|8ss Reid – War 1812 Play
American Nation Social Studies book
Scene 1: Opening - Events Leading Up to the War of 1812
Narrator 1: On June 18, 1812, the United States stunned the world and declared war on Great Britain. What issues led to this armed conflict that pitted the newly independent United States against the strong British kingdom, for a second time? Who would the Native Americans in North America side with in this clash of empires? We must look at the events that led up to the conflict and consider all sides to understand what truly happened.
Narrator 2: Flashback: In 1789 the French Revolution began in France. The cry for democracy was heard throughout France as it had been in America only a few short years before. French citizens were demanding an end to monarchy and a limit to government power, just as the Americans had done. For several years this revolution was waged. By 1792 the fight for freedom had entered a new phase. The overthrow of the monarchy was almost complete, a little less than a year later both King Louis the XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette were tried for treason and executed. France, under the rule of General Napoleon Bonaparte, entered a new phase, the Napoleonic Wars. These wars stormed through Europe from 1792 to 1815. Napoleon, first as a general in the army and later as the dictator of France, was bent on establishing his very own empire. By 1802 Napoleon was attempting to seize control Europe. Although Napoleon had conquered Italy and Prussia, he had been unable defeat Britain. Britain was in a fight for its life.
Narrator 3: As all of this conflict is occurring in Europe, the United States decided to remain neutral. First, President George Washington in 1793 declared United States neutrality in the conflict between Britain and France. America wanted to continue to trade with both France and Britain but found it hard to do since both warring nations seized American cargoes headed for the other’s ports. In 1793 the Britain had seized over 250 American ships even after our declaration of neutrality. Declaring neutrality was easier than enforcing it. Still, Washington did not want the United States to be dragged into war, fearing America was not strong enough to fight a European nation. Instead he chose diplomacy in the form of Jay’s treaty to solve the crisis.
Narrator 4: President John Adams followed Washington’s lead and kept America out of the conflict in Europe. Adams refused to ask Congress to declare of war against France despite the fact that the French had attack American ships in 1797. France was now doing what Britain had before. The cry for war was now against France. Though Adams did not want to go to war, he did strengthen the navy in order to protect American ships.
Narrator 5: The conflict in Europe continued during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency. In 1803 Britain declared war on France. In order for Napoleon to fund his future military campaigns against Great Britain, he sold the Louisiana territory to the United States for 15 million dollars. At first America profited from the conflict between Britain and France. Both sides were too busy fighting to engage in trade. Neither Britain nor France wanted the United States selling supplies to it enemy. As in the 1790s, they ignored American claims of neutrality. Napoleon seized American ships bound for England. At the same time, the British stopped Yankee traders on their way to France. Both countries claimed they were doing so because the United States was providing the enemy with supplies. Between 1805 and1807 hundreds of American ships were captured. American sailors were also being impressed into the British Royal Navy. Jefferson knew the small American navy fleet was no match for the power of the British Navy. Like Washington and Adams he sought to avoid war. Jefferson persuaded Congress to pass the Embargo Act. This law imposed a total ban on trade with foreign nations. Jefferson hoped to cut off Britain and France from much needed supplies from the United States. The embargo did hurt both Britain and France, but it also hurt the New England merchants. In 1809 Congress passed the Nonintercourse Act which allowed the United States to trade with anyone but France and Britain.
Narrator 6: When James Madison, our fourth president, took office in 1808, he inherited the same problem that the previous three presidents had dealt with. Madison hoped that Britain and France would soon agree to respect American neutrality. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case. The trade embargo was set to expire soon. Madison told both Britain and France if either country stopped seizing American ships, the United States would halt trade with the other nation. Napoleon quickly announced that France would respect American neutrality. As promised, the United States continued to trade with France, but stopped all shipments to Britain. In order to cut off American trade with France, British warships blockaded some American ports. In May 1811 a brief battle broke out between an American frigate and a British warship. The America crippled the British ship and left 32 British sailors dead or wounded. The United States was drifting closer to war.
Narrator 7: Madison wanted to avoid becoming involved in war just as the previous presidents had however. But all of Britain’s violations of America’s rights at sea made some Americans demand war with Britain. This group, known as the War Hawks, saw Britain as a threat the U.S. power. They thought Britain was treating the United States like a colony, and they wanted to go to war to stand up for American rights. Plus, they were angry that Britain was encouraging Indian attacks on American settlements. Throughout Madison’s presidency there was increasing conflict between Native Americans and the American settlers who were moving west. The Native Americans resented the Americans as they moved into Native American territories and used the resources the Native Americans needed to survive. There had been several battles on the western frontier areas such as Ohio and Michigan as these groups came into conflict. Fighting with the Native Americans hurt relations between the United States and Britain; the British were supplying guns and ammunition to the Native Americans on the frontier as well as supporting their attacks on American settlers.
Narrator 8: At last, President Madison gave into the war fever. In June of 1812, he asked Congress to declare war on Britain. The House and the Senate both voted in favor of war. Could America stand up to the power British Empire, again?
Scene 2 – British Perspective – Impressment of Sailors
Narrator One: Scene Setting - A British Royal Navy ship. Two soldiers are sitting in the lower cabin, eating pieces of stale bread.
British Sailor One: Being on this ship is pure torture. I am so tired of eating stale bread (he says this as he hits his hard bread against something nearby. The bread makes a knocking sound.)
British Sailor Two: Me too! The conditions are miserable. More people have died in the last few weeks from sickness then from battle. I signed up to defend the British Empire. For this I am willing to risk my life. I am not willing to die from dysentery though.
British Sailor One: The low pay is definitely not worth this horrible experience. (Looks down and shakes head)
British Sailor Two: I know. Hey, I have an idea. Let’s get out of here.
British Sailor One: What do you mean? (Looks up at other sailor)
British Sailor Two: I mean, we are close enough to the shore of India that if we use the small boat on the main deck we could row to shore. Once on shore we can run away. I heard the American merchant marines need sailors. We can join one of their ships. I have heard life is more comfortable and we would get paid more.
British Sailor One: It sounds risky. We could be whipped or worse for deserting. What if we are discovered?
British Sailor Two: No one will even know we are gone until it is too late. We will go tonight when everyone is sleeping.
British Sailor One: I don’t know (said reluctantly)
British Sailor Two: Come on. I need your help. I can’t row the boat on my own. Besides, you said it yourself being on this boat is pure torture. Are the consequences any worse then our current situation?
Narrator One: That night the two British sailors abandoned ship. Thousands of British seamen chose to jump ship in favor of joining the American trading ships. Britain’s sea power was its pride and joy. It was absolutely necessary for Britain’s defense. Because the British Royal Navy was engaged in a life and death struggle with France in the early 1800s, it became necessary to recapture deserters from other ships to keep the Royal Navy strong. British naval officers often boarded American ships and demanded to see papers stating citizenship. If the papers looked forged or the British officers suspected the people on board were really British citizens, not American, then they took those men and forced them to return to British naval ships.
Scene 3 – American Perspective Impressment of Sailors
Narrator 2: Scene Setting American merchant ship. The Captain is in his office looking at maps. He hears a knock on the door.
Captain: (In reply to the knock, he looks up and yells.) Come it.
Man One: Sir, a British naval officer has just boarded the ship.
Captain: Where is he now?
Man One: On the upper deck.
Captain: What does he want?
Man One: He is demanding to see all our men’s citizenship papers. He is looking for deserters.
Captain: The men on my ship are not his concern. I have heard from other captains there have been many instances of the British doing this very thing on other U.S. ships. Some American captains have lost almost their entire crew when the British boarded their ships and forced the sailors to work for the British Navy. It is kidnapping as far as I am concerned. Tell him he must leave immediately. His actions are outrageous. Britain does not have the right to dictate who is on our ships. We are not military; we are merely merchants.
Man One: Yes sir. I will relay the message.
Narrator Two: The British Royal Navy continued boarding American ships. Many Americans considered these actions an insult to the United States and demanded a declaration of war.
Narrator 3: Scene Setting – The White House. President Jefferson is sitting at his desk. He is meeting with an advisor.
Advisor: (Urgently) Mr. President, the British are again forcing our merchant sailors to work for the Royal Navy. Just recently they bombarded the ship the Chesapeake and impressed several American seamen.
Jefferson: I see.
Advisor: The ship captains are furious and demanding we declare war on Britain.
Jefferson: I do not believe our small naval fleet is strong enough to take on the strength of the most powerful navy in the world. We must avoid war.
Advisor: What do you suggest? We can’t just let the British Navy continue kidnapping sailors. Over 6,000 seamen have been taken.
Jefferson: I know.
Advisor: Mr. President the situation is even worse than just the issue with Britain. France has been boarding our ships and seizing cargo too. Both are claiming they have a right because we are trading with their enemy.
Jefferson: (Slamming fist on desk) Why don’t they understand we are neutral? Trade has nothing to do with choosing sides for us; it is just about money. We must do something to send a strong message to Britain and France, to all of the world, that we will not allow anyone to treat us like this. Our trade is the most powerful weapon we can use in our defense. Both Britain and France need our supplies as they are engaged in their war. Cutting off needed supplies will teach them a lesson.
Narrator Three: President Jefferson was able to persuade Congress to pass the Embargo Act. This law stopped trade with all countries. Jefferson’s idea was meant to punish Britain and France as well as to protect American merchant ships and sailors. The plan worked. Britain and France were hurt by the embargo. However, in the end the Embargo Act was very unpopular. Many Americans were hurt financially by the loss of trade and demanded a change in the law. Ultimately, a new law was passed called the Nonintercourse Act. Americans were now allowed to trade with anyone but Britain and France.
Scene 5 – British Perspective on Trade Embargoes
Narrator 4: Scene Setting – King George III is giving a speech to Parliament. The King is standing as he addresses the crowded room.
King George III: We must continue our commercial warfare against France. We have been fighting with Napoleon for several years, attempting to defend our borders from an invasion. It is absolutely essential we prevent Napoleon from receiving supplies. I understand France is getting many of their supplies from trade with the United States. The United States claims they are neutral in this war and that trading with France is about profit and not choosing sides. But my belief is their reason for the trade is not important. What is important is that France is getting the supplies desperately needed for continuing their war with us. I have decided to issue an Order in Council. From this day forward we will blockade the ports on the French coast. No ships will be allowed to enter unless we search them first. Any ship not in compliance with these regulations will be seized. Though I am sure this action will anger the Americans, it is a small price to pay in order to strangle the French economy and hopefully defeat them.
Scene 6 – Meanwhile, American Westward Expansion
Narrator 7: Meanwhile issue at home demanded the President’s attention. America had been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years. The expanding population was pushing west in a frantic search for farmland. By 1810 there were more than 230,000 people living in Ohio. More and more people were settling in Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois. Scene Setting: Jefferson giving a speech to Congress. Jefferson is standing as he addresses the packed room.
President Jefferson: Gentlemen, as you know the United States has doubled the size of the country with the purchase of the Louisiana Territory. I would like to promote settlement in this newly acquired area as well as continue to support settlers as they move west into the Northwest Territory. I want to caution Americans as they move west they will came in contact with the Native Americans who live there. We know from the Lewis and Clark expedition some of these Native Americans are friendly and some are not. I want to encourage Americans to teach the Natives they come in contact with how to be civilized. Show them how to set up their own farms on plots of cleared land. Teach them the ways of mainstream society. White people had a responsibility to assist the native peoples how to survive in our society. If they do not want to change their ways, hopefully we can then persuade the Indians to sell their land and migrate further westward away from us so they can live as they want and we can live as we want. I think you will agree with me, this is the best policy for the United States.
(Crowd claps and cheers)
Scene 7: Native American Perspective Westward Expansion
Narrator 8: Before the arrival of Europeans in North America, Native Americans lived in relative harmony with the land. These peoples fed, clothed, and lodged themselves off the land, and in return they paid great respect to the spirits which inhabited the natural world. They considered the land as a gift from the Great Spirit which should be shared by all people.
After the American Revolutionary War ended in 1783, the United States began to grow rapidly. The U.S. government encouraged Native Americans to sell their traditional hunting grounds in order to make way for the land-hungry white settlers.
As American settlers converted the wilderness into farmland, they drove away the animals necessary for the Native Americans to survive. When the once independent Native Americans became desperate because of the changes to their lives, it became even easier to pressure them to sell their land.
Though some Native American sold the land, others put up a fierce resistance to the movement of white settlers onto their land. Tension between the Natives and the American settlers produced fighting.
After a century of trying to protect their homes and way of life unsuccessfully from American encroachment, a Shawnee warrior named Tecumseh organized an Indian confederacy to defend their land. The Indian confederation found an ally in the British Army. They had a common enemy - the Americans. The British traded guns and ammunition to the Native Americans.
Scene setting: Two Shawnee leaders, Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa (tehn skwah tuh wuh), are sitting around a fire with two leaders from other tribes.
Tecumseh: The time has come. We must unite our tribes and put aside our differences. If we do not stand strong together we will see our homes destroyed as well as our lives.
Leader 1: The pale faces have come into my village. They met with me, told me I must learn to live like them. They want me to farm and live like them.
Leader 2: The pale faces will take our land. They are already building their homes at the edge of our hunting land. They will take our way of life. The animals we hunt are already less in numbers.
Leader 1: If we do not give into their demands and change, then they will drive us from our land. Their eyes are filled with greed. They are cutting down trees. The animals will not stay if there are no trees.
Tecumseh: We must be careful of the white men and their ways. Their trade with us makes us dependent on them. The white men’s muskets, cloth, cooking pots, and whiskey are corrupting us.
Tenskwatawa: The white ways have poisoned the soul of the Shawnee, the Miami, and the Kickapoo. We must return to the old ways, the ways of our ancestors. I had a vision. In my vision we built a village along the Tippecanoe Creek. I saw tribes come from all over. They came to hear my message about the evil ways of the pale face.
Narrator 1: Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa led the Native American resistance movement against the whites. Tecumseh focused on the protection of native land while Tenskwatawa’s main concern was the spiritual nature. In 1808 Prophet’s Town began to be settled along the Tippecanoe River. The governor of the Indiana Territory, William Henry Harrison, was intent on clearing the Native American people out of the Old Northwest to make way for American settlers.
This conflict over the land ended in blood shed. The native warriors from Prophet’s Town were certain that Harrison and his military force intended to attack them so they decided to attack first. At the crack of dawn on November 7, they ambushed the American forces. It was a frantic battle fought in the half-light. By the time Harrison realized what was happening, his men were falling all around him. By daybreak however, the entire American line was engaged and the warriors were beginning to falter. After a final charge from the flanks, the Prophet's force was depleted of ammunition and they had to retreat across the marshy prairie. Two days later, Harrison's men plundered Prophet's Town and burned it to the ground.
Both the warriors and the Americans suffered about two hundred dead or wounded. Nevertheless, Harrison portrayed the engagement as a victory for settler's rights and won instant national fame.
Contrary to American hopes, the battle of Tippecanoe did not destroy Tecumseh's confederacy or Tenskwatawa's power. Many Native American people were so outraged by the battle that they joined forces with the British military to fight against their common enemy - the Americans.
Ironically, Americans believed that it was British agents who were responsible for inciting the Native Americans to resist. They failed to recognize that their own selfishness in denying them rights to their land and culture was the cause of the battles.
Scene 8 - Native American Perspective British Allies
Narrator 2: The relationship between the British and the Native Americans was on-again-off-again. At times they were allies, at other times enemies. In 1807 the British actively sought Native American alliances when they realized tensions between the United States and Britain could escalate into military conflict. When America did declared war on Britain in 1812, the native people were invited to several British posts to receive presents of food, clothing, guns, and ammunition. They realized the necessity of having Native Americans as allies to protect the Canadian border.
Although the British never incited native people to attack American settlements, they did encourage native people to resist American expansionism. After all, the American expansion policy threatened not only the Native American way of life, but the British fur trade and Canadian territory as well.
Setting Scene: Chief John Norton, the leader of the Grand of Upper River Iroquois Canada, is addressing a group of Native Americans. The Chief is standing, the rest are sitting in a circle.
Chief John Norton: Brothers, we must fight along side the British if we are to defend our land, our way of life. The Iroquois are a mighty people. Our warriors are strong. We must now join the alliance to fight the Americans.
Native American 1: Chief, we are very committed to fighting the Americans, but we are doubtful about choosing sides in the wars of white men. Other tribes have been allies with the British before, the have suffered great losses.
Chief John Norton: There have been many deceptions, losses and harsh feeling between some of the white men and some tribes; it is true. But we must put this all aside. The time has come to forgive and join with the British. This may be our last chance to defend our land between the great rivers, the Mississippi and the Ohio.
Native American 2: But Chief, that is not our homeland. The American movement west has not directly threatened us.
Chief John Norton: It is true our lands today are not being threatened, but where will the whites go when they have taken all the land near the Mississippi? They will come to our land. If we do not stop them now, we will never stop them. Tecumseh and his people have already joined this alliance. We must give our support.
Narrator 3: Chief John Norton is able to convince this tribe to ally themselves with Tecumseh and the British in the fight against the Americans. They played an important role in several battles including the capture of the American forts of Mackinac and Detroit. Though rarely receiving official recognition for their participation. However, native warriors were often a welcome addition to the army due to their unorthodox fighting skills, their courage, and their ability to intimidate the enemy.
Scene 9 – American Perspective - The War Hawks
Narrator 4: The War Hawks, a group of young, vocal members of the House of Representatives from the Southern and the western United States, were able to convince Congress to declare war on Britain. The War Hawks were united by outrage regarding the British practice of impressments of American sailors. They were convinced that a declaration of war was the only honorable response to these repeated violations.
The War Hawks argued for war. They stressed the need for the country to prepare financially and military for combat. Most congressmen were opposed to war, but many voted for increased military spending and an expanded militia. They were confident that Britain would yield to U.S. demands if it saw that America was seriously considering military action. After all, Britain was already deeply involved in war with Napoleon in Europe. How could they possibly fight against the United States too?
Ultimately, the War Hawks were able to convince the majority of congressmen to vote in favor of war. Although many members bickered over insignificant details (like whether or not to increase the U.S. navy), they tended to agree that it wasn't realistic to expect a peaceful and diplomatic conclusion to the ongoing conflict with Britain.
Scene Setting: Three members of the House of Representatives, Porter, Langdon, and Clay, are addressing Congress. They are speaking to several Congressional members. They are trying to convince them war with Britain is necessary.
Representative Peter B. Porter: Right now President Madison does not want to declare war against Britain. As with the Presidents before him, Madison seems to believe neutrality is enough of a response to the repeated attacks on American ships.
Representative Langdon Cheves: (Passionately) We have a duty to protect our nation. Britain is treating the United States as if it is still a colony of Great Britain. This is unacceptable. We have a right to determine for ourselves who we will trade with and who we will not. We must prepare for war.
Representative Henry Clay from Kentucky: This is the second struggle for liberty. Since Great Britain does not treat us as independent, then we must prove our sovereignty.
Representative Peter Porter: We must defend not only our ships and our maritime rights; we must also defend our land at home. The British are arming Native Americans on the frontier and encouraging them to attack settlers. This must stop. We must show Britain we will not tolerate their interference in our country.
Representative Langdon Cheves: Also, there is great advantage to war with Britain. Not only will we prove to Britain and the world America’s strength. We could take Canada and Florida from Britain’s ally Spain. Britain and Spain are too busy right now fighting France to really give fully attention to a war with the United States. We could easily beat Britain and expand our borders.
Representative Henry Clay: Winning a war with Great Britain will bring lasting safety to settlers on the frontier, drive Britain out of North America, and show the world they should not mess with our country.
(Crowd cheers and claps)
Scene 10: American Perspective Anti-War
Narrator 5: Not everyone in the United States supported the ideas of the War Hawks. Many from the Northeastern region of the United States were opposed to war with Britain. The governors of Massachusetts and Connecticut refused to send troops to assist in coastal defense in preparation for war. Many New England financiers refused to lend money to the federal government while attempting to finance a build up for war, instead choosing to lend money to Britain. Some Vermont and New York farmers showed their resistance to a war with Britain by selling crucial supplies to the British Army in Canada instead of to the Americans.
Scene Setting: Representative John Randolph is addressing Congress. He is standing.
Representative John Randolph: The War Hawks are nothing more than warmongers. The primary goal of these Republicans is to expand American territory. The truth of the matter is, it is not the Britain Royal Navy interfering with our trade or kidnapping our soldiers that is motivating the War Hawks to call for war, it is greed. Ever since we started talking about this issue every conversation has ended in the same word – like a whip-poor-will, but one monotonous tone – Canada! Canada! Canada! We are more interested in expanding our country than doing what is right.
Narrator 6: President James Madison decided war with Britain was necessary. On June 1, 1812, President James Madison sent the "war message" to Congress. This document cited numerous American complaints against Great Britain. For days a debate was waged to decide if the United States should go to war. The War Hawks who wanted war and the New Englanders who were opposed heatedly defended their positions.
Ultimately the War Hawks had their way, war was declared on Britain. This vote was far from unanimous though. The declaration of war was passed, but a great rift was created between those who supported the war and those who did not. This division would be harmful to President Madison throughout the war with Britain.
Scene 11 British Reaction to the American Declaration of War
Narrator 6: In 1812 the United States declared war on Britain. Britain had not paid much attention to American complaints over the years about British violations of American sovereignty and maritime rights. Even after the United States declared war, Britain saw the North American conflict as far less significant than the war against Napoleon. Eventually, after considering the astounding resources the colony had to offer, Britain mounted a formidable campaign to protect Canada.
Setting Scene: A British General paces back and forth in his bedroom at a fort in Canada. A soldier knocks, enters the room, and hands the general a letter.
British Infantry Solider: Sir, this message just arrived for you. (Hands note to General)
British General: (Reads the message) Soldier, as you know, America has declared war on Great Britain. Until now Parliament did not see the importance of fully addressing this issue. However, according to this message, things have changed. We have been ordered to vigorously defend Canada for our King, our country. It seems Britain has finally realized what we have known for quite some time, Canada is an essential part of the British Empire. Our navy relies on the supplies we provide for them. The Royal Navy can not fight against France without the provision we give them. We must defend Canada. We must protect our land and our resources from American invasion.
British Infantry Soldier: Should I notify the Canadian Militia to get organized?
British General: Yes! We must begin training immediately. I know we are inexperienced but we be strong.
British Soldier: I have heard there are many farmers who would like to join the militia too. They are concerned the land-hungry American settlers will cause a land-shortage. Should I talk to them?
British General: Yes. We must get as many people as possible to resist the American invasion. You should also assemble our Native American allies to help us fight. The Americans may have won their independence in 1783 from Great Britain, but they will not lose again. We can not lose again.
Narrator 7: Once Britain and its allies finally defeated Napoleon, Britain was able to focus its attention on the war with America. The between the United States and Britain took center stage.