| American History Stories, Volume III|
|by Mara L. Pratt|
|Anecdotes from the time Washington became president through the War of 1812, the rise of Andrew Jackson, and the sectional differences leading to the Civil War. Numerous black and white illustrations complement the text. Ages 8-12 |
THE WAR OF 1812
"Taxation without representation" was the cause of the American
Revolution. A long phrase for little folks to
 remember, but easy enough after you understand what it
I shall have to ask you to remember a longer phrase,
but I will try to explain it to you so that it will be
as easy as that giving the cause of the Revolution.
The cause of this second war with England, was "the
impressments of American sailors and the capturing of
Now let us see if we can understand what
"impressments of American sailors" means.
Of course, England did not feel very kindly towards the
American colonies after the Revolution. Not only had
she met with a most humiliating defeat from those whom
she had laughed at and called barnyard soldiers,
clod-hopper militia, and many other such contemptuous
names, but she had also lost a very valuable colony,
one that would have been a source of great wealth to
her as it grew in numbers and in power.
Every since the Constitution had been formed, and the
American Nation had seemed so full of success, England
had been doing everything possible to injure American
commerce. England had for a long, long time called
herself the "Mistress of the Sea," and had prided
herself on having the finest navy in the world.
The United States, dreading to go to war again, had
borne many an insult both from England and from France.
 But when the English began impressing our
sailors,—that was a little more than we could
It had long been the custom in England to fill up their
ship's crews by "impressment," as they called it. This
is the way they went about it. When they could not
find enough men who were willing to become sailors, a
party of rough men, called the "press-gang," would go
upon land, look about for hearty, strong-looking young
men, and, when they had found one who seemed likely to
make a good sailor, would seize upon him, bind him, and
carry him off to a ship.
IMPRESSMENT OF AMERICAN SAILORS.
 Sometimes they did not seize upon these men, but would
invite one to drink with them; and then when they had
made him drunk, would carry him off to their vessel,
throw him into the hold and leave him there until he
became sober. Many a poor lad has awakened from his
stupor to find himself on shipboard, away from home and
friends, bound on a voyage which was, perhaps, to last
for years. If he refused to work, he was whipped until
he cried for mercy. The "press-gang" was indeed the
terror of all Europe. You see now what impressment
of sailors means; just simply this: stealing them
and forcing them to become sailors on English ships.
And now, when I tell you that thousands of Americans
had been seized in just this way by these English
ships, do you wonder that again America declared war
It was just at the close of Jefferson's Administration
that an event occurred that aroused the Americans to
act at once.
As the Chesapeake, one of our vessels, was crossing the
ocean, it was ordered by the Leopard, an English
vessel, to stop.
"I order you to stand and be searched," said the
"What do you expect to find?" asked Captain Barron.
"I search for English sailors," was the reply.
 "We have no English sailors on board, and we shall not
stop," answered our captain.
"You are all Englishmen, and in the name of the English
government, I demand that you be searched."
Immediately the English ship fired upon the Chesapeake,
killing and wounding several of the crew. Three
sailors were taken from the vessel and forced to serve
as slaves. Such outrages as this were enough to stir
the anger of any nation; and if ever war was right, it
was right in such a time as this.
But in spite of all this the Federalists were opposed
to war with England. They declared that if war with
England was entered into, the United States would
surely fall into the power of France, who was still at
war with England.
It was just here that Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun,
two of the greatest statesmen that America ever had,
came into notice. Henry Clay was the leader of the
Federalists, and was opposed to the war; John C.
Calhoun was the leader of the Republicans, and was in
favor of war.
Thus matters stood, when, in June, 1812, Congress
declared war with England.
Great was the joy in the hearts of these impressed
sailors on the English ships. Many of them at once
refused to pull another rope on board a ship belonging
to a nation at war with their own country.
"Will you do your duty on this ship?" asked one captain
of an American who was suffering under the lash for
 to work the ship. "Yes sir," answered the man, with
his back bleeding at every pore. "It is my duty to
blow up this ship, an enemy to my country, and if I get
a chance, I'll do it."
The captain looked round in astonishment. "I think
this man must be an American," he said. "No English
sailor would talk like that. He is probably crazy, and
you may untie him and let him go."
Over twenty-five hundred Americans who had been
impressed and who thus refused to serve, were sent to
prison in England, where they were kept in the most
wretched imprisonment until the war closed.
Many of the men were flogged—some of them till
they dropped dead—but they showed the same brave
spirit that they had shown years before in the
Revolution. One would suppose that after being so
completely defeated by the American colonies
England would hardly have cared to go to war with the
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