A war Hawk’s Demands

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A War Hawk’s Demands

Henry Clay, one of the great speakers In American history, represented Kentucky in the United States Senate and House of Representatives several times between 1806 and 1852. As a young senator in 1810, Clay was one of the leading War Hawks who called for war with Great Britain.

The following is an excerpt from the speech Clay delivered in the Senate on Washington’s birthday, February 22, 1810. It clearly represented the attitude of the War Hawks.


No man in the nation wants peace more than I. But I prefer the troubled ocean of war, with all its disasters and desolation, to the calm decay­ing pool of dishonorable peace. If we can settle our differences with one of the enemies ­Britain or France―I should prefer that one to be Britain. But if with neither, and we are forced into a selection of our enemy, then I choose war with Britain. I believe her first in aggression and her injuries and insults to us were extremely cruel in character.

Britain stands out in her outrage on us, by her violation of the sacred personal rights of American freemen, in the arbitrary and law­less imprisonment of our seamen.

But we [Congress] are asked for the means of supporting the war, and those who oppose it triumphantly appeal to the empty vaults of the Treasury. We have, I am credibly informed, in the city and vicinity of New Orleans alone, pub­lic property sufficient to payoff the debt noted in the Treasury report. And are we to regard as nothing the patriotic offers so often made by the States, to spend their last cent, and risk their last drop of blood, in the preservation of our neutral privileges?

It is said, however, that it is hopeless to go to war with Great Britain. If we go to war, we are to estimate not only the benefit to be gained for ourselves, but the injury to be done the ene­my. The conquest of Canada is in your power. I trust I shall not be thought to be bold when I state that I truly believe that the militia of Kentucky are alone competent to place Montre­al and Upper Canada at your feet. Is it nothing to the pride of the King, to have the last of the immense North American possessions held by him in the beginning of his reign taken from him? Is it nothing to us to put out the torch that lights up Indian warfare? Is it nothing to gain the entire fur trade connected with Canada?

War with Great Britain will deprive her of those supplies of raw materials and provisions which she now obtains from the United States.

A certain portion of military enthusiasm or spirit is necessary for the protection of the country. The withered arm and wrinkled brow of the illustrious founders of our freedom [Sol­diers of the War for Independence] are sad signs that they will shortly be removed from us. Their deeds of glory and renown will then be felt only through history books. We shall want the presence and living example of a new race of heroes to supply their places, and to encour­age us to preserve what they achieved.

If we surrender without a struggle to main­tain our rights, we forefeit the respect of the world and (what is worse) of ourselves.

Reading Review

1. Why did Clay favor war against Britain?

2. Why did some Americans oppose war with Britain?

3. (a) List three reasons why Clay wanted the Unit­ed States to gain control of Canada.

(b) Did Clay think it would be difficult to conquer Canada?

(c) Cite evidence from the reading to support your answer.

4. Do you think Clay was more interested in defend­ing the neutral rights of American ships and sail­ors or with gaining control of Canada? Explain your answer.

Source: Annals of Congress, 11th Congress, 1st Session (1809-1810), as presented in Sources in American History: A Book of Readings (Chicago, Illinois: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1986), pages 92-93.

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