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Decades of Darkness #6: The British Answer

26 September 1810

Number Ten Downing Street

London, England

Foreign Secretary Richard Wellesley looked around the room. There were only four men in the room, a sign of how unimportant Prime Minister Spencer Perceval – not that that was his official title, but Perceval had always accepted it as a proper title, not a term of abuse as it had been only a few decades before – rated affairs in the Americas. Wellesley and the Prime Minister were the only Cabinet members present. The only other attendees were FJ Jackson, as he always called himself, who had been the minister to the United States until recently expelled, and the Prime Minister’s Private Secretary, who was here to record events, not to speak.

“I’d prefer not to get involved here at all,” Perceval said.

Wellesley nodded. The Prime Minister was far more concerned with the ongoing struggle with Napoleon and the perilous state of the economy than in some colonial squabbles across the Atlantic. “None of us wants trouble with the Americas, but we can’t afford to ignore them.”

Jackson’s smile was cruel. “Why not just let them kill each other?”

Wellesley said, “Because once the Americans finished crushing the New Englanders, they would have a battle-hardened army, and be poised to attack the Canadas. Some of them were calling for an invasion even before New England seceded.”

Jackson said, “It’s better to have the United States staring at New England than staring at the Canadas.”

Perceval said, “But can we afford the distraction of fighting in the Americas?”

“It will be the New Englanders who get to do most of the fighting,” Wellesley said.

“And most of the dying, if dying is needed,” Jackson added.

Wellesley began to understand, then, why the Americans had expelled him. But the point was a valid one, however cynically it was put. “I would also ask, sir, if we can afford not to. The United States are an often vulgar democracy, and the chance to split them in half is one we should welcome. Even more worrying is their actions over Florida. They seek to steal land that belongs to our ally – quite apart from their illegal purchase of land in Louisiana. If we want to keep the Spanish onside and tying down Napoleon’s troops in the Peninsula, then we have to do something about the Americans.”

“A telling point,” Perceval said. “So, you think we should recognise this Republic of New England?”

“Yes, sir, I do.” “Divide and rule” had always been the British foreign policy in Europe; Napoleon’s current ascendancy was proof of why that was necessary. It could work well in the Americas, too. “What better way to guarantee ourselves a long-term ally in the Americas? They will always be smaller than the United States, and thus of necessity dependent on us, and they will protect our North American colonies at the same time.” [1]

Perceval nodded. “I’ll recommend it to Cabinet, then. And about West Florida?”

“Express our protest to the United States’ minister here, in the strongest possible terms. Tell them we regard the proposed annexation as illegal; that if it is not revoked we will take whatever steps are necessary.”

“Including war, you think?” Perceval said. “I truly do not want a war in the Americas while we are occupied in Europe.”

“I doubt it will come to that,” Wellesley said. Actually, he thought it likely, but wanted to manoeuvre the Americans into declaring war first. Otis had advised him that that would be the best choice, since having the United Kingdom declare war could turn New York sentiment against them. “And even if it did, it would be the New Englanders who did most of the fighting. We would give them mostly naval support, and our navy is less needed in Europe after Trafalgar.”

Perceval nodded, and spoke to his private secretary. “Be so good as to bring in Mr Otis, will you? We have some good news for him.”


Timeline of the United States of America and Republic of New England

- Excerpts taken from James H. Worthington’s “1800-1850: Early History of the Republic of New England”. (C) 1947: Boston University Press. Used with permission.


24 July-6 August:

United States Congress, meeting in special session (as agreed before the house adjourned in March) considers responses to the New England crisis. It eventually adopts the following resolutions:

1. New England secession declared illegal.

2. Proposes appointing commissioners to visit the rebellious states and persuade them to revoke their secession.

3. Adopts measures “in the case of war”, authorising increased budgets for the army and developing navy, but falling short of a formal declaration of war.

4. Congress resolves to have a new special session called to Washington on March 4 the following year, immediately after Congressional elections, to consider the New England response to the commission.

In a separate resolution, Congress approves “in principle” support for the annexation of West Florida and its admission as a state, provided that the locals organise themselves properly first. Authorises a loan to assist in financing the development of the province, with an invitation to reapply for annexation after Congress reconvenes the next year.


United States of America develops its armed forces, training militias and other activities. State militias are also being raised in New England and New York, although without formal approval of the as-yet unformed New England government. Occasional skirmishes between pro-New England and pro-US militias in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

28 September:

British Cabinet votes to grant diplomatic recognition of the Republic of New England; agrees to an exchange of ambassadors after elections are held and a new government formed there.

4 November:

American forces under Governor Harrison, having become more militant since the New England crisis, are defeated near Tippecanoe in a surprise raid by the Shawnee and allied Amerindian peoples, under the leadership of Tenskwatawa (the Prophet). Unconfirmed rumours circulate that the British have been actively arming and training the Shawnee for some months, fuelling U.S. anger against the British. Some historians class this battle as the first action in the Second American War of Independence, but it usually considered to be a separate conflict which was only later merged into the war.


The Congressional elections (and Senate appointments) return an increasingly militant Congress. The “War Hawks” are prominent in the elections, including Henry Clay (Kentucky), William Lowndes and John C. Calhoun (South Carolina) and Peter B. Porter (New York). While New York has participated in these elections, doubts linger as to the sincerity of their representatives (except for Peter B. Porter), as New York has elected two Federalist Representatives and one Federalist Senator.

In New England, Timothy Pickering (Massachusetts) is elected 1st President of the Republic of New England, with former U.S. Senator Chauncey Goodrich (Connecticut) elected as Vice-President. According to the resolutions of the Boston Convention, Pickering is President immediately, and the houses of Congress likewise both convene immediately “due to the needs of the crisis”, although all subsequent Presidents and legislators will take office on March 4.


4 March:

Congress reconvenes in Washington. Henry Clay quickly elected Speaker of the House, and the War Hawks, led by Clay and Calhoun, begin advocating war with Britain and strong measures against New England.


[1] This is contrary to what British leaders thought later, during the ACW. By then, it had become apparent just how much land there was in North America, and how easily it could be filled up with people. At this time, it was far from obvious what a colossus the United States would become, and the British were more prepared to do things which weakened the Americans (e.g. supporting the American Indians).


Decades of Darkness #7: The War Drums Sound

18 March 1811

Washington, District of Columbia

United States of America

Whereby it is noted that that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland has:

1. Illegally impressed sailors of the United States of America, violated the neutrality of shipping, and unlawfully obstructed commerce; and

2. Armed, trained and supported the seditious activities of the Indian peoples in their insurrections against the United States of America; and

3. Refused to recognise the United States’ admission of the State of West Florida, which was duly passed into law by Congress as valid from the 1st of January 1811, and threatened the invasion and occupation of the same; and

4. Aided and abetted the rebellion threatened by the States of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island;

A state of war is hereby declared between the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and her Overseas Colonies and Possessions.

Approved by both Houses of Congress, and signed into law by President James Madison on this day, Monday the Eighteenth Day of March in the Year of Our Lord Eighteen Hundred and Eleven.


Extracts from “A War of Ironies: A Short History of the Second War of Independence”

By James E. Howard

King George’s University

Sydney, Kingdom of Australia.

(c) 1949 Eagle Publishing Company: Sydney. Used with permission. [1]

The Second American War of Independence is a war full of ironies. Not the least of these is that it is only called by that name in the rest of the world; none of the participants consider that it suits that name. To those most directly affected by it, the people of New England, it is most commonly called the Second American Revolution. To those who live in the former United Kingdom, it is most commonly called simply the War of 1811, despite the fact that the first military actions took place in 1810, even if war was not formally declared then. Some Americans give it the same name, while others call it the Great Rebellion...

Perhaps more ironic still is that, in a war to prevent the secession of New England, the first blow the United States struck after finally declaring war was aimed not against New England, but against the British…


12 June 1811

Near Amhertsburg,

Upper Canada

“May I say, sir, what a pleasure it is to have a commander who’s prepared to attack?”

Major General Thomas Pinckney nodded to his adjutant. “Thank you.”

Around and ahead of them, Pinckney’s militia forces marched steadily under the hot summer sun. It was a dusty march, but better than being here during, say, winter.

And he appreciated the dig at Governor Hull, who had been in command of the militia here until a couple of weeks before. But he had been better at making excuse why he shouldn’t attack than at attacking, and so Pinckney had been able to inveigle himself into the command, leaving Hull with Harrison further west in Indiana Territory, to worry about the Indians.

Pinckney paused to spit on the ground. “The Prophet and his Indians need to be dealt with too,” he muttered.

“Not today, sir,” the adjutant said. “The British are ripe for the plucking.”

Pinckney nodded. Many of the British were further out west, helping the Shawnee and their allies against Harrison. That would mean trouble later, he knew, but for now it made his task much easier. If he could take Fort Madsen and Amhertsburg, the territory around Detroit would be much more secure, and the way would be open to invade deep into the Canadas. It might even mean they could outflank New England, since the New Yorkers’ declaration of neutrality made it difficult to suppress the rebellion.

“Indeed. Only a small force; they should have prepared better.”

“Too busy sucking up to the Federal-” The adjutant caught Pinckney’s eye and said, “The New Englanders, I mean.”

Pinckney shrugged to himself; no point bawling out his adjutant when thousands of his men were thinking the same thing. The New Englanders had tainted Federalism with talk of secession for years before they finally rebelled. One reason he was here today was to prove that Federalists could still be loyal to the United States. He feared that if he did nothing, the name “Federalist” would become a synonym for “rebel” and “traitor” before this war was over.

Some of the men parted to let through a returning scout. The scout said, “Sir, the British are just outside Amhertsburg, and we outnumber them by a lot.”

Pinckney smiled. “Pass the word to be prepared for battle.” He would prefer a night to rest if possible, but if the men had to deploy today, so be it. Victory would be sweet, if the first battle in the war belonged to the United States. It would be the harbinger of many more to come.


Timeline of the United States of America and Republic of New England

- Excerpts taken from James H. Worthington’s “1800-1850: Early History of the Republic of New England”. (C) 1947: Boston University Press. Used with permission.



United States Congress reconvenes for final session of the term. Passes further war measures, and admits the former Republic of West Florida as a state effective from 1 January of the following year, with Congressional and state elections to be held within six months. Fulwar Skipwith is the state’s first Governor.

Congress agrees to convene a new special session immediately after the expiry of the current term.



British contacts with the Indians in Indiana Territory and surrounding areas are strengthened, bringing the United States and the United Kingdom to the brink of war.

18 March:

United States declares war on United Kingdom; names New England states as territories in rebellion.

13 June:

American militia forces under Major General Thomas Pinckney defeat a smaller British force in the First Battle of Amherstburg; Fort Madsen evacuated as British forces retreat.


[1] James E. Howard has been denigrated by some professional historians as being a populist historian, trying to inject controversy into undisputed areas, of “glossing over” controversial areas in favour of telling the version which he thinks sounds the most exciting to his readers, and of having a distinct anti-American bias (and to a lesser extent, anti-British bias). Nevertheless, his history of the war is one of the most entertaining books on the subject.


Decades of Darkness #8: Echoes in the Mist

Extracts from “A War of Ironies: A Short History of the Second War of Independence”

By James E. Howard

King George’s University

Sydney, Kingdom of Australia.

(c) 1949 Eagle Publishing Company: Sydney. Used with permission.

...While Pinckney’s incursions into Canada provided some distraction to the British, as did the ongoing successful raids by the Shawnee in Indiana, the main question of the war was unarguably whether New England could successfully defend her independence. And thus the early fortunes of the war turned on the fate of New York.

It was well-nigh impossible for the United States to invade the rebellious states of New England without passing through New York territory. An invasion through the Canadas was impractical at best. And a naval assault was impossible, given the moribund status of the U.S. Navy and the hostility of Britain. Troops might perhaps have been moved by sea, but they would have been vulnerable to strikes by British marines, and cut off from resupply in short order.

Yet few United States leaders suggested invading New York. Even Calhoun and Clay, the most vocal of the warhawks, who had loudly approved of military action against the Canadas and West Florida, had shrank from approving any action against New York itself, which might turn the population against the United States. Formally, the state was still part of the Union, even if its militia and other forces refused to take any action against New England. The weight of population and industry in New York also meant that its departure would severely weaken the United States’ potential to wage war, and correspondingly enhance that of New England. More worrying still, its departure could inspire other states to follow – New Jersey almost certainly, and perhaps even Pennsylvania and Ohio, a point which had been raised during the Congressional debates.

From the New England point of view, however, a neutral New York served them almost as well as one which was a member of the New Republic – better, in some ways. It gave New England time to organise militias for their defense, without the risk of American invasion, something which may well otherwise have come earlier if New York had joined the Republic before the outbreak of war. And it gave time for the Royal Navy to base ships in New England ports, which made any major naval attack on New England impossible. And the British, lobbied by Secretary of State Otis, carefully took no action in New York or its territorial waters which might turn New York sentiment against them...

In New York itself, opinion was sharply divided. There was some sympathy for New England, particularly in New York City, where the Embargo Act had also gutted trade. Some of the more far-sighted thinkers recognised the United States’ inevitable drift toward slaveholding, and felt that New York’s own free-soil status might be endangered if it remained within the Union. And a few of the more prominent statesmen, such as De Witt Clinton and Rufus King, favoured joining New England, thinking that their status in that nation would rise much higher. After all, no New Yorker had ever become President of the United States of America [1], but in the New Republic, New York would inevitably dominate by weight of population.

On the other hand, there was some anti-British feeling in New York, particularly upstate New York, where memories of the First War of Independence were stronger. Loyalty to the Union also remained a considerable factor even amongst many New Yorkers who thought that New England should be permitted to depart in peace. Hence the declaration of neutrality may well have been the only practical choice for the Legislature, since either a motion of secession or a motion condemning New England may well have started a fully-fledged civil war within the state. The skirmishes which New York had already seen demonstrated that, as did the steady trickle of New York volunteers to join each side…

... The neutrality of New York thus became a vital factor for both sides during the early months of the war. Although New York had not formally forbidden American forces from crossing their soil, it was clear to both sides that any armies which entered the state would swing sentiment against the invaders. It became a waiting game, to see whose patience failed first...


4 September 1811

Hartford, Connecticut

Republic of New England

As the first President of New England, Timothy Pickering had had to deal with many men, including many he disliked, and a few he actively hated. But no man he had ever met inspired quite the same sense of loathing that Aaron Burr did. If Burr had not come in the company of De Witt Clinton – a much more reasonable man, and now one of the leading Federalists in New York – Pickering would have been tempted to refuse him a meeting. Burr’s intrigues in New York had been for secession, but there were probably as many men opposed to secession simply because Burr favoured it than the man had persuaded to support it.

When his secretary ushered the men in, Pickering rose and bowed, avoiding the need to shake hands with Burr. “Welcome to Hartford, Mr Clinton, Mr Burr,” Pickering said, again avoiding the necessity of calling Burr a gentleman. “May I ask what has brought you on the difficult journey from New York to the capital of this glorious republic?”

That was not merely a polite question; travel between New York and New England had become dangerous since the outbreak of war. Clashes between pro-New England and pro-Union forces in New York had escalated to the point where the state could almost be called in civil war. And American naval ships and privateers swarmed the seas, despite the British naval presence. Last week a British frigate had been sunk only a few miles out of Boston, and the U.S. frigate responsible had escaped pursuit.

Clinton said, “We have come to see what we can do to end this war. Without further bloodshed.”

“Have you?” Pickering said. “I wish war had not broken out, but I do not see how it can be stopped now.”

“It has brought chaos to New York,” Clinton said.

“And not far from it in New England,” Pickering said. Though the majority of New Englanders supported secession, a substantial minority remained opposed, especially in Rhode Island and Vermont, and the results of secession had not been peaceful. The organisation of militias had brought some measure of calm, but it might yet erupt again.

“But the cause of this war is the tyranny in Washington,” Pickering said. “They started this war, they invaded the Canadas, and only the neutrality of New York has kept them from striking us. Only they can choose to halt it.”

“And do you think the United States will abandon it easily?” Burr said. “Their armies are in Upper Canada, and their navy can strike into the waters around New England.”

Pickering sighed. “No, the United States have shown more determination than I had hoped. I wish they had let us leave in peace and live alongside them in peace. That was what I always wanted. But if we must defend our independence through force of arms, then we shall.”

Clinton said, “Your armies have not done much defending yet. Which is why we’re here.”

“You think we do not dare to fight?” Pickering said. Maybe he had been mistaken about Clinton. The man was reported to be a firm Federalist, and as mayor of New York City had been influential in helping people look favourably on New England, but maybe his principles had lapsed. His uncle was still Vice-President of the United States, after all, and had refused to repeal the Embargo Act when he had had the chance.

“No, we ask why you haven’t,” Clinton said.

“That should be obvious,” Pickering said. And he was sure that Clinton saw it too. They were obviously leading up to something, but he could not yet see what it was. “Our militia have been raised to defend their home states, and they can refuse to venture outside those states.” He did not mention the small professional army that New England was raising, from some volunteers and members of the former U.S. Army who had returned to their home states. That force was not yet ready to venture outside of the borders of New England.

“And the President of their nation can’t order them to go further?” Clinton asked sardonically.

“Their state governors could ask them to, if they wish, but I cannot. That is, after all, one reason we formed our new republic.”

“Will that ensure your defense?” Clinton said.

“For that, we can rely on the British,” Pickering said. He wished Clinton and Burr would come to the point, but they were clearly talking him around to something. He decided to place a barb of his own. “If I were from your state, I would be worried about a British victory. They claim a large part of New York.”

“That only matters if they win,” Clinton said. “And the war still goes on.”

Pickering said, “But do you truly doubt the British will lose? They have the resources of an Empire which spans the globe. They are distracted by the war with Napoleon, but if they need to call on their full reserves, they will. They will stop short of reconquering the United States, but they will hold what they can take.” He stopped short of pointing out that the British would be more willing to concede their claims to upper New York if it were part of a friendly New England than part of a hostile United States. Burr and Clinton both supported that already, he knew.

“They also claim part of Massachusetts, Mr President,” Burr said quietly. [2]

“That claim can be settled once the war is over,” Pickering said.

“Once the British win it for you, you mean,” Clinton said.

Burr added, “Consider, sir, how the British will view that. Their soldiers are fighting and dying in Upper Canada, their navy is under attack near your own ports, but you are doing nothing.”

“And what do you propose we do, then?” Pickering said, unable to keep the chill from his voice. Burr’s comments had more truth than he liked to admit.

Burr said, “Would the state governors order their militia into other states, if it was required to defend New England?”

“They would, yes,” Pickering said. Now they came to the crux of the matter, he thought.

“Then they could defend New York, if it was a state in New England,” Burr said.

“Of course,” Pickering said. “But are you sure it will become one?” He had always hoped that New York would join a secession movement – it had been a major theme in his writings since just after the turn of the century – but their lack of actions recently had disappointed him.

Burr smiled. “Perhaps you have not yet heard. Lieutenant Governor Broome died a few days ago.” [3]

“That is news,” Pickering said. “But how what do you want me to do?”

Clinton said, “I believe I can become the next Lieutenant Governor. And as mayor of New York, I can... influence how the people of the city view secession.”

“That would be welcome,” Pickering said. “But I repeat: how does this involve me?”

Burr smiled. “Governor Tompkins is a Democratic-Republican, even if he has been keeping very quiet over secession. He would hardly be a suitable candidate... for the next Presidential election.”

Pickering leaned forward.

Burr continued, “Your New England Constitution limits you to a single term, and further requires that the next President come from another state. What better place for the next Federalist President of New England to come from than... New York State?”

Pickering said. “So you offer...?”

Clinton said, “We can give you New York State, if in turn, when the next presidential election comes, you support my candidacy for the Presidency.”

Pickering could not keep the grin from his face.


[1] George Clinton was a New Yorker, but he merely became Acting President, not President. Madison is the 4th President.

[2] This refers to the British claims to part of Maine, which at this time was still part of the state of Massachusetts.

[3] Broome died in 8 August 1810 in OTL; here the desire to do something about secession meant that he clung on to life for a while longer. [4]

[4] Although he wasn’t necessarily in a fit state to do much about it anyway, which was another reason New York was so confused.


Decades of Darkness #9: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

25 September 1811

Albany, State of New York

As his troops marched through the streets of Albany, greeted by some people cheering but by more watching in ominous silence, General William Hull wondered if he had truly made the right decision in remaining with the United States. Connecticut still had its calls on his heart, but not strong enough to make him betray the Union. Not even being summarily replaced as commander of forces in Michigan Territory had been enough to change his mind. New England was better off inside the United States than out of it; he remained convinced of that.

Before long, his soldiers reached the residence of Rufus King. King had been a U.S. Senator, and still theoretically was, but the Congress was not in session. Whether King would ever return to Washington of his own free will was doubtful, though. Not with his public support for the secession vote in the Legislature.

As the soldiers surrounded the house, Hull walked up to the door himself. Such a prominent citizen deserved that courtesy, even if he was being arrested on a charge of treason.

King answered the door himself, surprisingly. He must have been expecting this visit; Union forces had only reached the city yesterday, but everyone knew what to expect.

“Ah, General Hull. What brings you to my humble home?” King said.

Hull said, “As you would expect, I am here to place you under arrest. The charge is giving aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States. Treason, if you prefer.”

King sighed. “Urging the Legislature to exercise its sovereign right to secede is not treason. A pity Governor Tompkins refused to sign the declaration of secession, but that will be solved, in time.”

“It is a violation of the Constitution of the United States,” Hull said. “And I am not here to argue with you, sir, but to arrest you, and eventually all the disloyal members of your Legislature that have not already fled the state. Will you come quietly?”

King nodded.

Hull stepped back and waved for the soldiers to come forward. As they came near, a rifle shot rang out from a nearby alley. Hull instinctively looked for the firer as he ducked for cover.

As his soldiers returned fire, their own rifles barking out, someone let loose an agonising scream. Hull turned to see King dropping to his knees, clutching his stomach.

“No,” Hull whispered. That shot must have come from one of his own soldiers. And to strike King, the soldier could only have deliberately aimed at him. No-one who was returning fire to the alley could have accidentally struck the Senator. How many people had just witnessed this deliberate act of murder? And one for which, Hull knew, he would probably bear the blame.

A second shot rang out from the alley, and a Union soldier dropped to the ground with a hole punched out of the back of his head. The other soldiers advanced, but Hull had eyes only for King. He had taken a belly wound, which guaranteed him the worst sort of lingering death. And instinctively, Hull knew that the soldier who died would turn out to be the one who fired at King. That soldier had been murdered in turn, by a very good marksman.

Even amidst the clamour in the streets, Hull could already make out a cry of ‘murder’. That word would be repeated over and over, he knew. More than anything else, he suspected, this would turn the New Yorkers to New England.


26 September 1811

Albany, State of New York

Aaron Burr remained calmly in his chair, despite the man holding a pistol.

“Give me that money!” the man said.

Bur affected not to notice the bag of coins sitting beside him. “Whatever for?”

“You know what for!” the man said.

“I merely discussed certain matters with you,” Burr said. “About how the Union soldiers would certainly be arresting Senator King and others. They will come for me, in time, but no doubt think me less important.” A mistake of which he had no plans to correct, either.

“You said I’d be rewarded!” the man said. He started to raise the pistol.

“And rewarded you shall,” Burr said.

The man pointed the pistol at Burr. “I’ll take it myself, then!” He reached out and took the bag; Burr made no motion to stop him.

The pistol shot which rang out come from behind the man, and caught him in the head.

“Well done, Jones,” Burr said. “Best to report this attempted robbery to the U.S. forces, since they claim to support order in the city now. In Governor Tompkins’ name, of course.”

“And you, sir?” Jones asked, from his hiding place in the shadows.

“Best I leave Albany, for now. The troops will inevitably come for me, if they aren’t driven out by the militia first.”

Burr rose and left, smiling in the near-darkness.


Extracts from “A War of Ironies: A Short History of the Second War of Independence”

By James E. Howard

King George’s University

Sydney, Kingdom of Australia.

(c) 1949 Eagle Publishing Company: Sydney. Used with permission.

... In the end, the United States had to move first. The successful secession vote in the New York Legislature may have provided them with impetus to move, especially when it was deadlocked after Governor Tompkins refused to sign it, but Madison had to act anyway. New York’s neutral status provided a buffer which afforded New England too much protection.

The initial entry into New York certainly suggested that Madison had taken the right decision. The Union forces had been ready to move for some months, and penetrated rapidly into most of the state, with General Hull leading a force to Albany itself. They received a warm welcome in some quarters, but that welcome quickly faded. The wanton commandeering of supplies from the locals generated hostility, as did the constant skirmishes with pro-Republic forces. But these were minor considerations when compared to the reaction to that greeted the death of Rufus King.

The assassination of Rufus King is a crime which remains unsolved to this day. Many theories have been advanced to explain it, some ingenious, others merely implausible. A military court of inquiry into General Hull’s behaviour cleared him of any involvement, but that finding was greeted with derision. Some suspicion pointed itself at Aaron Burr, but there has never been a shred of evidence to suspect him, and only his natural reputation for deviousness cast any suspicion on him in the first place...

In any event, the result of the assassination is unquestioned. Pro-Union sentiment in New York was significantly reduced, and Republican forces were greeted as liberators when they entered the state. The fleeing members of the New York Legislature responded by creating a government-in-exile, which was supported by most New Yorkers. There is no doubt that New Jersey would have followed New York’s lead immediately if it hadn’t been for the presence of large Union forces in the state, and certainly New Jersey sentiment followed that of New York when given the opportunity to express it.

In another of the war’s many ironies, a move designed to ensure the loyalty of New York State – arresting the vocal supporters of secession – merely guaranteed its departure.


Decades of Darkness #10: Moves and Counter-Moves

25 April 1812

Near York, Upper Canada

Smoke rose from his left as Major General Thomas Pinckney looked out over Lake Ontario. The lake had been British-dominated until recently – the American forces occupying Rochester in New York were hard-pressed – but the victory here should relieve part of that pressure. And the fires blazing behind them should have taught the British not to trifle with American arms. Pinckney had given orders to spare civilian lives, but their houses and property were fair game.

“Shame we can’t stay here,” he murmured. But their supply lines were hopelessly overextended; the main reason he had permitted the looting was the need to gather as many supplies as possible. He would have to return to Rochester or maybe even Buffalo before he had a secure base.

As secure as any base could be in New York, at least. The state was in chaos, with Union and Yankee forces trading blows across most of the state, and New York City itself firmly in the hands of the British and their Yankee cat-paws. Maybe most of the locals wanted to be part of New England by now; Pinckney couldn’t tell. If that was true, then that would be another grave blow against both the United States, and Federalism in particular. His heart still belonged with that party, but the actions of the New Englanders had tainted Federalism forever. Even now, his soldiers referred to the Yankees as ‘Feds’ much of the time.

His adjutant walked up behind him. Still looking at Lake Ontario, Pinckney said “This should make Rochester easier to hold, shouldn’t it?”

“I doubt it matters now, sir,” his adjutant said.

Pinckney’s heart sank when he heard his adjutant’s tone. “Is the news that bad?”

“We’ve just received word that there was a battle in Lake Erie. The British defeated our fleet there. Captain Perry was reportedly killed when his flagship was sunk.”

Pinckney muttered an oath. “We’ll have to withdraw, then.” He had been planning that anyway; but if the British had control of Lake Erie, supporting his operations here would be impossible. And now they had lost Perry, one of the few New Englanders who remained loyal to the United States.

“It could be worse, sir – you might still have command in Detroit,” the adjutant said.

That was a bad joke, and small comfort even if it had been serious, Pinckney thought. The northwestern frontier was a disaster, with the British reoccupying Amherstburg, and with their Indian allies on the rampage. Michigan and Indiana Territories were both under threat, by all reports.

“Better gather the troops,” Pinckney said. “We’ll be needed back in New York.” They had to hold upstate New York, or the United States would face disaster.


4 September 1812

Trenton, New Jersey

“Still more of these British and Yankees invading this state?” General Andrew Jackson said. “Well, if I need to whip them again, I will.”

The messenger glowed at the confident words, and was still smiling when he left at Jackson’s nod. Jackson wished he felt as confident as he sounded. The last year’s campaigning had been vigorous. And while Jackson had had several successes, including a major defeat of the combined British-New England forces outside New Brunswick, he knew he needed only one major defeat, and New Jersey would be lost.

The Yankees already occupied the northern part of the state. Their so-called ‘Continental Army’ – a travesty against the memory of George Washington and the Revolution – had found a welcome there. And one reason Jackson had moved his troops back to Trenton was to ensure compliance from the State Legislature. He suspected that if they dared to call a vote, it would come down in favour of secession.

“Of course, none of them are fool enough to try,” Jackson muttered, as he walked back to his command post. They feared being arrested, sure enough. That move had originally been designed merely to keep them quiet – no-one had seriously thought about executing the members of the New York Legislature – but it had gone badly wrong when Hull bungled the arrest of Rufus King. Much more than anything else, that had poisoned the feelings of the people of New Jersey.

“Where are the Yankees?” he asked, as he entered.

“Marching on New Brunswick, again,” came back the reply.

“Then we march too,” he said, and starting brushing out a stream of orders. He felt thankful that the British had not used their naval strength much against New Jersey, such as they had done last month when raiding Baltimore.

Another messenger entered, and Jackson paused. “Is this important?”

The messenger removed his hat. “Yes, sir. We’ve just received word that the British have...” The messenger faded to a halt.

“Yes?” Jackson said.

“Sir, the British have occupied Washington City.”


Decades of Darkness #11: A Tale Of Two Presidents

11 September 1812

Hartford, Connecticut

Republic of New England

Timothy Pickering, First President of the Republic of New England, thought he should feeling better than he did. By all the reports in the newspapers and on the streets, the war was going well. The attempted American invasions of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont had long since failed, and their incursions into the Canadas had proven short-lived. New York City was firmly part of New England now, and although upstate New York was a quagmire, the balance seemed to be tilting to the New Republic. The recent victories in the west, and the news out of Washington, certainly made it hard to see how the United States could continue the war.

“So, on the face of it, a success,” Pickering murmured. There had been only limited invasions of New England territory – two of the five founding states had not even been touched. Yet he still felt unhappy. The very thing which had allowed New England to advance – British intervention – might now prove its undoing.

There had always been anti-British sentiment in New England. He’d known that from the start, which was why he had taken the steps he did. Persuading the British to keep out of New York early had been important, as had waiting for the United States to declare war. Even today, New England and Britain were not formal allies – people remembered the First American Revolution too well. But with their close cooperation recently, they might as well have been... which was the source of his current problem.

The British were doing well enough out of the war that now some people were starting to whisper that the secession had been merely a move by the rich classes to reverse the American Revolution. That was completely untrue, of course. The principles of good moral government were all Pickering stood for, and had ever stood for. But especially in the rural areas, dissent was growing. It was disorganised as yet, but it could grow worse, the more the war was prolonged.

“Especially with the Indians in the west.” Tecumseh had proven a man of good martial spirit, even if he was a savage, and with their British allies, the Indians had done very well for themselves. But that worried people too, especially the New Yorkers.

Might people want to reverse secession? Pickering had thought he had dealt with that problem earlier, but it could resurface. A mixture of cajoling, pressure and necessity had been useful in the last two years, to solve the earlier problems. Many of the militias had refused to fight except in direct defense of their home state, especially once Britain joined in the war, and many others had given only the appearance of compliance. A few had even fought directly for the Union – the Freedom Brigade in New Hampshire caused occasional grief even to this day. But much of this opposition had faded over time, especially with the U.S. invasion of New York, and their high-handed actions there. And having the militias around to defend their home states was not entirely a bad thing, in any case. Still, the reluctance of militia to follow orders caused some problems. Even the Continental Army was reluctant to advance beyond New York.

The opposition of the state governors was another matter. There had been considerable reluctance to follow requests from the central government. Rhode Island, in particular, had gone along with secession largely because it was surrounded by other states that did, and now that secession had led to war, its government and especially Governor Jones were unhappy. He doubted it would come to counter-secession, but who could be sure?

Worse, he was worried that the war might turn this Republic into something too close to the United States for comfort. As President, he had had to give orders which he thought were best for the Republic as a whole, but which were sometimes less well appreciated by the states. He sometimes felt tempted to override them, but that might turn Hartford into another Washington, another central government tyranny. “Lord, give me strength to resist the temptation,” Pickering murmured.

But the problem remained before him, despite moments spent in prayer. Anti-British sentiment would not go away, and he didn’t want to have to press for more powers for a central government. It was one thing to have British support in a defensive struggle – that had raised some voices, but not too many to be manageable – but to be fighting alongside the people who had burned Washington was another story. Even many patriotic New Englanders who had despised living under the tyranny of Washington still hated the thought of it going up in flames.

“Maybe we should make peace now,” he murmured. He had never wanted to come to blows with the United States in the first place. Once war had started, though, he had to think what was best for New England. Any independent New England would need New York, he knew, and he had been saying that for years before secession finally came. Could he trust the vagaries of the peace table to deliver New York? New Jersey would be important, too, but he doubted the will of some of the people there. Many of them preferred to stay with the United States. But still, with those two states, New England would be equal to the United States. Without them, the Republic would be sorely pressed.

“But if we keep them, that will mean a longer war.” That might mean open revolt over the involvement of the British. And it would certainly mean that he would have to exercise central power more, which he detested. Making peace would make it easier to preserve good government in the Republic. In the end, that was the telling point.

“Let us stand in peace beside the United States. If we can make peace with them, then we can continue beside them in a government which maintains its principles.”

Pickering nodded to himself, and reached for paper to write a letter.


11 September 1812

Fredericksburg, Virginia

United States of America

A hotel suite in Fredericksburg – even the finest room in the finest hotel in the city – made a poor comparison for the Capitol Building and the White House. But for the time being, President Madison had no intention of returning there. The British had only been in Washington for a week before departing, but they could come back, and even with a reinforced garrison in the capital, Madison saw no need to take the risk.

But then, this entire war had been a risk, the size of which Madison had only slowly begun to realise. Britain had proven far more capable of fighting than he had anticipated, despite being entangled with Napoleon. And while many New Englanders had wanted to remain with the Union, there had not been as much support he had hoped. John Adams had spoken out against secession, but it had not been enough.

And then, the war itself could hardly have gone worse. The initial successes in Upper Canada and on the high seas now seemed a distant memory. Since then, the war seemed to be merely a long litany of disasters. Indiana Territory almost completely lost. New York City seceded, taking half the state with it. Defeat outside Manchester, Vermont and Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Vice-President Clinton dead. Albany fallen. Detroit captured. Much of New Jersey lost. Defeat on Lake Erie.

Oh, there were some flashes of hope. York in Upper Canada burned. General Jackson had checked the forces invading New Jersey twice, and was holding a fighting retreat on the third invasion... but it was still a retreat. There was some good news from the south. General James Wilkinson had done sterling work defeating the Creeks in Mississippi Territory, and the other Indians who sought to take advantage of the United States’ distraction. And West Florida was settling in as a state, despite his initial misgivings. But none of that could make up for the disasters in the north.

Especially the most recent disaster, Washington City itself. The embarrassingly easy way the British had defeated the garrison and moved in had been a major blow. And then they had stayed long enough merely to show that they weren’t being driven out, then left. They were just sending a message: they could do more, but didn’t want to expend the effort.

“Is it time to seek peace?” Madison asked himself. He could hardly stomach the likely result of a peace. Half the nation torn away, the Indians in the Northwest likely granted lands that belonged to the United States, maybe even West Florida and much of the Louisiana Purchase wrested from its rightful owners. Yet if he did not seek peace, much of that land might fall to the British anyway. If he sought peace now, while American arms had shown some success, he might have room to bargain... but seeking peace might itself be a signal of weakness.

A discreet knock at the door interrupted his thoughts.

“Sir, there is a letter here from John Quincy Adams.”

Madison raised an eyebrow. John Quincy Adams had been his minister to the Russian Empire since before the outbreak of war, and had remained there despite the departure of his state. That letter must have travelled a very roundabout route to have arrived here.

Madison skimmed the letter: its contents were brief and to the point. Tsar Alexander was offering to mediate between the United States and Britain. Apparently the Tsar wanted the British to be free to concentrate on Napoleon.

This offer, at least, Madison was willing to consider. The letter made no mention of New England, which was intriguing. But it would be good to negotiate with the British... if they would accept the offer. Madison didn’t know, but he had only one way to find out.

He reached for paper and began to write a letter.


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