Millercenter.org’s summary of speech:
“Madison dedicates his second address to praising U.S. citizens for their noble participation in the War of 1812. The President condemns the British for bad conduct, such as taking citizens as prisoners of war, but calls the U.S. Army heroic for seeking to preserve the rights and freedoms of the small country.”
Thoughts on Transcript:
When Madison gave his first address, clouds of war were on the horizon. When Madison gives his second inaugural address, the storm is upon him. The US in now at war. They fight on the waters – Madison makes note of the “gallant exploits of our naval heroes” (speaking of the USS Constitution). They fight, and lose horribly, throughout Canada. They fight defensively in the US. They see the capital burned. And, two years after Madison is inaugurated, they will see a peace treaty signed.
A couple of thoughts:
Madison makes clear that war came to the United States, we did not go looking for it. Regardless of the truth of the matter, it is important, especially at this early stage of the nation’s history, that the President makes sure justice is on his side. The militias are still the primary source of the military forces for the US and they are equipped for a defensive war, not an offensive one. Each man holding a gun must be convinced that he is doing good for his country by leaving his home, where crops may need to be harvested or business attended to.
Following on that point, Madison adopts the style of the Declaration of Independence by making a list of Britain’s grievances. Chief among these is a general lack of respect. Madison believes that the British do not see the Americans as truly independent: they are not affording them the same rights as Prisoners of War and they are capturing merchant ships and forcing sailors into the British navy (known as “impressing into service”). Madison’s fear is that to not respond to these affronts is to invite additional problems as time goes on – just as someone who does not stand up to the schoolyard bully will become a target for the duration of their education. This is the key selling point that Madison is using within his address to the American people.
- Believes that the war, while with a stronger power, is just
- War came for the USA. We did not go looking for it.
- To take impressing of sailors and other grievances without retaliation “surrenders our equality” on the world stage
- List of grievances that led to war
- Impressing of sailors into British service
- No recognition of POWs – British are not recognizing sovereignty
- Enabled Native American uprisings
- We have a strong country internally and we will prevail
- Only single reference to God (“smiles of Heaven”), no blessing at end
Phrases I have underlined, starred, or otherwise marked:
“… I should be compelled to shrink if I had … felt less deeply a conviction that the war with a powerful nation, which forms so prominent a feature in our situation, is stamped with that justice which invites the smiles of Heaven on the means of conducting it to a successful termination.”
“It was not declared on the part of the United States until it had been long made on them, in reality though not in name; until arguments and postulations had been exhausted; until a positive declaration had been received that the wrongs provoking it would not be discontinued; nor until this last appeal could no longer be delayed without breaking down the spirit of the nation, destroying all confidence in itself and in its political institutions, and either perpetuating a state of disgraceful suffering or regaining by more costly sacrifices and more severe struggles our lost rank and respect among independent powers.”
“Not to contend for such a stake is to surrender our equality with other powers on the element common to all and to violate the sacred title which every member of the society has to its protection. I need not call into view the unlawfulness of the practice by which our mariners are forced at the will of every cruising officer from their own vessels into foreign ones.”
“They have retained as prisoners of war citizens of the United States not liable to be so considered under the usages of war. They have refused to consider as prisoners of war, and threatened to punish as traitors and deserters, persons emigrating without restraint to the United States, incorporated by naturalization into our political family, and fighting under the authority of their adopted country in open and honorable war for the maintenance of its rights and safety. … They have let loose the savages armed with [the hatchet and the knife]; have allured them into their service, and carried them to battle by their sides, eager to glut their savage thirst with the blood of the vanquished and to finish the work of torture and death on maimed and defenseless captives …”
“The sword was scarcely out of the scabbard before the enemy was appraised of the reasonable terms on which it would be resheathed.”
“When the public voice called for war, all knew, and still know, that without them it could not be carried on through the period which it might last, and the patriotism, the good sense, and the manly spirit of our fellow-citizens are pledges for the cheerfulness with which they will bear each his share of the common burden. To render the war short and its success sure, animated and systematic exertions alone are necessary, and the success of our arms now may long preserve our country from the necessity of another resort to them.”
Thoughts on delivery (audio and/or video of speech):
None. They didn’t have that technology when Madison was inaugurated.