The Madison Administration

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 4, 2012

The Madison Administration

In 1808, James Madison became president with a large plurality of electoral votes. A Democratic-Republican and an ally of Jefferson’s, Madison had worked harder than anyone to shape the Constitution; he is considered its “father,” or most important author. Madison meticulously recorded the debates over the Constitution, providing historians with a valuable record of the framers’ original intentions. He also wrote about one-third of the Federalist Papers, which did so much to persuade the public to support the Constitution during the ratification period.

Almost immediately, Madison found himself faced with troubles along the western frontier. Tecumseh, a Shawnee chief, had forged an alliance among Indian nations. He believed that if all of the tribes united against the common enemy, the United States, they might prevail and win back their lands.

On November 7, 1811, General William Henry Harrison and his troops fought the tribes at the American camp on the Tippecanoe River in Indiana Territory. The Battle of Tippecanoe ended in defeat for the Indians and the death of their attempt at a national Indian confederation. Senators Henry Clay of Kentucky and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina led an immediate public outcry for war against Britain—the nation that had supported the Indian enemies and supplied them with weapons. In 1812, Madison asked the Congress to declare war.

War on land was not successful, because the Congress had been reluctant to spend money on equipping and paying the army. However, the navy had benefited from a buildup during the Adams administration and was well prepared for war. Sea battles and raids in the Great Lakes, the Caribbean, and around the British isles brought many victories to the Americans.

The British attacked Washington, DC, in August 1814. First Lady Dolley Madison famously escaped from the White House only hours before the British troops burst through the front doors. The British moved south, attacking Baltimore’s Fort McHenry. Watching the battle, prisoner of war Francis Scott Key wrote the poem that would later become the lyrics of the American national anthem. The British lost the battle and prepared for a final strike against New Orleans. General Andrew Jackson had prepared a line of earthen embankments, protected by strategically positioned cannons. The British invasion of January 8, 1815, resulted in a decisive American victory. Shortly before the battle, U.S. and British representatives had signed the Treaty of Ghent. Word of the successful treaty negotiations reached the White House at about the same time as the news of the victory at New Orleans.

The War of 1812 had both positive and negative effects on the United States. On the one hand, it strengthened U.S. control over the Northwest Territory. The Treaty of Ghent established friendly relations between Britain and the United States that have lasted to the present day. On the other hand, the war had divided the nation. New England Federalists opposed the war so strongly that, in a meeting called the Hartford Convention, they discussed seceding from the Union and negotiating a separate peace with Britain. The majority voted instead for a constitutional amendment limiting the powers of Congress and the southern states. When the news of the Treaty of Ghent reached America, Hartford Convention participants were accused of treason. The Federalist Party broke up a few years afterward.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:

Establishing a New Nation and the First Four Presidents Practice Test

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