Primary Source: Debating War with Britain: For the War

The document here is an opinion piece in the Raleigh Star, published just after Congress declared war on Great Britain in 1812. Newspapers at that time were partisan, meaning that they openly supported one party or the other. The Star was a Democratic-Republican paper, and so it supported the policies of that party and of the President, James Madison — including the war.

War measures — an extract from the National Intelligencer

After such an examination and such a judgment in favour of the measures proposed or takenThat is, the declaration of war against Great Britain., the duty to execute them is imperative. Ruin and execration would be the merited lot of any government that did not, under such circumstancesThe circumstances the author is referring to are the impressment of U.S. sailors by the British. The British navy was the strongest in the world in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. British ships would board U.S. merchant ships and impress or force that ship’s sailors into the British navy. The British government claimed it was targeting deserters, but it also claimed the right to “recruit” any British subject — drafting him on the spot into the military. The British government argued that since all of these sailors had been born in British colonies, they were British, despite the fact that they now lived in the independent United States. Impressment was thus a matter of sovereignty, or the right of the United States to govern itself, and the ability of the U.S. government to protect its citizens., persist in an honest and enlightened policy; for it would inevitably lose the respect, confidence and support of the people. All opposition to such measures, whether external or internal, must be resolutely met. War, more especially, if called for, must be gone into with a vigor that will give the nation but one arm. Whenever that step is taken, he that is not for us must be considered as against us and treated accordingly. When the will of the majority on this head is once fairly expressed through their representatives, disaffection must be hushed. The happiness of the people, their liberties, their existence perhaps, and certainly their honor and that of the republican institutions, will all depend upon the undivided exertions of the whole nation against a common enemy. Peace may be sought through legitimate channels, but until so obtained, war must be waged with union and vigor. We flatter ourselves that whenever that direful appeal is made, we shall manifest a vigor and energy that will teach future forbearance to violence and rapine.


Credit text

The Star (Raleigh), May 22, 1812.