|Date(s):||June 3, 1812|
|Location(s):||Washington City, District of Columbia|
|Tag(s):||Politics, U.S. Government, War of 1812|
|Course:||“The United States: A New Nation, 1776-1836,” Wheaton College|
On Wednesday, June 3, 1812, the United States House of Representatives held a session in which the members decided upon three different questions with regards to the looming war with Britain. The first question brought to the House by Mr. Quincy of Massachusetts, was to have the forthcoming meetings on stating the reasons and causes of having a war against Britain be held with “open doors.” The second motion brought to the House was from Mr. Randolph of Virginia, and asked ws whether or not the reading of messages from the President be held with “open doors.” The third and last question before the House was whether or not to reject the bill that would declare war with Britain. Each of these three questions were determined in the negative, and it became evident that the majority of Representatives felt it was necessary for such matters to remain secret for the time being, to remove the possibility of outside influence. Laban Wheaton from Massachusetts, one of the last Federalists to hold a position in Washington, sided the minority on these issues. Wheaton was skeptical about embarking on a war with Britain without carefully laying out the consequences. But was secrecy the real issue at hand?
The impending war with Britain brought various questions to the table. Arguably the most important was whether or not the United States should remain neutral in foreign affairs. The increasing naval surveillance by the British, as well as the non–compliance of the French and British regarding economic relations, represented reasons why the United States should intervene. John C. Calhoun drafted a bill that laid out how the United States should proceed with the war. Many Congressmen felt it was essential for the United States to intervene in order to establish its permanent place in the world as a powerful, revolutionary and prominent nation. However, some felt that if the United States were to engage in battle, it would go against what their predecessors had tried to establish – to remain neutral in foreign affairs. Laban Wheaton and many other Federalists felt the nation was still extremely unfit for such interaction and should proceed with extreme caution.
Throughout all of this debate, the concerns of political parties play an important role. Both sides--the Federalists and Republicans--were concerned with losing control of certain states depending on how the country acted on the war. For example, the Republicans were very concerned with losing the state of Massachusetts, so it was vital that they speak out against going to war. It became clear that the real problem the House was facing was not whether or not to hold the proceedings in secret, but how each party was going to keep their support in their respective states. It seemed that the House was more concerned with keeping the constituents happy, rather than keeping them informed, and more importantly, keeping them safe.