THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (February 15-February 21, 1815) [Update]
Updates to add details to items on Harford Convention and USS Constitution and correct number of canon balls embedded in Constitution’s hull.
February 15-18, Washington City
The day after the peace treaty (already ratified by the British) arrives in Washington, President James Madison submits it to the Senate, which under the Constitution, must ratify all treaties for them to take effect. On February 16, the Senate ratifies the treaty unanimously — even though it does not resolve any of the issues that led to war: the impressment of American sailors by the Royal Navy; British attempts to incite Native Americans in the Upper Midwest against U.S. settlements; freedom of the seas for U.S. naval and merchant vessels. Instead both sides agree to return to borders and boundaries before the war: the British will evacuate Maine and the areas of the Upper Midwest they have seized and the United States will relinquish the bit of Upper Canada (Ontario) it captured.
Madison signs to treaty and on February 18 proclaims the United States and Great Britain are at peace officially. The war declared by the U.S. Congress on June 18 1812 is finally over.
Sometime between the word of Jackson’s victory at New Orleans and the delivery of the peace treaty, delegates from the Hartford Convention in New England arrived in Washington. They had with them proposals hashed out in private in Hartford, Connecticut in late December 1814-to-early January 1815. All the New England states (except and Maine which was still a part of Massachusetts and not yet a state in its own right), sent at least one delegate to Hartford.
New Englanders, mostly members of the Federalist Party, were disturbed that the war, which they did not support, was ruining their economy — especially maritime commerce after the British extended their naval blockade to New England. They also felt that the Southern and new Western states and the Democratic-Republican Party were taking over the country and its political system. While there were brief discussions about possible secession from the union, it was not taken seriously. Instead, delegates drew up several proposed amendments to the Constitution. They ranged from requiring a two-thirds majority vote for all future declarations of war to limiting presidents to one term and ending the three-fifths compromise language of 1787, which counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of both representation in Congress and the direct taxation of states. Another proposal would have barred men from the same state from succeeding each other as president. (Except for Massachusetts’ John Adams, every U.S. president up until then had hailed from Virginia — including pro-war-with-Britain Thomas Jefferson and Madison). With the war with Britain over, and patriotic fervor at a fever pitch following the victory at New Orleans, the Hartford Convention’s ideas are ignored or laughed off in Washington.
February 20, Off the West Coast of Africa
The 44-gun frigate USS Constitution, unaware that peace has come, plies the South Atlantic looking to disrupt British commerce. Four days after the peace treaty is ratified, the fabled ship — known as “Old Ironsides” encounters two Royal Navy ships, the 34-gun HMS Cyane and the 21-gun HMS Levant off the coast of Africa.
Constitution’s captain, Charles Stewart, first defeats, Cyane, and after a running gun battle, Levant strikes her colors. The British ships suffer about 40 killed and 80 wounded, while Constitution’s losses are four killed and 11 wounded. Constitution suffers little damage although 12 32-pound British canon balls are found embedded in Old Ironsides’ hull — but none penetrated the ship’s interior.
Stewart places some of his officers and crew aboard the two British ships to sail them back to the United States as prizes of war. But after a stop in the Cape Verde Islands, Constitution and her two prizes encounter a three-ship British squadron, which re-captures Levant. But Stewart and his other prize get away. Cyane reaches a U.S. port in April. Constitution continues its raiding cruise but during a stop in Brazil to drop off her British prisoners, Stewart hears a rumor the war may be over and sets sail for America, arriving in New York May 15.
Following the rules of the day, Cyane is ruled a prize of war and not returned to Britain, but renamed USS Cyane and absorbed into the U.S. Navy.
Entry filed under: Africa, National Security and Defense, Naval Warfare, THIS WEEK in the War of 1812, Washington. Tags: Africa, End of the War of 1812, Hartford Convention 1814-1815, HMS Cyane, Navy, Old Ironsides, President Jmes Madison, Topics, Treaty of Ghent, U.S. Navy in the War of 1812, USS Constitution, War of 1812 Bicentennial.