ideological as well as sectional.  And some of them paid a bitter price.  John Adams had ended his political career despised as a turncoat by many in his own party.  His son had been so battered by abuse from the Essex Junto that he had been only too happy to leave for Russia.

     And now, finally, it was over and the nationalists had won.   The bitter-enders of the Junto met at Harford in December 1814 with the hopes of finally realizing their dream of separation.  But the delegates of the Hartford Convention refused to call for secession; and the subsequent news of Andrew Jackson's great victory at New Orleans in January 1815, and then of the Treaty of Ghent, made even the more modest demands of the separatists sound ludicrous.  The treaty was universally embraced by a nation sick of war and happy to escape without humiliating concessions.  America was at last free to pursue the destiny its most farsighted and ambitious leaders, very much including John Quincy Adams, had foreseen.  No longer burdened by the fear of foreign invasion, America would become a continental nation with a size and a power to rival Europe's great powers and ultimately Europe itself.

-James Traub,  John Quincy Adams:  Militant Spirit

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