|Second Inaugural Address 1813.3.4
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.
On the issue of the war are staked our national sovereignty on the high
seas and the security of an important class of citizens, whose occupations
give the proper value to those of every other class. 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, nor paint the outrages
inseparable from it. The proofs are in the records of each successive Administration
of our Government, and the cruel sufferings of that portion of the American
people have found their way to every bosom not dead to the sympathies of
As the war was just in its origin and necessary and noble in its objects, we can reflect with a proud satisfaction that in carrying it on no principle of justice or honor, no usage of civilized nations, no precept of courtesy or humanity, have been infringed. The war has been waged on our part with scrupulous regard to all these obligations, and in a spirit of liberality which was never surpassed.
How little has been the effect of this example on the conduct of the enemy!
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. Such is the avowed purpose of a Government which is in the practice of naturalizing by thousands citizens of other countries, and not only of permitting but compelling them to fight its battles against their native country.
They have not, it is true, taken into their own hands the hatchet and
the knife, devoted to indiscriminate massacre, but they have let loose
the savages armed with these cruel instruments; 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. And, what
was never before seen, British commanders have extorted victory over the
unconquerable valor of our troops by presenting to the sympathy of their
chief captives awaiting massacre from their savage associates. And now
we find them, in further contempt of the modes of honorable warfare, supplying
the place of a conquering force by attempts to disorganize our political
society, to dismember our confederated Republic. Happily, like others,
these will recoil on the authors; but they mark the degenerate counsels
from which they emanate, and if they did not belong to a sense of unexampled
inconsistencies might excite the greater wonder as proceeding from a Government
which founded the very war in which it has been so long engaged on a charge
against the disorganizing and insurrectional policy of its adversary.
To render the justice of the war on our part the more conspicuous, the
reluctance to commence it was followed by the earliest and strongest manifestations
of a disposition to arrest its progress. The sword was scarcely out of
the scabbard before the enemy was apprised of the reasonable terms on which
it would be resheathed. Still more precise advances were repeated, and
have been received in a spirit forbidding every reliance not placed on
the military resources of the nation.