Samuel Elliot Opposes War Of 1812

Samuel Elliot.jpg

Samuel Elliot

The Anti-War Society of 1812 formed in Brattleboro, and the following letter was posted to a sister chapter in Northfield, Massachusetts---

Elnathan Allen
President of the
W. B. Society in Brattleborough, Vt.
Sam'l Elliot,
Vice President.

Brattleborough, Vt. Jan'y 11, 1814.


Tho' separated by State lines and members of different state Governments; yet we belong to the same political family, claiming the same political father and guide, and enjoying like civil & republican privileges. We are quite interested in the Policy & welfare of our common Country---and we mourn together at that perverse and ill-fated system of Policy, which seems hastening the once happy land of Washington to misery & ruin!

Permit us to enquire whether there are any bounds to our grievances & burdens? Whether the cup of our calamity is nearly full? Whether the enormous Taxes now collecting---the renewal of the Embargo---the extravagance of our Cabinets---the folly & Cruelty of the War, and the worst conducted of all wars---the sacrifice of our blood, treasure, commerce & Peace, will ever, again open the eyes of the American people?

They seem lulled into fatal ease & security, ready to believe every tale of comfort or possible relief and almost to excuse the whole burden of their oppressions. Will not the blood wantonly spilt cry from the ground! Will not the awful & distressing progress of this War, rouse up their slumbering senses, & make its author tremble!

Our state, by great exertions, has been righted up to proper ground, but much remains to be done, or she will keel over again. To be sure the last wretched campaign & the late "glorious exploits" of the allies will aid the advocates of Peace but nothing will convince the main War Party---They bear their late defeat with resentment & will do their best to regain their lost power. Our projected alteration of our Constitution, making more independent our Judiciary, and more stable our Government, will be opposed with all the rancor & all the power of Democracy.

Br. Samuel Elliot having borrowed your standard last July, we inclose a little payment of 2$ for the use of it, and would cheerfully do more but our fund & means are much embarrassed. We shall celebrate the 23d of Feby. at Putney, & should be happy to have such of you as could make it convenient to join us.

Our Society would receive with pleasure any communications from yours, which might tend to brighten our friendship, comfort us under political affliction, or extend the happy influence generally of our charitable brotherhood.

We are cordially yours &c

Samuel Elliot, President of the W. B. Society of Brattleborough---

& one of the corresponding committee.


Years later Samuel Elliot corresponded with William E. Ryther, editor of the Vermont Phoenix for August 7, 1840, taking great pains to describe the besetting conflicts---

Mr. Ryther---

Unwilling as I am to engage in any controversy, with any party or set of men, (having seldom, if at all, written a political paragraph for publication for several years) yet, finding myself repeatedly assailed for exercising a common right in all free governments, of expressing my honest sentiments in relation to political men and measures, and that in a spirit of candor and good feeling, I consider it a duty to my friends and the party with whom I act, to make a few remarks in reference to those attacks and censures upon my addresses at Guilford and Stratton, at the late Harrison meetings:

And first, as to the threats and allusions in the last Democrat. Speaking of my address at Stratton, and to prove that I had apostatized from republicanism, and was inimical to my country's interests---allusion is made to an Oration delivered at Brattleboro' in 1814, (it should be 1813,) and also to a vote, as a member from Brattleboro, on Muzzy's amendment to a Resolution in the Legislature of 1813.

Protesting that a solitary vote of the kind, or an oration spoken in far back heated times (27 years ago) is no fair test of a man's general political feelings or character, and generally speaking, is an unfair and awkward way of meeting his arguments, still I am willing to scan any part of my political life, and to leave it with the public to judge pro and con on its merits or demerits.

But, really, this way of testing character, would place many very respectable public men in a peculiar situation. By this rule how would Mr. Van Buren appear?---opposing Mr. Madison's War, eulogizing Mr. Clay, &c.?---And how would Gov. Chittenden, Gov. Van Ness, and hundreds of other good Jackson men's political consistency appear?

And I might name several decided federalists of those days, both in and out of "old Windham," now among the warm adherents of Van Buren's administration; and others, now bold and determined on the Whig side, who then stood high in the ranks of democracy and Jeffersonism.

The two years of 1813-1814, were years of much political warmth---our State was nearly equally divided, and probably much transpired in both parties that was harsh and reprehensible. The Resolution alluded to came down from the Council Room, recommending a special thanksgiving by the Legislature, on account of the glorious victory at the river Thames, over Proctor and Tecumseh, achieved by Gen. Harrison; and Mr. Muzzy's amendment was designed so far to modify it, as not, by its adoption, to admit the justice or policy of the war. It did not go to prevent the thanksgiving---but to say that the victory did not sanction the war,---and also to urge the speedy restoration of peace.

Well, on this motion, the yeas and nays were taken, and they show that it was not strictly a party question---several decided federalists voted against the amendment. I could name three or four from Windham county:---and the amendment was lost in a federal House. Among those who voted with me in favor of the amendment, was Judge Haight, now a good Van Buren man, enjoying a lucrative place, under the administration.

I doubted the propriety of holding a legislative day of Thanksgiving for that or any other single victory, on account of the example and expense to the State.---A resolution of thanks by the Legislature would have answered every purpose--and was advocated by myself and others. And, really, my good democratic reprover, if Harrison was that coward, now charged by you and your party, even a vote of approbation and praise would have been withheld.

As to the Oration, it merely shows my decided disapprobation of the war, and of the bad management of it at, and previous to, that time. If, (as the case was) our two democratic, Madisonian Senators in Congress, Gen. Bradley, and Mr. Israel Smith, both opposed it by their votes and decided declarations.

If Mr. Van Buren, Gov. Chittenden, and a host of others, were with me on that subject, ought not, in fairness, some allowance and charity to be bestowed upon me, for considering the war as influenced by Napoleon, and highly injurious to our country.

I opposed certain measures of Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison, as I now do some of the present administration, because I thought them wrong. If I differed from others in relation to Mr. Jefferson's Non-intercourse and Gun-boat system, and the resulting war of 1812; and now differ, in like manner, from the present administration in respect to the Currency and Sub-Treasury experiments, it only proves a difference of opinion, but does not demonstrate on which side lie the wisdom and true policy, unless we admit that perfection dwells with one party.

And, I might ask, what was gained by that War? To be sure, American heroism by sea and land, was again exhibited,---but the world was already aware of this. It afforded Jackson and Harrison an opportunity of achieving the most glorious victories, which have placed the one, and probably soon will the other, in the Presidency. And it gave Monroe and John Q. Adams an opportunity, by a wise and prudent administration, to wipe away the War Tax of upwards $100,000,000.

And still more, it did away in a great measure the old and bitter party distinctions, and that undue partiality for France and opposition to a navy, which pervaded the Southern States. These last were substantial benefits.

Notwithstanding the frank and honest opposition I felt and exercised to the war, at the beginning, and at the time and manner of its declaration, still I was not among those who persisted in their opposition, when opposition was useless and cruel, or who cherished unkind feelings towards those in arms.

I could lament, and not rejoice, at the disasters which marked its early progress, and at what I considered as the pernicious policy of our government. In proof, I refer to our legislative Journal of 1814, where the following Resolution, offered by the then Brattleboro member, may be found.

"Mr. Elliott, on motion and leave, introduced the following Resolution, viz.

In General Assembly, Oct. 14, 1814.

Resolved, That a Committee of four be appointed to join such Committee as the Governor and Council may appoint, to take into consideration the late heroic and glorious achievements and important services of the brave and magnanimous Macdonough, his officers and comrades on Lake Champlain, in completely defeating the British squadrons on that Lake, and securing the Northwestern borders of this State---the most proper and acceptable manner of testifying our high sense of gratitude and admiration of those services, and rewarding those gallant defenders of our country, and to report by bill or otherwise.

And Oct. 18, 1814, the following action was had on the Resolution---

"On the Committee raised by the Resolution to enquire, and report some proper mode of testifying our gratitude to Commodore Macdonough, and to Generals Strong and Macomb--Messrs. Landgon, D. Carpenter, Hatch and Elliott were appointed.

And in course of the session, (1814) we reported a Bill granting to Commodore McDonough a "tract of land belonging to this State lying near Cumberland in the state of New York, in full view of the splendid naval engagement fought under his command on the ever memorable 11th of September 1814, in testimony of the high veneration entertained by this Legislature for his distinguished services."

This bill was passed into a Law, by nearly a unanimous vote; as also several resolutions of thanks and warm approbation to him and Generals Macomb and Strong, with the gallant troops under their command. This farm at Plattsburg fell to the state for a debt due to the old state bank, and as Macdonough was considered poor, it was an act not only of praise, but of substantial assistance.

How much more useful this than for the Legislature to transform itself into a formal thanksgiving party, at an expense of several hundred dollars without affording any benefit to those who participated in the dangers and glory of the battles!

Warm, and alarmed as I was, against ambitious strides of Napoleon, and engaging in his war against Great Britain, I was nevertheless opposed to appointing delegates to the Hartford Convention, when the subject was brought forward, this the agency of a sort of mission from Massachusetts; and we declined to enter into the business. The result was, that Mr. Dunham of Windsor afterwards volunteered, but I believe was not admitted as a member, and some sections of the state sent on their agents. But the fact is that our state was not regularly represented in that convention. Thus much for the comments and allusions in the last Democrat.

The manner in which that paper treated my brief address at Guilford, several weeks since, is still more uncandid, because the whole drift and character of my remarks were perverted, and sentiments and feeling ascribed to me which I never felt or uttered.

What could induce the writer to state, that I "first addressed the meeting with many hard expressions against our Republican Government, as I formerly used to declaim against the ruinous measures of Jefferson and Madison," is passing strange, when that writer well knew, (as the fact was,) that not a particle of anti-Republicanism, or even harshness, was exhibited in the speech. Mild constitutional and republican principles and measures were advocated.

It was contended on my part, that rotation in office was a fair and republican measure and even axiom; & on that ground alone, a change of administration was now proper and desirable, and ought to be cheerfully assented to, by the friends of the administration, after so long holding the reins and offices of Government, and more especially so, when a course of measures, whether honestly designed or not, had eventuated in much public and private dissatisfaction and injury.

And I attempted to show briefly wherein some of those measures had been wrong and injurious, and that measures, more than men or party considerations, ought to be regarded, condemning all extravagance, violence and mobocracy, and exhorting the advocates of Harrison and Reform, not to their "tents" but to their Ballot Boxes, for a redress of grievances. The election of Harrison was advocated as a salutary and hopeful measure, and his life and character was spoken of in high & deserved commendation, not as the greatest man in the Union, but as a good, practical and safe statesman.

Having shown that there was nothing exceptionable or anti-republican in my conduct at the Legislature in 1813 and 14, and that the sweeping charge against me of declaiming against our Republican Government, is "baseless as a vision," I will not at present extend my remarks upon the general state of things, or why I am convinced that a change of administration is necessary, and will in all human probability soon take place.

Every citizen has a just right to his political and religious sentiments, and this guessing (or as the Southerners say, reckoning) as to future events and results, is also a common right, with all men and parties, and has been much practised by our opponents. While public addresses and proceedings ought ever to be open to free and just criticism, it is equally proper that these should be fairly stated, and that the facts and circumstances should so far be made public as to do justice to all concerned.

To this end I have ventured these remarks, with my name annexed. Being neither an office holder or seeker, I see no objection to this course. I am unwilling to engage in any public controversy, but am more unwilling to be the passive subject of repeated public attacks, having suffered my full share of unmerited abuse from harsh and ultra characters of different parties.

Samuel Elliot.

Brattleboro, July 28, 1840.


This correspondence, signed "A friend to Peace" and printed in the Reporter for Brattleborough, Saturday, November 20, 1813, is most likely Samuel Elliot's earlier resistance to the conflict that was so unpopular in New England---

Communicated for the Reporter.

Some facts.---In 1811, Gov. Galusha, in his speech to the legislature, stated that the Berlin and Milan decrees were repealed. The federalists in the house could see no ground for believing this statement, therefore Mr. Smith, of Royalton, introduced a resolution, calling for such evidence as the governor had in his possession, relative to the business. A majority of the house being then democratic, they refused to adopt the resolution, and the freemen of Vermont were left in the delusion, until Bonaparte himself convinced them of their error.

Gov. Chittenden, in 1813, in his spech to the General Assembly, on the subject of impressment, suggested, among other things, that this business "had been once settled by two of the present [national] cabinet, Messrs. Monroe and Pinckney, ministers on our part, in such a manner, as was by them stated to be both safe and honorable to our country."

Mr. Niles, a democratic member, introduced a resolution, calling on his Excellency for the information on which he founded his suggestion. The house this year is federal, and the resolution of Mr. Niles was readily and cheerfully adopted and the call promptly complied with on the part of his Excellency. The documents ought to be read by every man in this and the United States.

(See 2d page.)

Reader! if thou art a freeman---if thou lovest truth rather than error---if thou thinkest the spilling the blood of thousands, and the expending of millions upon millions of treasure is of any weight or concern to thee,---ponder and reflect!---commune with your own heart when no one is near you---and as your conscience dictates, so may your conduct be.

A friend to Peace.








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