Henry Clay and the War of 1812

by Frederic Henderson

Printed in The American Almanac, August, 1989.


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It is February 22, 1810, and a 33-year-old freshman Senator from Kentucky, Henry Clay, takes the floor of that chamber. He has arrived in Washington in a period of profound crisis for this nation. For nearly ten years, under the policies of free trade advocate and Swiss spy Albert Gallatin as Secretary of the Treasury, the nation's economy has been wrecked, its army dismantled, its navy crippled. Britain, which had never ceased to wage war against the young American republic since its victory in the American War for Independence, has carried out a policy of depredations against the United States which, in all but name, are a declaration of war.

What Henry Clay--who would become the most important public proponent of the policies of the American System of economics from the death of Alexander Hamilton until the Presidency of Abraham Lincoln--said then, has a very immediate significance for Americans today.

``When the regular troops of this house, disciplined as they are in the great affairs of this nation, are inactive at their posts, it becomes the duty of its raw militia, however lately enlisted, to step forth in defense of honor and independence of the country.''

That is precisely what Clay preceeded to accomplish. Within a year, he became the primary spokesman for a new leadership that swept away the old, ineffective factions and combinations. Never in American history had so many incumbents lost seats in the U.S. Congress, to be replaced by a grouping which so quickly changed the course of this nation's policies.

Lyndon LaRouche has declared his candidacy for Congress from the 10th Congressional District in Northern Virginia. He has, both in his initial campaign statement and in subsequent interviews, made the point that this candidacy will be modeled on that of Henry Clay's first campaign for Congress in 1810. LaRouche has quite often elaborated the basis for his policies and program, one which he himself has described as being in the tradition of Clay and the American System Whigs of the period from the War of 1812 until the founding of the Republican Party just before the Civil War.

However, the historical context and the lessons to be learned from it are not so clear, but are of some importance in understanding the political processes that can be unleashed today, and that must be brought into motion, if this nation is to survive as we wish it to.

Lyndon LaRouche is currently a political prisoner, serving a fifteen-year sentence in a federal penitentiary, as a result of a politically rigged conviction. Some might ask, how a campaign from a prison cell could possibly have any impact on American politics? If one understands what Clay and his War Hawk allies accomplished in the period of 1810-1812, then the answer to that question does not seem so difficult to comprehend.

Just as James Madison was faced with the choice of becoming a political irrelevancy or adopting the policies of Clay and his allies, so today we must, understanding the lessons of the period immediately before the War of 1812, ensure that the same becomes true of the administration of George Bush. The issue is a very simple one. Clay, at the time a figure of little more than regional importance, became the most powerful political figure in America.

This was a result of his leadership in championing the only policies to fill a vacuum in a period of extraordinary crisis. It is just such a vacuum that exists today, and with very much the same implications for the future of this nation and Western civilization. It is that vacuum that Lyndon LaRouche's campaign for Congress is directed at filling, changing dramatically the policies of this nation.

The similarities of today to the case of Henry Clay and the War Hawks of 1812 are striking. In 1812, the United States had been a nation for less than 25 years. On the basis of the policies of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and their international collaborators, a war for independence had been won against the then-mightiest power in the world, Great Britain. The instrument of the British empire's oligarchical power, the British East India Company, and its bankrupt and immoral policies of slave-trading, dope-pushing, and the free trade of Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and Jeremy Bentham, had been defeated, so that a nation based on the principles and policies of republicanism could be created. That event sparked hope, and laid the basis for creation of similar developments across the globe.

During the presidencies of George Washington and John Quincy Adams, the economic policies of Alexander Hamilton reorganized the debts of the new nation, created credit, fostered internal improvements, spurred manufacturing and scientific and technological advance, and led to the eventual development of the western territories. The North American colonies had been transformed from a looting ground for British oligarchical interests, hopelessly indebted, with no sound currency, and no means for credit, into the fastest-developing nation in the world.


Enter Albert Gallatin

The oligarchical forces which had lost to the U.S.A. in 1781, regrouped to destroy what they rightly understood as a threat to their existence. By the election of 1800, they had succeeded sufficiently to ensure that one of their own, Albert Gallatin, Swiss by birth and an enemy of American republicanism by commitment and family heritage, would be placed in the most significant position in government next to the presidency: Secretary of the Treasury. For the next twelve years, under Presidents Jefferson and Madison, Gallatin would dismantle the policies established by Hamilton and Washington under the guise of reducing