The War of 1812: To Go to War?

This activity focuses on the arguments made by politicians both for and against the War of 1812.Students will evaluate primary sources, speeches given by politicians, in order to infer weather they supported or did not support military action against the British. Students will fill out their Graphic organizer to demonstrate understanding of each Politian's view. they will then give the reasons why each person either supported or did not support the war.

Selected vocabulary will be underlined and defined on the Vocabulary Page.


Henry Clay- Kentucky. Feb. 22, 1810

It is said...that no object is attainable by war with Great Britain. In its fortunes, we are to estimate not only benefit  to be derived to ourselves, but the injury to be done the enemy. The Conquest of Canada is in your power. I ... believe that the militia of Kentucky is alone competent to place Montreal an Upper Canada at your feet. Is it nothing to the British  nation; is it nothing to the pride of her Monarch, to have the last of the immense North American possessions held by him in the commencement of his reign wrested from dominion? Is it nothing to us to extinguish the torch that lights up savage warfare? Is it nothing to acquire the entire fur trade connected with that country and to destroy the temptation on and the opportunity of violating your revenue and other laws?

Annals of congress, 11th congress, 1st Session (1810). 580

Retrived and Modified April 16, 2014 from:



Congressman Felix Grundy –Tennessee. Dec. 9, 1811

The true question on in controversy... involves the interest of the whole nation. It is the right of exporting the production of our own soil and industry to foreign markets. Sir, our vessels are now captured... and condemned by the British courts... without even the pretext of having on board contraband of war...

The United States are already the second commercial nation in the world. The rapid growth of our commercial importance has... awakened the jealousy of the commercial interest of Great Britain, ... her statesmen, no doubt, anticipate with deep concern (our) maritime greatness...What, Mr. speaker, are we now called on to decide? It is whether we will resist by force the attempt... to subject our maritime rights to the arbitrary and capricious rule of her will. For my part I am not prepared to say this country shall submit to have the commerce... regulated, by any foreign nation. Sir, I prefer war to submission.

Annals of Congress, 12th Congress, 1st Session (1811), I, 424

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 This speech was given in response to Felix Grundy's accusation that the British were behind a recent attack by Native Americans.

Congressman John Randolph -Virginia Dec. 9, 1811

 An insinuation had fallen from the gentleman from Tennessee (Mr. Grundy) that the late massacre of our brethren on the Wabash had been instigated by the British Government. Has the President given any such information? Has the gentleman received any such, even informal, from any officer of this Government? Is it so believed by the Administration?... this insinuation  was of the grossest kind... he was ready to march to Canada…

 It was our own thirst for territory, our own want of moderation, that had driven these sons of nature to desperation, of which we felt the effects...

 Annals of Congress, 12th Congress, 1st Session (1811), I, 446.

 Retrived and Modified April 16, 2014 from:


Excerpt from President James Madison’s Message to Congress June 1, 1812

(the first paragragh focuses on British Impressment  of Americans)

British cruisers have been in the continued practice of violating the American flag on the great highway of nations, and of seizing and carrying off persona sailing under it...  thousands of American citizens, under the safeguard of public law and of their national flag, have been torn from their country and from everything dear to the; have been dragged on board ships of war of a foreign nation and exposed, under the severities of their discipline, to be exiled to the most distant and deadly climes, to risk their lives in the battles of their oppressors, and to be the melancholy instruments of taking away those of their own brethren.

British cruisers have been in the practice also violating the rights and the peace of our coasts. They hover over and harass our entering and departing commerce... Under pretended blockades... our commerce has been plundered in every sea, the great staples of our country have been cut off from their legitimate markets, and a destructive blow aimed at our agricultural and maritime me interests...

In reviewing the conduct of Great Britain toward the United States, our attention is necessarily drawn to the warfare just renewed by the savages on one of our extensive frontiers...It is difficult to account for the activity and combinations which have for some time been developing themselves among tribes in constant intercourse with British traders and garrisons , without connecting their hostility with that influence... We behold on the side of Great Britain a state of war against the United States, and on the side of the United States a state of peace toward Great Britain.

Madison, James. Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, 1811-1813. MONDAY JUNE 1,

Retrieved and Modified April 16, 2014 from:

Excerpt from a Statement Signed by 34 Federalist Congressmen.

…How will war upon the land protect commerce upon the ocean? What balm has Canada for wounded honor? How are our mariners benefited by a war which exposes those who are free, without promising release to those who are impressed ?

But it is said that war is demanded by honor… If honor demands a war with England, what opiate lulls that honor to sleep over the wrongs done us by France? On land, robberies, seizures, imprisonments, by French authority; at sea, pillage, sinking, burning, under French orders. These are notorious. Are they unfelt because they are French?... With full knowledge of the wrongs inflicted by the French, ought the government of this country to aid the French cause by engaging in war against the enemy of France?...

The undersigned cannot refrain from asking, what are the United States to gain by this war? Will the gratification of some privateersmen compensate the nation for that seep of our legitimate commerce by the extended marine of our enemy which this desperate act invites? Will Canada compensate the Middle states for New York; or the Western states for New Orleans?...

Signed by thirty-four congressmen.

Annals of Congress, 12th Congress, 1st Session (1812), II, 2219-2221

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After filling out your graphic organizer in groups, go back to your seats and write a short answer to the following question.


Why do you believe the Supporters for the War won the debate. (which they obviously did as we are learning about the War of 1812) What were the weaknesses of the antiwar politicians arguments?