Sheldon Richman on How the War of 1812 Made Republicans Embrace Permanent Taxes and a Strong Military

The war dramatically changed American people and government.


Toronto Public Library Special Collections

Even though the War of 1812 had no formal victor and produced no boundary adjustments, American people and government were dramatically changed by the experience. Albert Gallatin, secretary of the Treasury from 1801 to 1814, said that because of the war, the people "are more American; they feel and act more as a nation." Gallatin also said that "the war has laid the foundation of permanent taxes and military establishments, which the Republicans had deemed unfavorable to the happiness and free institutions of the country." These new imperial principles, which included support for a national bank, were a departure from traditional Republican philosophy. 

The lesson here, writes Sheldon Richman, is that even an apparently justifiable war can be counted on to produce illiberal consequences and precedents. The Republicans could not fight a war unaccompanied by debt, perpetual taxation, military establishments, and what Gallatin called "other corrupting or anti-republican habits or institutions." Moreover, the War of 1812 reinforced the executive branch's de facto monopoly over foreign policy.