Friday, June 20, 2014

The War of 1812: John Sevier’s Involvement

This post was written by our summer intern, Kristin Brig. Thanks, Kristin!

On the eve of the start of the War of 1812, Congressman John Sevier found himself in the middle of an on-going argument between pro- and anti-war advocates. Although pro-war himself, Sevier kept track of the argument through his letters to his son George Washington Sevier, discussing major players and key events in the days leading up to the war.
George Washington lived at Fort Hampton in the Mississippi Territory at the time with his wife and children. Like his father, George Washington served as a captain in the United States army, protecting the American frontier. John Sevier tried to keep his far-off son updated on the latest military events in Washington via posted letters. Unfortunately, George Washington failed to receive many of the letters sent to him; what he did receive, however, consisted of tales of his father’s doings in Washington, amongst the doings of other important leaders.

John Sevier had connections in Washington when it came to finding out news on the growing conflict between Britain and the United States. He dined with the Minister of France and attended Mrs. James Madison’s parties at the White House, where he met and talked with those in the higher ranks of Congress and of the Cabinet.[1] Sevier even lived on the same floor as Lieutenant Colonel Smyth, one of the major figures in the Army at the time: “The Colonel and myself have lived on the same floor all the winter, good part of the time in the same room, and on very friendly terms.”[2] With such important connections as these, Sevier determined collect what information he could and to share his information with his family and friends back home instead of waiting for the newspapers to break war news.
Sevier did not merely listen to the brewing wartime spirit in Congress, however. Sevier found himself at the core of the discussion. As early as January 1812, Sevier promoted the prospect of war with his colleagues and family members, warning them of the soon-to-come war with an almost excited fervor. In his letters to George Washington, Sevier stressed the importance of the US Army and for George Washington as well as other sons to look for promotions in the time leading up to war. Finally, along with seventy-eight fellow pro-war congressional supporters, Sevier signed the declaration of war against Great Britain on June 4, 1812, beginning the War of 1812. (His journal for the day read, “Thurs. [June] 4 [1812] Pleasant day wt to the House passed the declaration of war against G. Britain &c &c....")

While he never actually fought in the war himself, unlike in the American Revolution, Sevier maintained a constant presence in communication between anti-British Tennesseans and Congress. Such representative action gave him a way to help the war effort when others, such as his rival Andrew Jackson, gained glory in the battlefield.[3]

As a result, through his letters and rallying cries for war, Sevier involved himself in the war as much as he could, living through one final American-British war before dying three years after it began.

[1] “The Journal of John Sevier,” 1812.
[2] Letter to George Washington Sevier from John Sevier, April 26, 1812.
[3] Gordon Belt, John Sevier: Tennessee’s First Hero (The History Press: Charleston, SC, 2014): 146-147.

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