Dreading Civil War, Mathew Carey Wrote to James Madison

Carey became alarmed the civil war was imminent.  He read everything he could on the history of civil war and began to promote national unity.

“I had devoured… nearly all the Histories of Civil Wars to be found in the Library – Divilla’s of France – Guichardini and Machivel’s of Italy, Clarendon’s of England, & various others.  I say, on what is the Same thing in its results, I fancied I saw a Strong family likeness between the embrio of the Civil Wars by which the fairest portions of the earth have been ravaged.  I found the same dull indifference or willful blindness that characterised the mass of our citizens and our rulers, pourtrayed in those countries, where they were on the verge of an explosion.  I shuddered at the dire infatuation that So universally prevailed, and which I could not help regarding as the harbinger of impending destruction.”[1]

                                                                             Mathew Carey

Carey estimated he wrote at least a dozen letters to President Madison urging him to do something to quell the crisis.  Carey thought only a few radicals advocated secession.   He thought most New Englanders wanted to remain in the Union.  He suggested that Madison write a pamphlet countering the arguments of the radical Federalists in Boston.  He offered to print and deliver it using his own funds.   Next he proposed forming a Washington Union Society, and bringing Federalists into Madison’s administration.  Madison stubbornly resisted any of Carey’s suggestions.[2]

Next:  More on Napoleon and His Economic Sanctions

Look for it Monday, April 28

[1] Mathew Carey, Miscellanies II, ms. c. 1834 (Private collection) 92.

[2] Mathew Carey, Autobiography, (Brooklyn, Research Classics, 1942) 119, Edward C. Carter II, “Mathew Carey and ‘The Olive Branch,’ 1814-1818” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, V. 89, N. 4, 402.

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How the Massachusetts Legislature Reacted


During its winter session, from January 26 to March 4, 1809, the Massachusetts legislature passed three resolutions:

  1. They denounced the Enforcement Act as “unjust, oppressive, and unconstitutional, and not legally binding on the citizens of this state.”  They opposed resistance by force.
  2. They resolved to “co-operate with any of the other states, in all legal and constitutional measures, for procuring such amendments to the constitution of the United States as shall be judged necessary…to give the commercial states their fair and just consideration in the government of the union.
  3. Working together, moderates Harrison Gray Otis, as president of the Senate, and Timothy Bigelow, as speaker of the House, urged cooperation in New England “to preserve inviolate the Union of the States.”[1]

Federalists in Massachusetts expected that another New England state would call for the convention.  Despite their plans, no other state responded.

In Congress, Democratic-Republicans were concerned about the agitation and protests in New England.  On March 1, 1809, three days before Jefferson left office, they garnered the votes to repeal the Embargo and the Enforcement Acts.  Congress replaced those acts with an unenforceable Non-Intercourse Act.

Next:  How Mathew Carey Reacted

Look for it Monday, April 21

[1]  James M. Banner, Jr. To the Hartford Convention:  The Federalists and the Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts 1789-1815  (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1970) 305.


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Federalists Organized Another Constitutional Convention

Madison was elected the next president of the United States in 1808.  For the Federalist Party’s leaders in New England, it was a significant setback.  Their attempt to unify the party by a moderate course of action had failed.[1]

The Democratic-Republican leadership in Congress passed the Enforcement Act in January, 1809.   Jefferson was still in office.  Madison would not be inaugurated until March 4, 1809.   Governmental troops seized goods suspected of being exports.  Radical Federalists sought redress from their state governments.  Following town meetings throughout Massachusetts concerned citizens sent petitions to the Massachusetts legislature, known as the General Court. [2] A rabble of angry New Englanders took to the streets damaging federal property.[3]

In December 1808, moderate Federalists such as Christopher Gore became concerned that protests would form not only against the federal government but the established Federalist leadership within Massachusetts.  Harrison Gray Otis wrote that Massachusetts was considered the seat of the secessionist movement.  He suggested the initiative for a convention of Federalists needed to come from Connecticut.  The meeting  offered a response to radical protests.  The party’s moderates could attack on the administration while exerting control over the process.  Just as the Enforcement Act was passed, moderate Federalists made plans for a convention of New England states.  The convention would propose new amendments to  the Constitution.  Christopher Gore sought the help of Timothy Pickering.  He stressed the need for unity within the party.  He asked Pickering to work with congressmen to bring the New England states together for the convention.[4]

In Philadelphia William Duane, editor of the Democratic-Republican party’s newspaper, the Aurora, advocated use of Federal force in New England.  Early in 1809, Mathew Carey criticized Duane, a radical in the party, for war mongering.   Carey urged a moderate course of action. [5]

Next:  How the Massachusetts Legislature Reacted

Look for it Monday, April 14


[1] James M. Banner, Jr. To the Hartford Convention:  The Federalists and the Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts 1789-1815  (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1970) 299.

[2] Banner, To the Hartford Convention, 300.

[3] Edward C. Carter, “Mathew Carey’s ‘Olive Branch’ 1814-1818, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol 89. No. 4 October, 1965, 401.

[4] Banner, To the Hartford Convention, 304.

[5] Pamphlet referred to in a letter by Matthew Lyon to Carey,19 Feb. 1809, Lea and Febiger Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. See Carter, Mathew Carey’s “Olive Branch” 401, ff. 401.

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Conservatives’ Dilemma: Moderation or Adherence to Principles?

Federalist Party leaders in Massachusetts faced a situation that is similar to what is going on within the Republican Party today.  As Tea Party leaders clamor for principles, the party’s leadership in Congress, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, pursue a moderate course of action.

To recap:

The Federalist Party’s rank and file had split with the leadership in New York during the state’s gubernatorial campaign of 1804.  The party’s radicals from Massachusetts, Timothy Pickering and Roger Griswold, backed Aaron Burr as the candidate for governor of New York State.  Pickering and Griswold hoped that as governor, Burr would bring New York into their scheme for a confederacy.  Their plans unraveled. Alexander Hamilton and the party’s leaders intervened, opposing Burr’s support from the Federalist’s rank and file.  Hamilton viewed Burr as a challenge to the party’s leadership in New York State.

In 1808, during Jefferson’s embargo, the Federalist leadership in New England urged a moderate course of action.     Federalist editors, the clergy and radicals clamored for action.  The party’s leaders had to find a middle course, or give up their control.  Leadership and rank and file were not unified.  Support for the Federalists waned in other parts of the United States.  The party’s leaders in New England thought that electing a president would regain their sway over the rank and file.[1]

Their candidate would oppose Jefferson’s successor, James Madison.  Party leaders Harrison Gray Otis, George Cabot, Christopher Gore, James Lloyd and Timothy Bigelow formed the committee.  They organized the first national convention to nominate a presidential candidate.  In the election of 1804, the Federalist candidate from South Carolina, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, lost to Thomas Jefferson.  Otis and his committee, in an attempt to retain control and defeat Madison, favored George Clinton, a Democratic Republican from New York State.  The Federalists had lost important elections in recent years.  In addition to Pinckney’s loss to Jefferson, they had seen Democratic-Republican governor James Sullivan replace Federalist Caleb Strong in Massachusetts.  To Otis and his associates, control of the leadership outweighed party affiliation.  A moderate course of action trumped party principles.

Opposition to Clinton’s candidacy developed outside Otis’ organizing committee.  Federalists elsewhere wanted to adhere to the party’s principles.[2]  After some debate Federalists at the convention chose Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and Rufus King.  Madison defeated them.

Madison’s victory brought new assaults on New England’s beleaguered merchants.  Congress enacted the Enforcement Act in January 1809.  Federal forces seized goods.  Their grounds for seizure were solely on suspicion those goods were exports.







[1] James M. Banner, Jr. To the Hartford Convention:  The Federalists and the Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts 1789-1815 (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1970) 294.

[2] Banner, To the Hartford Convention,  296-7.

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How Jefferson’s Economic Sanctions Angered New Englanders


Jefferson’s intent was to keep the embargo in effect until either the French repealed their decrees, or the British repealed their orders.  Congress passed a ‘Force Act’ in 1809 bolstering the embargo.  It allowed federal agents to confiscate goods suspected of being shipped to foreign ports, without a warrant.

Following the embargo in 1807, tonnage shipped to American ports declined a staggering fifty percent.  Exports declined even more at seventy-five percent.

New England and its merchants bore the brunt of the embargo.  New Englanders looked to their state governments for redress.  New England’s state legislatures were controlled by Federalists.  They used the reasoning behind the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions as a response to defy the embargo.

Federalist Party leaders objected to the idea of outright secession.     Federalist editors, the clergy and radicals clamored for action.  The party’s leaders had to find a middle course, or give up their control.  They favored “state interposition.”  They argued the United States was comprised of a collection of independent entities—the states.  They granted the Federal government limited powers.

Moderate Federalists considered the Constitution as a contract between the states.  States, as sovereign republics, held the power of government.  The federal government’s power came from states that had ratified the Constitution, not the people. [1]  These states had ratified the contract known as the Constitution.  They had the power to determine if a federal law violated the Constitution.  A state could interpose authority between the federal government and the people.  That meant a state could ignore a federal law.[2]

In February, 1809, a convention was proposed for New England’s states to nullify the embargo.  As New England suffered through its fourteenth month of embargo, even the Democratic-Republicans in New England revolted.  Howls of protest came from many town meetings in New England.  Secession was discussed publicly.

In response, Congress hastily passed a bill repealing the embargo.  Jefferson signed it three days before the end of his term.[3]

[1]James M. Banner, Jr. To the Hartford Convention:  The Federalists and the Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts 1789-1815 (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1970)121, 120.

[2] Banner, To the Hartford Convention, 120.

[3] Samuel Eliot Morison and Henry Steele Commager, The Growth of the American Republic, Volume 1 (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1962) 396.

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Extra: Economic Sanctions in the Early Nineteenth Century

To Recap:   Some Events Leading to the War of 1812

Congress passed Macon’s Bill Number 2 in May 1810.  Americans resumed trade with Britain and France.  The bill stipulated the United States would re-instate its embargo against the enemy of the first belligerent (Britain or France) to recognize American neutrality.

Napoleon seized the opportunity to draw the United States into his Continental System.  During the first week of August 1810, Napoleon dictated a letter to the Duc de Cadore.  It was sent to the American legation in Paris.   Napoleon duplicitously declared that he was repealing his Berlin and Milan decrees, “it being understood that in consequence of this declaration the English are to revoke their Orders in Council, and renounce the new principles of blockage which they have wished to establish; or that the United States, conformably to the Act you have just communicated, cause their rights to be respected by the English.”[1]

The letter ambiguously indicated the British might rescind their Orders in Council.  It clearly stated Napoleon was repealing the Berlin and Milan Decrees.   Federalists and some historians, Henry Adams for instance, argued that Madison was duped.  The American Minister to Russia, John Quincy Adams, cautioned Madison that Napoleon was luring him into a trap.   Chief Justice John Marshall called it “…one of the most astonishing instances of national credulity…” [2]

Later historians, such as J. C. A. Stagg and Gordon S. Wood, argued that Madison understood the ambiguity of the Cadore letter.  Madison was hoping to entice the British into repealing their Orders in Council.[3]

Napoleon, however, did not make the Cadore letter or the repeal public. Indeed, he had no intent to repeal his decrees at all.  He issued secret decrees.   The French began seizing some, but not all, American ships and cargoes.  The situation was intentionally confusing.[4]

Madison was stubborn.  On November 2, 1811, despite French depredations, Madison reinstated non-intercourse with Great Britain.  Napoleon was delighted.  Then Madison annexed the Republic of West Florida.  As European powers objected, Napoleon said nothing.[5]

In February 1811, Congress passed a new Non-Importation Act.  America would not import British manufactures, although American produce could be exported to Britain.

From 1811-12 the British Isles suffered through a notably difficult winter.   Frigid temperatures contributed to crop failure.  The price of wheat rose to $4.50 a bushel. Napoleon’s economic sanctions choked off markets for British manufactures.  His policies closed all European ports except those in Portugal and Russia.  America’s Non-Importation Act closed markets in the United States.[6]

British manufactured goods piled up in warehouses.  Violence flared in the streets as workers demonstrated.  As factories shut down, manufacturers petitioned Parliament.  They needed American markets to survive.[7]

On April 21, 1812, the British Prince Regent, later King George IV, issued a declaration.  If Napoleon publicly and truly revoked the Berlin and Milan Decrees, the British would revoke their Orders in Council.[8]

The Prince Regent’s Declaration arrived in Paris on May 1, 1812.   The American minister in Paris demanded proof that Napoleon had repealed his decrees.  The French minister shocked him by handing him a decree.  It was signed by Napoleon at St. Cloud and backdated April 28, 1811.   The French minister blatantly lied that it was not backdated, and had been sent to the American government at the time.  Madison was compromised.[9]

In America, “War Hawks” from the South and West agitated for war with Britain.

Under pressure from British manufacturers, and rumblings of war from America, Parliament considered revoking its Orders in Council.  Debate was delayed when Prime Minister Spencer Perceval was assassinated.  On June 16, Lord Castlereagh announced the Orders in Council were suspended. [10]

It was too late.  America formally declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812.  News of the repeal would take weeks to cross the Atlantic.

Two years later, in November 1814, as he wrote the Olive Branch, Carey changed his mind after examining a document by the Prince Regent on the repeal of the Orders in Council.  Originally, on page 40,  he wrote that after the British repealed their Orders in Council and offered an armistice Madison should have accepted it.

By page 180, Carey’s opinion had changed.  This suggests that page 40 had already been printed, and Carey was rushing the Olive Branch to press.  “The tenor of the repeal, as it is termed, of the orders in council, has not been duly considered—nor had I examined it with sufficient attention when I wrote the reflections contained in page 40.  That document is liable to objections, of which I believe the public at large are not aware—nor do I know that they have ever been stated fully.”[11]

Carey reprinted an extract from the Prince Regent’s response :

“His royal highness is hereby pleased further to declare…if circumstances shall so require from restoring, after reasonable notice, the order of the 7th of January 1806 and the 26th of April 1809, or any part thereof, to their full effect; OR from taking such other measures of retaliation against the enemy, as may appear to his royal highness to be just and necessary.”[12]

Carey interpreted this to mean that “circumstances” were separate from “retaliation.”  He wrote the orders were, technically, never repealed.  They were simply suspended until “circumstances should require” that they be re-instituted.

He retracted the following comments:

“But whatever might be the justice, necessity, or policy of the war, when the orders in council were repealed, and an armistice offered by the British government, it was a most fatal error, not to accept it.  Negociations for the removal of the rest of our grievances might have taken place:  and they would undoubtedly have been conducted under more favourable auspices, than those that preceded them; for England having discovered that she had calculated too far on our passiveness, would have been far more disposed to do us justice.”[13]










[1] Henry Adams, History of the United States of America During the Administrations of James Madison, (New York:  Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 1986) 180. [First published in nine volumes from 1889 to 1891.]

[2] Samuel Eliot Morison and Henry Steele Commager, The Growth of the American Republic, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1962) 400-1;  Adams, History,  208;  Gordon S. Wood, Empire of Liberty:  A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815, (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2009) 666.

[3] J.C.A. Stagg, Mr. Madison’s War:  Politics, Diplomacy and Warfare in the Early American Republic 1783-1830 (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1983) 55; Wood, Empire of Liberty, 665.

[4] Adams, History, 181-2; Wood, Empire of Liberty, 667.

[5] Adams, History, 266; Wood, Empire of Liberty, 375-6.

[6] Morison and Commager, Growth of the American Republic, 401.

[7] Adams, History, 478; Morison and Commager, Growth of the American Republic, 401.

[8] Adams, History, 469.

[9] Adams History, 469-72.

[10] Adams, History, 489-90.

[11] Mathew Carey, The Olive Branch:  Or Faults on Both Sides (Philadelphia:  M. Carey, November 11, 1814) 180.

[12] Carey, Olive Branch, 180-1.

[13] Carey, Olive Branch, 40.

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How Jefferson’s Attempt to End Impressment Led to Talk of Secession

On June 21, 1807, the British frigate Leopard fired on the USS Chesapeake near Norfolk, Virginia, after the commander of the American vessel refused to let the British board it.   The British killed three sailors and injured another eighteen.  They boarded the Chesapeake impressing three American sailors. Citizens throughout the United States were outraged.

Jefferson urged Congress to pass the Embargo Act of 1807.  It prevented any American ships from sailing to foreign ports, and engaging in trade with Britain and France.

New Englanders detested the embargo.   It affirmed their suspicions that Jefferson ignored New England’s economic interests.[1]   It wreaked havoc on the profitable trade merchants had risked so much to achieve.   The Act was impossible to enforce.  Smuggling ensued.  Non-compliance was rife.

Once again, New Englanders discussed secession.

[1] Jeffrey L. Pasley, “The Tyranny of Printers”:  Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic (Charlottesville:  University of Virginia Press, 2001) 350.

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What Hamilton Thought About Disunion and Why He Challenged Burr to a Duel

In a formal document, Hamilton explained his reason for challenging Burr to a duel.  It was, he said, to save his influence in politics.[1]

The day before his duel, he wrote to Theodore Sedgwick, an influential Federalist in Massachusetts:

“Dismemberment of our empire will be a clear sacrifice of great positive advantages, without any counterbalancing good; administering no relief to our real disease, which is democracy, –the poison of which, by a subdivision, will only be the more concentred in each part, and consequently the more virulent.”[2]

                                                                   Alexander Hamilton


Hamilton had no intention of killing Burr.  Burr had every intention of killing Hamilton.[3]  His bullet struck Hamilton.  He died the next day.

Burr fled to the western frontier.

Next:  How Jefferson’s Attempt to End Impressment Led to Talk of Secession

[1] Henry Adams, History of the United States of America during the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson, (New York:  Literary Classics of the United States, 1986) 427.

[2] Alexander Hamilton to Theodore Segwick, July 10, 1804, quoted in Adams, History of the United States, 428.

[3] Adams, History of the United States, 429.

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How Hamilton’s Remarks Proved Fatal

Alexander Hamilton’s private remarks about Aaron Burr at John Tayler’s dinner proved fatal.  On June 18, 1804 William Van Ness, Burr’s defender, visited Hamilton’s office.  He presented Hamilton with newspaper clippings of Dr. Cooper’s account of Tayler’s dinner party.  In those newspaper articles Cooper reported Hamilton’s private remarks.  Hamilton accused Burr of being “a dangerous man, and one who ought not to be trusted with the reins of government.” [1]

Van Ness carried a note from Aaron Burr who wrote:

You must perceive, sir, the necessity of a prompt and unqualified acknowledgment or denial of the use of any expression which would warrant the assertions of Dr. Cooper.”[2]

                                                                   Aaron Burr

Hamilton spent two days pondering his response.  He had much to think about.  Timothy Pickering and Roger Griswold had organized rank and file New York Federalists challenging his leadership of the party.  Pickering and Griswold had thrown their weight behind Burr.

Hamilton’s reply challenged Burr to a duel.

“I trust on more reflection you will see the matter in the same light with me; if not, I can only regret the circumstance, and must abide the consequences”[3]

The duel was set for July 11, 1804.

Next:  What Hamilton Thought about Disunion.   Hamilton’s Reasons for Engaging Burr in a Duel

Look for it Monday, March 10.

[1] Henry Adams, History of the United States during the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson, (New York:  The Library of America, 1986) 421.

[2] Adams, History of the United States,  427.

[3] Adams, History of the United States, 427.


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What Happened in Rufus King’s Library

Most rank and file Federalists disagreed with Hamilton, who opposed Burr’s nomination for governor of New York.  Nevertheless, in the name of disunion, Pickering and Griswold were locked in a battle to secure leadership of the party in New York.  Was Hamilton the leader?  Or, would Burr take the lead, courtesy of Pickering and Griswold?

Rufus King was a Federalist who was born in Massachusetts but moved to New York City.  On April 8, 1804 Timothy Pickering visited King to promote his secessionist scheme.  As Senator Pickering left King’s house, he met  John Quincy Adams, the other senator from Massachusetts.   Pickering was still present in King’s library.   King said to Adams, “Colonel Pickering has been talking to me about a project they have for a separation of the States and a Northern Confederacy; and he has also been this day talking of it with General Hamilton….I disapprove entirely of the project, and so, I am happy to tell you, does General Hamilton.”[1]  Adams said he had learned about it from Hamilton.

On April 25, 1804, the election took place.  Burr lost to a candidate supported by Governor Clinton.  While most of the party followed Burr, Hamilton influenced New York’s leading Federalists.   John Quincy Adams disliked Hamilton.  Nevertheless he supported Hamilton’s opposition of Burr.  Hamilton retained the reins of party leadership.

Burr’s failure to become governor foiled Pickering and Griswold’s plan.  They were unable to form a northern confederacy.    They did manage to arrange a meeting of Federalists in Boston with Alexander Hamilton, Rufus King and George Cabot.[2]

Next:  Hamilton’s Fatal Mistake

[1] Henry Adams, History of the United States of American during the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson, (New York:  Literary Classics of the United States, 1986) 425.

[2] Adams, History of the United States of America during the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson,  426-7.

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