“I have never for an instant believed that peace would be practicable by the negotiation here…I believe the sole object of Britain in protracting our stay here is to impose both upon America and upon Europe, while she may glut all her vindictive passions and bring us to terms of unconditional submission.”On August 8, 1814, talks began at Ghent, Belgium, that would ultimately result in a treaty ending the War of 1812. The head of the American negotiating team was John Quincy Adams, the U.S.’s most experienced diplomat. The four men who served with him were carefully selected by President Madison to reflect the varieties of political sentiment in the United States. Foremost among them was Henry Clay, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and a noted War Hawk. Albert Gallatin had served as Secretary of the Treasury for both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. James Bayard was a U.S. Senator belonging to the Federalist Party who had been an opponent of the war, and was one of the 13 Senators to vote against declaring it. However, once the war began he supported the war effort. Jonathan Russell was acting U.S. ambassador to Britain when war was declared. Sent to Ghent as a negotiator, he was also serving as ambassador to Sweden and Norway. He proved instrumental in achieving the final peace terms.William H. Crawford was U.S. ambassador to France during the negotiations, and was responsible for superintending the American consuls in Europe and keeping them informed of developments. More than that, he was an advisor to the President on the happenings on the Continent. As Ambassador to the Court of one of the two major adversaries in the conflicts in Europe, he was also actively involved in the Ghent negotiation process, advising the negotiators and responding to their confidential communiqués. He would later serve as Secretary of War and Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Madison and Monroe.At the start the U.S. negotiators had their instructions: the impressment of seamen and illegal blockades were the principal cause of the war," which would "cease as soon as these rights are respected." British cruisers must not be allowed to stop and search U.S. vessels, which practice "withholds the respect due our flag…It is expected that all American seamen who have been impressed will be discharged.” Another major object of the negotiations was to end the British blockades. “We also need to be assured that no further interference with our commerce" will take place. Next the instructions took up the question of the British arming and supplying the Indians. The article in the Treaty of 1794 "allowing "British traders from Canada and the North to trade with the Indian Tribes in the U.S., must not be renewed." Nor must Britain continue to use native forces against "our Western States and Territories.” Thus, the U.S. negotiators must insist on an end to impressment, and ship seizures, and a stop to aiding the Indians in the American west.As for the British, they initially demanded that the country now occupied by the states of Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin, the larger part of Indiana, and about one third of Ohio, should be set apart for the Indians to serve as a buffer, a perpetual protection of the British possessions against American ambition. They demanded also that the United States should relinquish the right of keeping any armed vessels on the Great Lakes; and, in addition to all this, they asked for the cession of a piece of Maine, and for the right of navigating the Mississippi River. The Americans rejected these demands out of hand, and actively considered going home at the end of August. They ended up staying, and over the next 5 weeks there discussions, sending of notes and replies, references of disputed points by the British commissioners to their Foreign Office in London, and long waiting for answers.On August 24, 1814, British forces under General Robert Ross overwhelmed American militiamen at the Battle of Bladensburg, Maryland, and marched unopposed into Washington, D.C. Most congressmen and officials fled the nation’s capital as soon as word came of the American defeat, but President James Madison and his wife, Dolley, escaped just before the invaders arrived. The British army entered Washington in the late afternoon, and General Ross and British officers dined that night at the deserted White House. Meanwhile, the British troops, ecstatic that they had captured their enemy’s capital, began setting the city aflame. The White House, a number of federal buildings, and several private homes were destroyed. The still uncompleted Capitol building was also set on fire, and the House of Representatives and the Library of Congress were gutted before a torrential downpour doused the flames. On August 26, General Ross, realizing his untenable hold on the capital area, ordered a withdrawal from Washington. The next day, President Madison returned to a smoking and charred Washington and vowed to rebuild the city.It took well over a month for the news to reach Ghent, with Adams learning about the dismal event on October 4. He was angry and bitter, doubting whether the talks could come to any good. Autograph report signed from Adams, Ghent, October 5, 1814, to Crawford, expressing his feelings, and asking him to sound out the French and place other European nations on alert. “Mr. Boyd arrived here on the 29th unto. with his dispatches, and with your letters of the 25th to the mission, and to Mr. Gallatin and myself. After his arrival, I received your two favors of the 24th by post.“The important news from America is just beginning to come in. Since Mr. Boyd’s arrival, we have had successively the accounts of the abortive attack on Fort Erie of 15th August, and of the too successful attack on Washington of the 24th and 25th. The trial of our national spirit anticipated in my letter of 29 August had even then commenced by that Vandalic exploit. Its result has illustrated in colors much too glaring the remark I then made that our statesmen appeared not to have formed a just estimate of our condition.“I have never for an instant believed that peace would be practicable by the negotiation here. Mr. Clay is the only one among us who has occasionally entertained hopes that it might be. The proceedings of the British government since the delivery of their first sine qua non [list of demands] have sometimes strongly countenanced Mr. Clay’s opinion, and the deference I have for his judgment leads me to distrust in this case my own. I believe the sole object of Britain in protracting our stay here is to impose both upon America and upon Europe, while she may glut all her vindictive passions and bring us to terms of unconditional submission.“I shall probably in the course of a few days make you a joint and confidential communication upon this subject. The purposes of our enemy have undoubtedly a relation to France, and to other European powers; and it may be expedient to put them upon their guard against the British misrepresentations, of which they make this ‘idle and hopeless farce’ the instrument for views less hostile to them than us.”This famous letter was acquired by us from a direct descendant of William H. Crawford, and it has never before been offered for sale. (Inventory #: 11179)
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