Mr. Madison’s War

Brief follow-up to my post on the War of 1812.

The War of 1812 was sometimes known as Mr.Madison’s War because he was President when we declared war on Britain. In those days Congress had to declare war, not so much anymore.

Madison feared giving the executive branch of government too much power just as many today see the dangers of unelected “Czars” accountable to no one and the President and his justice department thumbing their noses at laws they do not like.

Madison also did not like the idea of a strong standing Army or Navy to be misused by a “too strong” executive branch and as a result the US was ill prepared to take on Great Britain even though Britain was stretched thin by fighting Napoleon.

Painting of combat between USS Constitution an...

Painting of combat between USS Constitution and HMS Guerriere by Michel Felice Corne(1752-1845) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This link is a thoughtful piece that discusses the effectiveness of Madison as President.

James Madison

American wartime Presidents are judged on their performance as Commanders-in-Chief. Lincoln and Roosevelt come out pretty good while Madison (War of 1812), Wilson (WW1), Truman (Korea), Johnson (Vietnam) not so good. It’s too early to judge Bush and Obama on Iraq and Afghanistan.

At least we can say for Madison and Wilson that they actually were involved in a declared war via Congress. Truman, Johnson, Bush Sr. and Jr. and Obama have not had a declaration of war by Congress and instead fall under the fuzzy heading of “military engagements authorized by Congress. (The American Civil War was not a declared either since the Southern States were not a foreign enemy. The North considered the war an insurrection.)

This is a bigger deal than some might think. We’ve drifted into a mind-set of police-action type military engagements that has the net effect of “not  winning.”  At the very least this “fuzzies” the goals and purposes of using armed force. The Korean War is a good case in point. We settled for “not winning” and look what we have now-a psycho Stalinist state with nukes. Wonderful.

Second, we’ve also given the executive branch of government too much wiggle-room in allowing an undeclared war. Mr. Madison was right to fear the power of the executive branch. At some point we have to wonder what government by the people, for the people really means if Congress is as powerless as it seems to be.

Mr. Madison’s War was a fiasco and we were lucky that Britain was not in a position to press things too far. But just because Madison was a poor war-time President does non mean he  was wrong about everything.

Thanks to my son Justin and friend Paul for more information on the War of 1812.

See History.com for more.

17 comments on “Mr. Madison’s War

  1. The 1812 war is almost unknown is the UK. One major effect of the war was the lose of the majority of of Wellingtons Peninsular army. This almost had dire effects at Waterloo because most of the Dukes army was untested.

    • I was tempted to expand on this since I knew the British Army at New Orleans did contain many veterans of the Peninsular War(I used to wargame the Napoleonic Wars and favored the Brits). The movie I cited is incredibly stupid in dealing with the battle and as I said I only like it because of the “Scotties.” In fact, I don’t think it was a Highland Regiment that was there. I think it was a lowland regiment. Now I’m curious and will have to look it up. As a point aside, my favorite scene from the 1971 movie “Waterloo” is the bit with the Highland Brigade with Boney remarking they were Amazons! Uh huh.

      I’m not surprised the War of 1812 is almost unknown in Britain. Hec, no one here remembers it either but at least your country had bigger fish to fry than a weak, unprepared US. It’s kind of funny, we had no Navy to speak of (six frigates basically, although good ones) taking on the mightiest sea power. If you all would have pushed thing we’d all be Canadians! heehee

      • That is something to think about! To be honest if you read any Bio of any of the British politicians at the time they had no interest in re-conquering America. Lord Castleragh in fact, discussed selling Canada to the US at one point (he was shouted down) The Highland regiments are amzazing…There conduct during the British Empire is seconded to none….Indians hated facing the scottish regiments because they refused to give up…

      • Yeah, I’m sure they probably figured it was not worth the effort. I’ve always wondered a bit about our Revolution and gone back and forth over it. In other words I can kind of see it both ways, tories and rebels. I tend to look at it as America’s first civil war since just about everyone was English. My family did not come to America until the 1880’s!

        I admire the Red Coats in general but the Scotties especially. I was watching Youtube the other day for bagpipe music and came across your Gurka Regiment looking very Scottish!

      • I work in Maidstone Kent where the Gurkhas are based and I wouldn’t like to mess with them…Unfortunately, due to budget cuts it looks like they will be cut in the next round of defence reviews, ending 200 years of history.

      • I’ve read they are pretty fierce. I think it’s sad that Britain is cutting back so. Americans who are libertarians think we should quit Europe all together and part of that is because we’d like to spend less on the military.

        What will you do if the Argentines pick another fight with you?

      • To be honest the state of the Argentine Army and Airforce mean its highly unlikely they could manage it but IF they manage to land we wouldn’t be able to win them back…With no Aircraft carriers we wouldn’t be able to send a task force..The Falklands cost us Millions each year…

      • Are the Falklands part of Britain like one of your counties?

        (As a point aside, you did a mighty fine job back in the 80’s getting them back.)

      • The islands are a self-governing British Overseas Territory, with the United Kingdom responsible for its defence and foreign affairs. They people are British Citizens and as long as they wish to be we will defend their right…It was utterly amazing that we managed it with the limited resources we had..The longest bombing raid in history is just one example!

      • Thanks. Got to run now. I am very pro-Brit and was then and am now. Loved those Harriers! I liked your Iron Lady too.

  2. Also the Dukes Brother-in-law, Sir Edward Pakenham was killed at the battle of New Orleans.

    • When I started the blog I wanted it to be mostly off the top of my head rather than doing a lot of research. So, when I did that one and got to the New Orleans part I wracked my brain as to what I actually remembered and for the life of me could not remember Pakenham’s name, so thanks! I’ll be looking forward for you to do a decent bio on him 🙂

    • BTW, what kind of brew is that you are hoisting?

      I like your Newcastle! Guinness, not so much, but will take it.

      • That is a ice cold pint of Stella Artios…..I don’t like Beer or Ale…As anyone from the North of England will tell you…I’m a soft southerner!

      • I am not sure what Stella Artois is although I recently saw a TV advertisement for it. I think it’s Belgian. I thought it was a light ale or something.

        Am I to take it then that only north Brits are beer and ale people?

      • Its a bit of a running joke in Britain that thick northerners drink pints of Ale and us soft southerners drink lager or Shandy (lager and lemonade mixed)…A bit of healthy regional humour! TBH older people drink Ale or beer and younger people drink the Lager regardless of where we live!

      • That is interesting and I fall into the older category. Although my wife would probably like the Shandy. She likes a light lager beer made in our state (Blue Moon) with a slice of orange. but since she went to Scotland we’ve been trying Scottish ales and like I said I tried the New Castle. (Ha, my wife just told me one of local micro-breweries makes a Shandy. Goes to show what I know.)

        Guinness is a real big deal here and we have quite a few Irish pubs although Guinness is in every sports bar (pub) as well. It’s kind of odd since our city was once famous for beer, Pabst, Blatz, Miller all German derived. I favor the “Octoberfest.”

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