by Sen. Bill Doyle
The Jeffersonian and Federalist parties pumped the war issue for all its worth, with the Jeffersonians using an offensive posture to cow the Federalists. Vermont Supreme Court Justice Royall Tyler – ju-rist, playwright, poet and novelist, and a Federalist-turned Jeffersonian – wrote to Jeffersonian Congressman James Fisk of Barre that a declaration of war was the only way confidence could be restored in the national government:” it will derange their present plans which are calculated only for political campaigns… above all it will place the (Federalist) opposition on slippery ground, and drive them into rebellion.”
In Vermont, Federalist Congressman Martin Chittenden, the son of Vermont’s first governor, led the fight against the War of 1812. Of the four member Vermont congressional delegation, he alone voted against the war declaration. Chittenden argued the war had come about because Madison’s pro-French party had caused commercial difficulties with the British. He criticized the Jeffersonians for their commitment to territorial expansion and charged the “war hawks” had blackmailed Madison.
On November 10, 1813, Chittenden issued a proclamation ordering home the third brigade of the Vermont militia stationed in Plattsburgh, New York. Chittenden claimed that “an extensive section of our own frontier is left unprotected” and that Vermonters were “exposed to the retaliatory incursions and ravages of an exasperated enemy.” He vowed, “The military strength and the resources of this State must be reserved for its own defense and protection… except in cases provided for by the Constitution of the United States.”
The third brigade refused to obey their governor. They answered forcefully that “An invitation or order to desert the standard of our country will never be obeyed by us.” The militia regarded the Proc-lamation “with mingled emotions of pity and contempt for its author, and as a striking monument of his folly.”
Successes in the war proved the salvation of the Jeffersonians and the ruin of the Federalists. Although the war of 1812 is generally seen as a military draw between the United States and Britain, Ameri-can forces defeated the British at Plattsburgh, N.Y., and later at New Orleans, La. These victories silenced opposition to the war. The basic policy of the Federalists at the time was opposition to the war, and when the war “turned the corner in favor of the Americans,” the Federalists were left with no political platform. The fact the British invaded United States territory and burned Washington, D.C. greatly angered Americans. Many Vermonters volunteered to defend their country, especially during the Plattsburgh battle.
The war ended in 1815 with what Americans felt was a political victory. The British, having defeated the French on the European Continent, no longer felt the need to harass the Americans for being friendly to their former allies. The young nation seemed safe from foreign interference, and the way was paved for the country to move west.
As time went on, Americans began to forget about the opposition of the New England Federalists to the war. As the war became a memory, so did the Federalist party. As for the Jeffersonians, they prospered and ushered in the so-called “Era of Good Feeling,” as the nation returned briefly to consensus rule.
Senator Bill Doyle serves on the Senate Education Committee and Senate Economic Affairs Committee, and is the Senate Assistant Minority Leader. He teaches government history at Johnson State College. He can be reached at 186 Murray Road, Montpelier, VT 05602; e-mail email@example.com; or call 223-2851.