James Madison

Presidential term: March 4, 1809 – March 4, 1817

Then there was, as there always is, a time of great excitement, until it was decided that James Madison was to be the fourth President, of the, United States. He had been, as you may remember, so active in the Constitutional Convention that he had earned the title of “Father of the Constitution.” Besides that, he had served his country in many other ways, and had been secretary of state under Jefferson.

A quiet and courteous man, he was so fond of peace that his enemies once said “he could not be kicked into a fight.” Still, in spite of the genial nature which won the hearts of all who knew him, Madison soon showed that when war could no longer be avoided, he could be trusted to uphold the honor of the nation. It was on account of his firmness, as well as of his gentleness, that Madison was reelected and allowed to serve as President a second term.

At about this time, Elbridge Gerry, governor of Massachusetts, helped in changing the voting districts of his state in such a way as to make sure that most of the state senators would continue to be Republicans. To do this, some of the Federalist districts were cut in two and added to others, where Republican voters were found in large numbers.

The map of one of these newly arranged districts was hung up in the office of a newspaper editor, and the changed parts were brightly colored, to call people’s attention to what had been done. One day, an American painter, Gilbert Stuart, came into this office. He saw the map, and laughed at the queer shape of the new district. Being an artist, he quickly saw that it looked like a monster, and, seizing a pencil, he added a head, wings, claws, and a tail.

Turning to the editor, he then exclaimed: “There, that will do for a salamander!” The editor, who disliked Gerry, and knew the unfair change was his work, quickly answered, “Salamander! Call it Gerrymander!” This queer word struck people’s fancy, and ever since then gerrymandering has been used to express any change in district boundaries which is made to help one party unfairly. As for the picture, copies of it were sent everywhere, and when the voters saw what had been done, and heard that Gerry had allowed it, they ceased to respect him as much as before. Although one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and once Vice President of the United States, Gerry is now best known for this one unjust deed.

It was during President Madison’s first term that war broke out. Ever since the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the British had secretly excited the Indians against the Americans. This was easy to do, because the Indians were already angry at the rapid advance of the settlers. In 1800, so many Americans had gone to live in the Northwest Territory that it was cut in two. Three years later, one part of it became the state of Ohio, while the rest was called Indiana Territory. Although the white men had paid the Indians for part of this land, the red men would not give it up. They were encouraged in behaving so by the British, and, led by their chief, Tecumseh, they prepared for war. But the governor of Indiana Territory was William Henry Harrison, son of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He was very brave, and, meeting the Indians at Tippecanoe, in 1811, he won a great victory over them.

The people in the West agreed with those along the seaboard, in 1812, that it was now time to prove to Great Britain that they would no longer submit patiently to insult and unfairness. So, after all means had been vainly tried to bring about an honorable peace, the “War Congress” directed Madison to begin fighting.

As this struggle began and ended while Madison was President, you will often hear it called “Mr. Madison’s War;“ and because its object was to win commercial freedom for our country, it is also known as the “Second War of Independence.” When it began, three armies were sent out to invade Canada, and punish the British agents there, who had bribed the Indians to rebel. These three armies were to attack Canada at different points; but the first, under Governor Hull of Michigan, soon re treated to Detroit. There, instead of defending the place bravely, Hull surrendered without firing a shot. But this surrender made his soldiers so angry that he was never allowed to command again. It has since been said, however, that Hull yielded only because he fancied the British force larger, and feared lest the Indians with them would kill all their prisoners.

General Harrison, who took Hull’s place, started to recover Detroit, but on the way thither part of his troops were conquered by a large force of British and Indians on the Raisin River. Here the Indians were allowed to kill and scalp their prisoners of war. This act of cruelty so angered the Americans that the cry: “Remember the Raisin!” was ever after the signal for desperate fighting on their part. The British not only held Detroit, but, becoming masters of all Michigan, soon pushed on into northern Ohio. But there they met patriots who would not yield, and who managed to defend Forts Meigs and Stephenson against forces three times larger than their own.

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