THIS WEEK in the the War of 1812 (July 29 – Aug. 4)

July 29, 2012 at 11:42 pm Leave a comment

Baltimore Calms Down

Baltimore, a major Atlantic seaport is starting to settle down after weeks of periodic rioting since Congress declared war on Great Britain June 18, 1812. Federalists — the political party of Washington, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton — are far from enthusiastic about the war. In New England, where the party is strongest, they fear war with the world’s most powerful navy will hurt the economically crucial maritime trade.

Closer to Washington, they suspected the war was a ploy to whip up patriotic fervor and re-elect President James Madison, a member of the Democratic-Republican party founded by Thomas Jefferson. Federalists also fear that after more than two decades of steering a neutral diplomatic course between warring Britain and France – this war would drive America into the arms of Napoleonic France.

A Baltimore privateer, the Chasseur, attacks a British ship. (Image courtesy of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, England)

But the war is very popular in Baltimore, a Democratic-Republican stronghold and home to a number of privateers – civilian ships commissioned by the government to attack enemy vessels and seize them and their cargo. A British admiral calls the city a “nest of pirates.” Also much of Baltimore’s population consists of French, Irish and German immigrants who, for one reason or another, hate the British.

So when a pro-Federalist newspaper, the Federal Republican, begins printing attacks on Madison and his war, a mob of outraged Democratic-Republicans tears the newspaper’s offices apart. Editor and publisher Alexander Contee Hanson flees the city.

Pro-Federalist publisher Alexander C. Hanson. (Image courtesy the Library of Congress).

But on July 26, Hanson and some supporters return to Baltimore. Another mob gathers and begins throwing stones at the newspaper. The Federalists inside the newspaper fire on the mob, killing two. Baltimore officials convince Hanson and his followers that they will be safer locked inside the City Jail, where they are taken and promised protection. The next night, however, a pro-Madison mob breaks into the jail – or is let in by a co-conspirator – and attacks Hanson and company. The Federalists are beaten and tortured by the mob with penknives and hot wax poured into their eyes. One Revolutionary War veteran, James Lingan, dies of his injuries. Another Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee — the father of future Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee — suffers permanent injuries in the attacks.

Left for dead by the mob, Hanson recovers and moves his newspaper to Georgetown, Maryland outside Washington, D.C. Eventually Hanson is elected to Congress representing Maryland where he serves first in the House (1813-1816) and then in the Senate (1816-1819).

Entry filed under: National Security and Defense, Naval Warfare, THIS WEEK in the War of 1812, Traditions. Tags: , , , , , , .

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