The War of 1812 Dramatically Changed American People and Government

"Forget self and think of America," wartime pundits urged.


Part one: "How the War of 1812 Eroded U.S. Liberalism"

As the War of 1812 with Great Britain approached during the Republican administration of James Madison, the War Hawks saw silver linings everywhere. "Republicans even came to see the war as a necessary regenerative act—as a means of purging Americans of their pecuniary greed and their seemingly insatiable love of commerce and money-making," historian Gordon S. Wood writes in Empire of Liberty. "They hoped that war with England might refresh the national character, lessen the overweening selfishness of people, and revitalize republicanism." The money cost of war was dismissed as insignificant compared to national honor and sovereignty. Indeed, the war was called the "Second War of Independence." Wood quotes the newspaper editors of the Richmond Enquirer: "Forget self and think of America."

Republicans, of course, had previously warned of the dangers of war, including high taxes, debt, corruption, a big military, and centralized power. Madison himself famously said that war contained the "germ" of "all the enemies to public liberty." So now the party set out to prosecute a war while avoiding the evils they held were intrinsic to it. Republicans in Congress talked about cutting military spending even as war loomed. But it didn't quite work out that way. In early 1812 Congress built up the army, though it—initially—decided a navy was not needed against the greatest naval power on earth. (The strengthened U.S. navy later did very well against Britain.)

The Republican Congress also raised taxes, including dreaded internal taxes, conditioned on war actually breaking out. Madison, Wood writes, "was relieved that at last the Republicans in Congress had 'got down the dose of taxes.'" Still, the government would have to borrow money to finance the war. The proliferation of government securities and new note-issuing banks followed, of course. On the connections among the war, public debt, Madison's Second Bank of the United States, inflation, government-sanctioned suspension of specie payments, government bankruptcy, and subsequent economic turmoil, see Murray Rothbard's A History of Money and Banking in the United States and his earlier The Panic of 1819.

Wood notes that Americans hoped the war would deal a blow to the Indians in the Northwest, who had the support of Britain and whose land was much coveted. Indian removal (extermination) was a popular government program. Moreover, "with the development of Canada freeing the British Empire from its vulnerability to American economic restrictions, President Madison was bound to be concerned about Canada."

Although Madison's government always denied that it intended to annex Canada, it had no doubt, as Secretary of State [James] Monroe told the British government in June 1812, that once the United States forces occupied the British provinces, it would be "difficult to relinquish territory which had been conquered."

Interest in Canada was not just material. A belief in "Manifest Destiny," though the term wouldn't be coined until 1845, was a driving force. (Acquisition of Spain's Floridas was also on the agenda.) America was the rising "Empire of Liberty," fated by providence to rule North America (at least) and displace the worn-out empires of the Old World.

Even though the war had no formal victor and produced no boundary adjustments (U.S. forces were repulsed in Canada after burning its capital, for which Britain retaliated by burning Washington, D.C.), Americans were generally delighted with the outcome, mistakenly thinking that Madison had dictated terms at Ghent. (Wood notes that a record 57 towns and counties bear Madison's name.) Wood writes that a group calling itself the "republican citizens of Baltimore" expressed "a common refrain throughout much of the country" in April 1815 when it declared that the war

has revived, with added luster the renown which brightened the morning of our independence: it has called forth and organized the dormant resources of the empire: it has tried and vindicated our republican institutions: it has given us that moral strength, which consists in the well earned respect of the world, and in a just respect for ourselves. It has raised up and consolidated a national character, dear to the hearts of the people, as an object of honest pride and a pledge of future union, tranquility, and greatness.

The anti-Hamiltonian 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." Arthur A. Ekirch Jr. reports in The Decline of American Liberalism that Gallatin admitted that (Gallatin's words) "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."

Madison's restraint, however it is to be explained, ought to be acknowledged. He was an advocate of centralized government and implied powers, yet "he knew that a republican leader should not become a Napoleon or even a Hamilton," the sympathetic Woods writes. He quotes an earlier admirer of Madison as saying, the president conducted the war "without one trial for treason, or even one prosecution for libel." (Some Republicans viewed Federalists who were openly sympathetic to the British as traitors.) A more ambitious politician might have not have kept the "sword of war" "within its proper restraints." However, imperial chickens eventually come home to roost, and Madison indisputably reinforced the imperial course of his predecessors. (See my "The Boomerang Effect: How Foreign Policy Changes Domestic Policy.") Moreover, Jeffrey Rogers Hummel writes, Madison proposed conscription—only the war's end prevented this from happening—and later a peacetime standing army to the Congress.

How the war dramatically changed America, the people, and the government is discussed at length in Dangerous Nation by Robert Kagan—the historian and prominent neoconservative thinker who advises President Barack Obama on foreign policy—and John Quincy Adams and American Global Empire by William Earl Weeks. (Unlike Weeks, Kagan approves of the war's effects and the American empire in general; his book is marred by his wish to justify current American intervention in Europe and beyond.)

Kagan notes that the war boosted efforts to expand America westward. "Indian tribes north of the Ohio River, deprived of British support, gave up vast stretches of land in the years immediately following the war," Kagan writes, "permitting a huge westward migration of the American population.… Trying to contain American continental aspirations after the war with Great Britain, John Quincy Adams observed, would be like 'opposing a feather to a torrent.'"

Kagan notes that:

The requirements of fighting the war expanded the role of the federal government and exposed deficiencies in the operation of federal power under the old Jeffersonian Republican scheme—much as the Revolutionary War had pointed up the deficiencies of the Articles of Confederation. The end of the war in 1815 brought calls for augmented national powers even from Republicans.…

Madison, Jefferson's staunch colleague in the struggle against Hamiltonian policies in the 1790s, now all but embraced the Hamiltonian system.

Attitudes toward the military also changed for reasons of national and economic security. When Monroe succeeded Madison as president, Weeks writes, a

guiding principle … in [his] effort to expand American foreign trade concerned the construction and maintenance of a formidable military force. Republicans traditionally had mistrusted large military establishments as subversive of republican institutions. Yet once again, the War of 1812 led to a reevaluation of a basic tenet of the Republican faith.

Indeed, future President John Quincy Adams, Monroe's secretary of state and a champion of Clay's American System, said, "The most painful, perhaps the most profitable, lesson of the war was the primary duty of the nation to place itself in a state of permanent preparation for self-defense" (emphasis added).

"Along with support for a national bank," Weeks adds, the Republicans' new imperial principles "stood as a dramatic break with the traditional philosophy of the Republican party. The vision of a decentralized inward looking agrarian republic had been replaced by an imperial vision which reflected many of the basic tenets of the disgraced Federalist party."

It's important to realize, Weeks writes, that "after the Treaty of Ghent the search for new markets became the explicit aim of American foreign policy."

Kagan agrees: "the War of 1812 spurred the federal government to redouble efforts to open access to foreign markets." Previously, agrarian Republicans like Jefferson hoped that commerce would not dominate America or its politics since that preoccupation would inevitably draw the country into perpetual international turmoil. But with the war, many now saw things differently. "Active promotion of commerce required further expansion of American military strength, especially the navy," Kagan writes.

In other words, America would not promote free trade by unilaterally setting a good example, as libertarians call for today. Instead, the government would aggressively open foreign markets, particularly the colonial possessions of the European powers, threatening retaliation in the case of uncooperative regimes and displaying the military card rather prominently. But "free trade" soon gave way to mercantilism, that is, special-interest economic protectionism. Weeks writes that

changing economic conditions had inspired a new vision of American empire based not on free trade but on protection of certain sectors of the economy. The shortages caused by embargo and war had led to the growth of an extensive manufacturing sector in the United States and a sizable constituency that wanted it protected from foreign competition, once peace was restored.

Revealingly, Weeks writes, the postwar American Society of the Encouragement of American Manufacturers, a pro-tariff group, boasted as members Thomas Jefferson and James Madison along with the old Federalist John Adams.

A remnant of small-government, decentralist, free-trading "Old Republicans" objected to this embrace of centralized power, mercantilism, and militarism, but their voices were fading. Against them, the rising generation of politicians saw the need for new principles. The Old Republicans' narrow interpretation of the Constitution, the new Republicans said, should not be treated as engraved in stone. "A new world has come into being since the Constitution was adopted," said Henry Clay, chief promoter of the American System. "Are the narrow, limited necessities of the old thirteen states … as they existed at the formation of the present Constitution, forever to remain a rule of its interpretation? Are we to forget the wants of our country?… I trust not, sir. I hope for better and nobler things."

Apparently the idea of a living constitution was born much earlier than the 1950s or 1930s.

The new vision pervaded Monroe's administration, which the continental expansionist and militarist John Quincy Adams dominated as secretary of state, and then Adams's own term as president. (Opposition to the spread of slavery would check, temporarily, the drive for southwestern expansion, an ironic turn on Madison's principle that "ambition must be made to counteract ambition.") As for domestic policy, in 1825, Adams's first year in power, he called for "a national university, government-sponsored scientific explorations, the creation of new government departments, the fostering of internal improvements, and even the building of a national astronomical observatory," Kagan reports.

The "great object of the institution of government is the improvement of the condition of those who are parties to the social compact," Adams said. The government should not only provide internal improvement, such as canals and roads, but should also see to the people's "moral, political, intellectual improvement."

Adams's program, however, proved too much too fast for Americans. So he, like his father, was a one-term president. But eventually the American System, often propelled by foreign policy and war, would return—for good.

The lesson here 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 what the Gallatin called "the evils inseparable from it[:] debt, perpetual taxation, military establishments, and other corrupting or anti-republican habits or institutions." They would sooner have squared the circle.

Moreover, the War of 1812 reinforced the executive branch's de facto monopoly over foreign policy. Within a few years the Monroe administration—and no one more staunchly than John Quincy Adams—would defend Gen. Andrew Jackson's invasion of Spanish Florida and undeclared war on the Seminoles, after which dissenting members of Congress could do nothing but gripe.

Randolph Bourne was right: war is indeed the health of the state.

This article originally appeared at the Future of Freedom Foundation. 

NEXT: Does #HouseOfCards' Frank Underwood Care About You?

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  1. Another solid bit of 1812 scholarship from Richman. I had no idea Jefferson was pro-tariff. Another reason not to deify the Founding Daddies

    1. Another reason not to deify the Founding Daddies

      Coming from the guy who feels obligated to white knight for his favorite blogger every. single. time. he publishes an article… Yes, we could all take a page from your book.

      1. To be fair, we crucify him every single time, so there has to be some opposing force in the world. Right?

        1. Richman is actually capable of making valid observations at times, so long as the subject is something other than Iran.

  2. Didn’t Richman run this piece last week?

    And everybody knows the War of 1812 was Israel’s fault.

    1. War of 1812 was the fault of none other than Michael Hinh, I have to tell ya…

  3. Everything’s the War of 1812’s fault, isn’t it, Reason?

  4. The strengthened U.S. navy later did very well against Britain.

    Fuck yeah! Take that, Limeys.

    1. In the open ocean, the Brits swept the Americans from the seas. All was not lost, however, because American craftsmen and seamen moved inland to build fleets that dominated Lake Champlain and Lake Erie. British plans to capture the Great Lakes region now looked too expensive, and British negotiators allows us to escape with a draw.

  5. The two things that helped grow the Federal government most was the income tax and Wicker v Filburn. I ‘d take a government with the powers of the 1880’s

    1. ” I ‘d take a government with the powers of the 1880’s”

      Not if you were black. Or a woman. Or gay. Or Native American. The idea that the 1880s were a time of limited, less intrusive government would have been a hilarious one to most of the population then.

      1. Are you suggesting that the plight of blacks, women and homosexuals were improved by aggregating more power to the federal government, or did you not bother reading important operative words before jumping on your favorite hobby horse?

        1. I’m suggesting that for most people the idea that the 1880s were a time of less intrusive government is crazy.

          1. So, if you were to ever actually answer a question as addressed without equivocating, dodging the questing, moving the goalposts, and/or tossing red herrings like a bond villain employing decoys in a getaway chase, you would say that yes, indeed, you think blacks, women and homosexuals are better served by a government with the much broader powers that the federal government possesses today.

            Or you are comically suggesting that the federal government in 1880 actually had more powers than it has today.

            1. I think the fact that life was worse in terms of government oppression for most Americans back then demonstrates that ‘how big the federal government is’ should not be the main measure of liberty.

              1. I should know better by now than to respond, but eff it.

                So, do you honestly believe that because there wasn’t universal suffrage that means that the government, understood to mean the state at any level, was more deeply involved in the lives of most Americans then than it is now? That’s not born out by historical evidence. I can’t help but feel that you’ve got an ax to grind here and are therefore being deliberately obtuse.

                1. I’m not just talking about suffrage. Women were barred from exercising many basic rights of association, contract and property.

                2. I know Bo can be an annoying shit, but can someone actually make an argument disproving his assertion?

                  If you could trade today’s laws, at every level (federal, state, and local) with those of the 1880s, and assume that all laws would be enforced and remain in effect permanently, would any of you actually do that?

                  1. Bo is largely wrong about oppression of blacks in the 1880s, because the Jim Crow era was just barely starting. It wasn’t until after Plessy v. Ferguson that it really took off.

                    1. “It wasn’t until after Plessy v. Ferguson that it really took off.”

                      Er, before Plessey they had the Black Codes which were kind of much worse than Jim Crow. The Black Codes straight up targeted the basic rights of blacks, Jim Crow was the attempt to try to reconcile that with the 14th Amendment, hence ‘separate but equal.’ Before that there wasn’t even a pretense or lip service to equality, just straight up, direct oppression.

                    2. black codes only exited for a short time before the civil rights act of 1866 and the military reconstruction act.

              2. ‘how big the federal government is’ should not be the main measure of liberty.

                Yeah, every goodthinking libertarian knows that Mexicans, pot and asssex is the property measure, amirite?

                1. *proper

              3. Most Americans in the 1880’s were black gay Native American women? I had no idea. Here I thought we were mostly white back then.

                1. He mentioned women as a group in its own right, and they have to my knowledge always been the majority in this country (and certainly so if you threw in black, gay, and Native American men).

                2. most americans were (and are) women. just add the blacks, indians (who were not legally american and were pretty much considered the inverse of an american), etc.. but even if only a tiny minority of americans were oppressed by law, it would be no less significant.

                3. most americans were (and are) women. just add the blacks, indians (who were not legally american and were pretty much considered the inverse of an american), etc.. but even if only a tiny minority of americans were oppressed by law, it would be no less significant.

          2. The idea that the 1980s were a period of less government seems not at all crazy, though. Thanks Team Red and Team Blue for doing what you could to put an end to that wherever possible.

        2. Blacks have a different historical perspective on the merits of national (Federal) power vs. local (State) power. A Federal government with a higher degree of devotion to *individual* rights overthrew slavery in individual States in the 1860s, and a century later would overthrow Jim Crow systems entrenched in individual States.

          Apart from the Black experience:

          The 14th Amendment was used to extend First Amendment free speech protections against State and local governments. The First Amendment originally only applied to Congress.

          Many libertarians consider the Bill of Rights to provide better protection to individual rights than tribal aboriginal governments.

      2. Pedantry, again?

        1880s government, plus the 13th amendment.

        Happy now, Bo?

        1. It’s not pedantry. It’s the truth, and a big one. Liberty is about more than the income tax and broad interstate commerce powers. The 1880s were a time where the most basic human rights were straight up and directly trampled for most Americans. That should tell us something about the single minded fixation on federal powers.

          1. The 1880s govt. didn’t use all its powers, specifically the power of Congress to enforce the 14th Amendment against state abuses.

          2. The 1880s were a time where the most basic human rights were straight up and directly trampled for most Americans.


            Jim Crow was bad enough without ridiculous exaggerations like this.

            1. Blacks had the most basic rights of contract, association and property systematically trampled under Jim Crow. It’s difficult to overstate that in any way.

        2. 1880s government, plus the 13th amendment.

          Both the 13th and 14th amendments were already ratified for over a decade by the 1880’s.

          Liberty is about more than the income tax and broad interstate commerce powers. The 1880s were a time where the most basic human rights were straight up and directly trampled for most Americans.

          Economic fascism and personal liberty aren’t compatible. What you’re proposing is a false dichotomy, mostly based on an equal weighting of positive and negative rights.

          That should tell us something about the single minded fixation on federal powers.

          True, though hilariously ironic considering that the laws infringing personal liberty that you are discussing, with the sole exception of women’s suffrage, were entirely constructions of state law, not federal law. The federal government of the 1880’s had long since abolished slavery and enshrined equal protection into the constitution. Jim Crow laws and sodomy laws were passed and enforced at the state level. Until more recently in history, states were actually considered sovereign, you see.

          1. And, thankfully, federal courts began to take those matters out of the hands of those states. The result was a significant opening up of the exercise of basic rights for most Americans.

            1. Federal courts only took up the 14th amendment in adulterated and diluted form (which is all that incorporation is) as a kind of guilty make-up for having eviscerated it in the Slaughterhouse case just a few years after it was adopted. There is nothing commendable about the government’s interpretation of the 14th amendment.

              Governance was better when distributed among the competing states than concentrated in federal hands. Competition is always better than forced monopoly.

              1. It’s commendable in the ‘better late than never’ sense.

              2. “Governance was better when distributed among the competing states than concentrated in federal hands. Competition is always better than forced monopoly.”

                Could you please specify a time frame you had in mind? I support federalism within a system where basic rights are guaranteed throughout the nation, but it is a means to an end, it is not the end-all-be-all of liberty.

          2. Kinda getting my history mixed up today, aren’t I?

        3. The 13th amendment had been in effect for 15 years by 1880. It was still in many ways not a very free place for many people. The fixation on a mythical past Golden Age among libertarians is puzzling. Yes, there are issues today that need to be addressed and some have been getting increasingly worse. That doesn’t mean that liberty has been under a constant decline since 1776 or 1865 or whatever year you want to pick when supposedly things were totally just and free.

          1. Despite getting my history a bit twisted, the fact is that in 1880, the federal government didn’t routinely kick in peoples doors and murder them for the potential presence of marijuana/guns/prostitutes/made up nonsense.

            In 1880, the federal government did not have the ability to steal 1/4 to 1/2 of your paycheck before it ever even graced your fingers.

            In 1880, in fact, the federal government just plain did not have as much power as it does now.

            We live, right now, in an age where a federal agent can arm himself to the teeth, kick in your door, murder you and your entire family, claim it was an accident because he read the address incorrectly on a warrant rubberstamped by a judge and vouchsafed by a paid informant and just walk away from it with a paid vacation.

            How often did that take place in the 1880s? Bo is right, insofar as the fact that racism was alive and well in those times. The incarceration and murder rate of the goddamn goverment, which is what we’re discussing was much lower than it is today.

            There’s never been such thing as a libertarian golden age. There’s only times before now, when the government has less and less actual power to ignore the rules and get away with it.

            1. You’re forgetting federal mistreatment of the native Americans which at that time involved quite a bit of killing.

              Regarding the other stuff, no the Feds might not have done that as much back then but they turned a blind eye to far worse abuses by the states. Jim Crow and mistreatment of native Americans were far greater violations of liberty than anything the government does today. That’s not even getting into all the other ways America wasn’t exactly libertopia in those days.

              I think you’re missing the point Bo and I are making that liberty is not directly proportional to the size and power of the federal government. There are other relevant factors that can be as important or more important.

              1. Okay. . .perhaps you’re right about liberty =/= size.

                Still think the government should be small though. . .

                *pouts in corner*

                1. I don’t disagree with you on that. I just think it’s key that it is big enough (and willing) to protect basic rights, something that it often didn’t do in the past, which enabled great violations of liberty even though the government wasn’t that big. I’m not saying there haven’t been negative consequences for liberty from the growth of government during the course of US history. I’m just saying that focusing exclusively on those areas ignores a lot of history that should be important to libertarians.

          2. The fixation on a mythical past Golden Age among libertarians is puzzling.

            Straw man. Simply saying that some times in the past had some advantages over today is not to see the past as a “mythical Golden Age.”

            1. It depends on the individual case. I’ve seen plenty of people, on Reason and elsewhere, basically state “It’s been all downhill since (insert year, but usually in the 18th, 19th, or perhaps early 20th century)” in terms of liberty, which is ridiculous and often based on misconceptions about those times or not fully appreciating how egregious certain past abuses were. I’m not saying one has to say that today is better in every way than the past, because that’s certainly ridiculous, I’m just saying that there is a common streak among libertarians and conservatives to romanticize and idealize the past and overestimate how free people were in certain time periods.

      3. Bo – in rhe 1880s were those issues predominantly government or societal? In the case of Native Americans, I say govt. In the other examples you list I lean the other way.

        1. I’d say governmental when it comes to Jim Crow or locking up gays or denying professional licenses to women…

          1. I see Jim Crow laws more the govt mimicking society than govt. doing this on their own. And the professional organizations did not want women members (and were they truely govt. institutions at that place in time?). Yes, govt. enfirced these an orher things (such as not addressing the crimes Klan members) but these were the things that many wanted. I recall hearing that white huroes would find white suspects not guilty and black suspects guilty. I can’t put all of that on the govt. I’m not sure today how many folks really want the NSA spying on them and I doubt greater than 5% of the population wanted that (before we found out it occurred).

    2. That’s when occupational licensing, building codes, and other busybody government moralizing took off, the seeds of progressivism, their kindergarten if you will.

      The Consitituion has always been malleable to corrupt nannies. The Articles of Confederation were better, but both still started with the proposition that police powers were the heart and soul of proper government, handled by Top Men, of course.

    3. How would the 1880’s-powered govt today ensure the equal protection of rights?

      1. Huh? Are you implying that a government has to be gigantic in order to ensure that it protects rights “equally”?

        What a stupid premise (polluted by the idiocy of the left, no doubt). If you regard rights as objective absolutes (which they are), there can be no question as to whether they are to be observed “equally”; if you regard rights as an arbitrary “social construct” belonging to this tribe over here and that tribe over there, then the actual recognition and achievement of equal rights is impossible.

        Individual rights FTW

  6. As the War of 1812 with Great Britain approached during the Republican administration of James Madison

    Interesting, considering that the Republican Party was founded in 1854.

    1. Both technically correct. Richman is referring to the original Republican party, which is now commonly referred to as the Democratic-Republican party or Jeffersonian Republicans to distinguish it from the modern Republican party founded in 1854.

      1. distinguish it from the modern Republican party founded in 1854

        which Richman never does in his piece apart from the Kagan quote. It may be pendantic, but in this case it is an important distinction.

        1. pedantic

          Identifying the party as ‘Democratic’ would have been more accurate, but not perfect as well since:

          The modern Democratic Party was formed in the 1830s from former factions of the Democratic-Republican Party

        2. A very important distinction. I knew already the exact age of our modern Republican party (161 years) and spent the entire article reading while also doing the math in my head and waiting for Sheldon to get to the punchline.

          Which never showed. And made me think his initial premise is wrong and he’s a boneheaded idiot. That, or manipulative. Hmmph.

          If he’d just gotten that out of the way, made a logical tie-in between the former and modern Republican parties and then got on with his point, it would have been neater all around.

          Bad Sheldon. Bad.

          1. In 1812, the Democratic-Republicans were calling themselves Republicans. They would start calling themselves Democrats during the Jacksonian era.

    2. Don’t bother with your stupid facts. Those things have no place in a forum against IMPERIALISM!

      1. It is a stupid fact indeed since Richman is correct.

        1. Technically correct, which is the best kind as they say. Richman could have been clearer by referring, as most modern authors do, to the original Republican party using the more common modern terms (Democratic-Republican or Jeffersonian Republican) to distinguish it from the modern, but completely separate party, of the same name.


      1. Or put in a paywall.

        1. Look, put in a paywall for your content if you must, but don’t tell the freeloaders they can’t even comment on the article! Commenting on articles you haven’t fuly read is an old established privilege of H&R commenters.

          1. Here, here! I just hope the site doesn’t morph into something resembling ESPN’s MLB page. It seems like 80% of the stories are only available to subscribers.

            Come on Reason, let us cheapskates with middling intellects and poor grammar keep playing along. 😉

        2. Yeah, what up with that shit? And I subscribe to their stupid print magazine, too.

      2. Vincent Figgins introduced the slab serif in 1815, and later coined the term sans-serif. Coincidence? I think not.

  7. They should write a patriotic song commemorating the War of 1812.

    1. This is the cereal that’s shot from guns.

      1. ?

        1. Quaker Puffed Rice + Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

          1. There’s probably a YouTube of the ad, but I don’t feel like looking now.

    2. Jimmy Driftwood already did.

  8. Interesting column, some good points on state expansion. Now let’s look at the alternative. Should America have allowed the British to dictate its trade policy, continued to allow Americans to be impressed into the Royal Navy, and arm ‘neutral’ (read: anti-American, pro-British) native groups? Do these first two actions not clearly show aggression on the part of the British? What would be an alternative way to prevent the British from engaging in these behaviours?

    1. I’m about as anti war and military as it gets around here, but the mass impressment of Americans seems a legit cause of war.

    2. What would be an alternative way to prevent the British from engaging in these behaviours?


      1. #Trade4France



        1. Throw in a lithograph of a frowny-faced Dolley Madison holding a hand-written sign, and we’re done. Problem solved!

        2. A White House Summit on Radical Impressment, where the British weren’t mentioned by name?

    3. “What would be an alternative way to prevent the British from engaging in these behaviours*?”.
      [*sp unless you do it with an accent while polishing a monocle]

      I presume Sheldon thinks we should have done what they told us to do, and stopped trading with the French.

      Does he bother noting that “neutrality” turns out to be incompatible with ‘Free trade’ here? or that ‘neutrality’ is a fiction when there’s nothing compelling anyone from actually recognizing it? I can’t be asked to actually read Sheldon articles after the Lanza/Nazi-ness.

      1. Is Richman saying the war shouldn’t have been fought or just reminding us that “even an apparently justifiable war can be counted on to produce illiberal consequences and precedents”?

      2. I’m a man of the Commonwealth, we spell our words properly with ‘our’, AS THE QUEEN AND GOD INTENDED.

        I presume Sheldon thinks we should have done what they told us to do, and stopped trading with the French.

        Still wouldn’t have stopped impressment though.

        1. we spell our words properly with ‘our’, AS THE QUEEN AND GOD INTENDED.

          The Empire hoarding U’s to fuck over Americans holding Q’s?

          Where have I seen this before?

        2. “I’m a man of the Commonwealth, we spell our words properly with ‘our’, AS THE QUEEN AND GOD INTENDED.”

          *i went to work for the british out of college, and all my computers had “UK-English” spell check on them for about 8 years. I still catch myself saying “theatre”….& using “s” instead of “zed” all the time (in particular ‘advertising’ with a z looks all wrong) … and a few other things. I draw the line at “whilst” however. that’s just ridiculous.

          Still wouldn’t have stopped impressment though.

          No doubt. I’m just theorizing what sheldon ‘might’ have argued. The theoretical non-interventionists are notoriously squirrely in avoiding actually describing any ‘recommended action’-policy, rather always insisting on what “should be avoided” and never ever actually admitting that ‘inaction’ produces consequences just like actions do.

    4. Sheldon said the impressment had already stopped. But the British are such weasels that I wouldn’t’ve expected that cessation to last. One of the terms of the treaty resulting from the War of 1812 was that the British would abide by what they were already committed to doing from the Treaty of Paris, i.e. ceasing their operations in & occupation of the territory NW of the river Ohio. I don’t think the British ever acceded to that understanding of the Treaty of Paris, but at Ghent they just said they’d graciously accede to the US reading of it, some BS like that.

      Look around the world & you’ll see swaths of strife caused by screwings by the UK. Their consistent m.o. has been to make conflicting promises to various groups or interests.

      1. The British had stopped impressment, but news of that hadn’t reached the US when they declared war.

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  10. ‘how big the federal government is’ should not be the main measure of liberty.’

    As long as they’re taxing and spending and mandating and regulating *the Right Stuff*, its all still ‘libertarian’?

    This is the same bullshit Mr Toad was trying to sell the other day, suggesting that Free Tampons (*sorry, contraception…but hey that too) was ‘libertarian’ because there was some cost-savings effect through (mumblemumblemumble) the wondrous social-engineering effects of Tax&Subsidize;, which everyone knows is an economically-efficient process.

    1. I don’t know what to tell you other than that you’re welcome to argue that gays, blacks, women and native Americans were more free in the 1880’s than they are now with a much larger federal government, and they’d be welcome to laugh and laugh at you if you did.

      1. “you’re welcome to argue that gays, blacks, women and native Americans were more free in the 1880’s”

        Its so clever how you defend “things you actually said” by making up things that “other people didn’t”

        1. Are you talking about yourself? Because “As long as they’re taxing and spending and mandating and regulating *the Right Stuff*, its all still ‘libertarian’?” wasn’t what I said either.

          1. what you said was more ungodly stupid than that

            = you said, “because slaves and women couldnt vote…. *200 years ago*… we shouldn’t be so quick to cheerlead for ‘smaller government’

            Because clearly, we cut too much? We’re on a slippery slope back to slaves, obviously.

            Please, do everyone the great pleasure of expanding and clarifying on your original words so that there’s no more confusion about the wisdom of your insights there.

            1. Gil, what comment of Bo’s are you referring to? I checked his early comments, and the one that came closest to that was this one:

              “I think the fact that life was worse in terms of government oppression for most Americans back then demonstrates that ‘how big the federal government is’ should not be the main measure of liberty.”

              That’s not at all the same thing as your characterization of his comments.

              1. Maybe you can clarify what “oppression 200 years ago” has to do with “an over-sized federal government now”, then.

                1. I can’t speak for Bo, but I don’t think his point was that libertarians shouldn’t worry about the over-sized federal government of today, just that smaller federal government doesn’t automatically = more freedom.

                  Also, Bo wasn’t the one that brought the government of the 1800s into the discussion. He was responding to someone who said they’d take the government of the 1880s over today.

                  1. “smaller federal government doesn’t automatically = more freedom.”

                    You mean when you’re *time traveling* between periods 200 years apart?

                    because its not like that particular metric might potentially be more relevant than the relative “size of the federal government”

                    Forgive me for pointing out the obvious.

  11. You have to be kidding me. The article treats capital R republicans of 1812 as if they are the same party as capital R republicans of 2015. I scanned to the end of the article to see if Richman distinguishes between Madison’s party, and the entirely different, new party that elected Lincoln in 1861. Capital R republicans didn’t exist in 1812. If historians attach any name to Jefferson’s party at all, it is Democratic Republicans, or some other convenient term that does not have any relationship the two major parties that exist now. Richman suggests, by using the term Republicans as he does, that Madison’s war party, Theodore Roosevelt’s war party, and Richard Cheney’s war party never changed its stripes! Yet no thread connects Madison’s Republican party with today’s version. This defect harms an otherwise well researched article.

    1. Madison called his party the Republican Party.

      1. And everyone knows it not the same Republican party that came into existence in the 1850s, you stupid little shit.

        1. Apparently not everyone since so many people are upset and rushing to defend the current Republican Party’s honor over an article that was obviously about Madison’s Party.

          1. It’s not the Republican party’s honor, you shit eating troll, it’s historical accuracy. Go fuck yourself.

            1. Except that Richman’s use is historically accurate.

              1. Sure. And you are a hot dreaded chick in a bikini. Because all things named Bo are the same is a perfectly accurate phrase.

                So… what’s happening, hot stuff? Rawwr.

          2. Grab a random set of people off the street and show them this article, and at least 90% will think it is about the same Republican Party that exists today. (History textbooks generally call the party that held the WH from 1801-1833 the “Democratic-Republican Party” to avoid confusion.) A responsible writer would be careful to note that that is not the case, but Richman is not such a writer.

            1. “And everyone knows it not the same Republican party that came into existence in the 1850s”

              1. I think that was intended as sarcasm. In any case, it wasn’t me.

  12. It’d be more convincing if you’d quoted more from opponents of the changes in the zeitgeist than from those who approved, who may have been optimists.

    I’d explore alternate hypotheses such as that both the war and the political changes resulted from shifts in the relative power of interest groups caused by advances in technology & accumulation of capital. When you go over some decades from being net importers of a product to net exporters or vice versa, the interests change. As markets gain efficiency thru the development of trade boards, there also develop interests in the form of the middlemen & brokers.

  13. The older version of our government did do bad stuff. To politically weaker groups. Today we have a much stronger government which feels free to fuck with everyone (who’s not a member of said government).

    Yes, size matters.

    1. You’ve never known anyone with a Napoleon complex, or this wouldn’t have been a revelation.

  14. So what is Mr. Richman’s plan? Is he going to invent a time machine and go back to 1812 and talk President Madison out of declaring war on Great Britain? Does he really think that life was, in any meaningful way, “better” in 1803 than in 1823? Does he wish he were a yeoman farmer, dressed in home-spun and eating cornpone three times a day? Thanks, but no thanks. I prefer “corruption”.

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  16. It took only 12 years, after a single dominant Empire ruled the ‘New World’ (of North America) for the ‘subjects’ of that Empire to realize that the had to separate from that single dominant Empire and begin the First (and only successful) American Revolution against Empire.

    It has now been nearly 25 years since the next-to-the-last Empire in the ‘Whole World’ collapsed in 1990, and only a single Empire (the Disguised Global Capitalist Empire merely ‘posing’ as, and HQed in, our former country) has ruled the world.

    So the question is:

    “Why did the ‘subjects’ of EMPIRE ‘get it’ in 1775 sooner than 2015?”

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