James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Lehré, 6 June 1812

From Thomas Lehré

Charleston June 6th: 1812


I send you the City Gazette of Yesterday, it will inform you of the Patriotic spirit of our Citizens.1 Yesterday we like to have had a serious Riot in this City. The Men belonging to the 29th: Regt: of this place, that were drafted, were ordered to parade yesterday afternoon at 5 oClock before the Court House, for Inspection.2 Mr: McNeal, a Scotchman, of the House of McKenzie & McNeal, being one that was drafted, appeared in the parade with a Scotch Bonnet on his head, which excited the Indignation of the Citizens, he was advised by his friends to go home & put on his proper dress, he did so, returned & apologized for his Conduct, soon after the Men Marched of [f] to the Tobacco Inspection w[h]ere they were reviewed.

After they had returned to the City, a number of Citizens, some of them armed, collected at his House & seem disposed to go to great lengths with him, but were prevailed upon by several Republicans to let him alone, in consequence of his Wife having, as it was then said, lain in but the day before, & was that day ill.

The Citizens then demanded that he should give up the Scotch Bonnet which he wore in the parade, he accordingly delivered up the same to them, they instantly tore it all to atoms, & then retired peaceably to their homes.

The above reminds me of the American spirit—that I have seen often displayed throughout this State, during our Revolution, and I trust it will serve as a useful lesson to certain men among us, to treat the Constituted Authorities and the measures of our Government with respect, or they must take the consequences that follow. I am with the highest Consideration Sir Your Obedt. Humble Servt.

Thomas Lehré

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM. For enclosure, see n. 1.

1Lehré may have intended to draw JM’s attention to an open letter, addressed “To the President of the United States,” in the 5 June 1812 issue of the Charleston City Gazette. The letter, bearing the pseudonymous signature of “A Mountaineer,” was the third in a series of four such open letters addressed to the president. The third “Mountaineer” letter attempted to explain why Great Britain, in all its wars, infringed upon “the rights of neutrals” and, especially in the present war, upon the rights of the U.S. Recent British violations of neutral rights, “Mountaineer” argued, could not be wholly accounted for by the “exigence of the moment” but reflected instead a “jealousy” of the “immense commercial resources” of the U.S. Declaring that “nature … intended Great Britain only for a second rate power,” the author attributed its present “naval preponderance” and “nautical spirit” to “an early attention to maritime affairs … unrepressed, in its infancy, by the jealousy of other nations.” The emergence of the U.S., however, promised to end this temporary and fortuitous British ascendancy in favor of an American commercial supremacy which Great Britain lacked the natural resources to counter.

Nevertheless, “Mountaineer” was under no illusion that the U.S. could challenge Great Britain as “mistress of the ocean” by means of commercial policy alone. “If … we are to be constantly exposed to collisions with powers who have navies; we must have a navy likewise.” Accordingly, “Mountaineer” advocated a systematic plan of naval expansion to let “the growth of our maritime strength keep pace with the growing resources of the country.” Such a policy necessarily demanded “large annual appropriations” and possibly even “an auxiliary resort to taxes” as well. “Mountaineer” defended this position by stating that he would rather “incur debt upon debt” and “submit to taxation” than endure “continued insult and injury” from Great Britain. He concluded that “the outrages committed upon us by England, were such as justified an immediate appeal to arms.… ‘Delenda est Carthago’ [‘Carthage must be destroyed’].”

The first, second, and fourth “Mountaineer” letters addressed to the president appeared in the Charleston City Gazette on 1, 3, and 10 June 1812, respectively. Their contents discussed such issues as the individual characters of Presidents Washington and Jefferson, the negotiation of the 1794 Jay treaty with Great Britain, British arrogance in violating American neutral rights, and the prospects for a successful American invasion of Canada in 1812. On a more personal note, “Mountaineer” admitted in his first letter that he had initially suspected that JM, his abilities and his honesty notwithstanding, partook “to a certain degree, of the timidity and irresolution of [his] immediate predecessor.” But, he added, JM’s message “at the opening of the present session of Congress, announced a correct view of our foreign relations, and of the measures demanded by the crisis.” He then urged JM to lay his plans “openly and explicitly before the Legislature … and recommend, in one word, the remedy.” If Congress failed to act, its members could be left “to the indignation of their betrayed and insulted constituents,” but JM, at least, would have “discharged [his] duty.” The editors have found no evidence that JM received copies of the first, second, and fourth “Mountaineer” letters.

2Lehré referred to the mobilization of a detachment of about two hundred men for federal service from the Twenty-eighth and Twenty-ninth Regiments of the South Carolina militia. The troops were subsequently sent to Sullivan’s Island for garrison duty (see Charleston Courier, 17 June 1812). The 5 June 1812 issue of the Charleston City Gazette, to which Lehré referred, reported that the drafts for the quota “go on with spirit and success.” The newspaper noted the patriotism of recruits from the Eighth Brigade of militia and marveled at the large number of volunteers turning out to serve. The City Gazette account for this day, however, did not mention the parade orders of the Twenty-ninth Regiment.

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