James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Henry Dearborn, 26 June 1812

From Henry Dearborn

Boston June 26th. 1812


Our political opponents in, and out, of the Legislature, are endeavouring to inspire as general an opposition to the measures of the Genl. Government as possible, how far they will venture toward an open resistence, is uncertain, nothing but their fears will prevent their going all lengths. It is said that they have not received so satisfactory information from New York, as they had expected. A memorial or address, to the people of the State, has been two days under discussion in the House of Representatives.1 The sentiments and stile, of the address, is calculated to induce a general opposition to the war, and all other measures of the Genl. Government. They will endeavour to have Town meeting in every Town where their party prevails, and it is understood that County Conventions are to follow the Town meetings. The Republicans will take measures for counteracting those outragious proceedings. Many of those who have gone all lengths with the Junto men, begin to fall off, and oppose those violent proceedings. Mr. Dexter2 has made strong & explicit declarations against their proceedings, and in favour of supporting the Government. From the frequent applications I receive from the small harbours and inlets on our extensive seacoast, I take the liberty of suggesting the expediency of incouraging the formation of minute Companies, in the Towns & vilages on the seacoast, by agreeing to furnish them with Armes, and some ammunition, on condition, that they should be duly organized, and ingaged to hold themselves ready to turn out on the shortest notice for the protection of their respective Towns, & those in their vicinity. I think there would be many Companies formed on those principles, and they would afford all the aid that would be necessary in many places, and in larger Towns, would be very usefull in cases of sudden emergencies. The ingagements ought to hold each man for the term of three or four years at least, unless when called into service at a distance, or they should enter into the Army. We are in great want of gunboats on our coast. I mean in the harbours & mouths of riveres. It will be impracticable to give such security & protection to many of the Towns & places on the sea coast from New-York to Passamaquadda, as the people would be intitled to, without a large number of gunboats of different sizes. It has been fashionable for many people to laugh at gunboats, but they will be found on experience to be an important part of our defence, and many of those who have effected to laugh at them, will be very glad of their protection. I have received no late information from Canada or Novascotia. I have not heard of the appointment of a Commissary Genl. Great inconveniencies are experienced from a want of clothing & Blankets for the recruits. With sentiments of the highest respect, I am Sir your Obedt. Servt.

H. Dearborn

RC (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, D-98:6). Docketed by a War Department clerk as received 2 July 1812.

1Dearborn was referring to an “Address of the House of Representatives to the People of Massachusetts” in which state representatives expressed disapproval of the declaration of war. The legislators were concerned that the citizens of Massachusetts would suffer the tribulations of war when “No invasion of our country has been threatened.” “No enemy was near. No enterprize upon your independence had been undertaken. Neither treason, insurrection, nor resistance to the execution of the laws, were to be apprehended.” Impressment, British blockades, and the orders in council were insufficient causes for war, in their opinion. Other motives, they argued, enticed JM into war, particularly his desire to escape the embarrassment of having declared that the French decrees had been repealed when a series of events and circumstances had proven otherwise. The legislators insinuated that the war was intended to ensure that the commercial interests of “the Eastern section of the Union” would not prosper, so that the population of that region would be driven to migrate to the south and west. In their opinion, “a spirit of jealousy and competition with Great-Britain” induced U.S. officials to side with France in the hope of sharing in the glory of its successes. Requesting that the people remain peaceful and law-abiding, the writers called upon the citizens to vote “to displace those who have abused their power,” organize a peace party, express their disapproval for the war in town and county meetings, and keep their sons from volunteering (Boston Columbian Centinel, 1 July 1812).

2Samuel Dexter (1761–1816) served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1793 to 1795 and in the Senate from 1799 to 1800; he became John Adams’s secretary of war in 1800 and his secretary of the treasury in 1801. Though sympathetic to the Massachusetts Federalists, he sided with the Republicans often enough to earn the nickname “Ambi” Dexter. Shortly after news of the declaration of war reached Boston, Dexter offered his opinion publicly “that however he may heretofore have disapproved of many of [t]he measures of our Government, and however he might deplore the existing state of things, he nevertheless considered it to be his duty, since War had been declared, to AID THE GOVERNMENT to the utmost of his power” (David Hackett Fischer, The Revolution of American Conservatism: The Federalist Party in the Era of jeffersonian Democracy [New York, 1965], p. 259; Boston Patriot, 27 June 1812).

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