War and Conflict

War of 1812

Who were the War Hawks?

The War Hawks were a group of Republicans in the U.S. Congress who advocated war with Great Britain. Elected in 1810, the congressmen took office in 1811, the failure of the Erskine agreement fresh in their memories: That bit of 1809 diplomacy, arranged by British minister to the United States George Erskine and the then U.S. secretary of state James Madison (1751–1836), would have provided for the suspension of Britain’s maritime practices that interfered with U.S. shipping, but the agreement fell apart when Erskine was recalled from office. The relationship between the United States and Great Britain, tenuous since 1807 due to trade embargoes and the impressment of American sailors into British service, deteriorated. The newly elected congressmen were tired of the failure of diplomacy to resolve maritime problems with the British; they further felt that the British were challenging the young United States through their policies, which purportedly included British aid to American Indians in the Northwest. War Hawk leader Henry Clay (1777–1852) was named Speaker of the House, and Congress soon passed a series of resolutions to strengthen the army and navy. When Congress was called upon by President James Madison to declare war on the British in June of 1812, it was the War Hawks who swung the close vote. Thus the War of 1812 was declared. Some historians believe the true motive behind the War Hawks was not resolution of the shipping problems, but rather the desire to annex parts of southern Canada to the United States.


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