War Hawks

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WAR HAWKS. John Randolph of Roanoke, opposed to the foreign policies of Jefferson and Madison after 1806, called the young leaders of the war party in the Twelfth Congress (1811–1813) "war hawks," and the epithet stuck. He continued the bird-simile, declaring they had a single cry: "Canada! Canada!" He might have detected another, "Florida!", for American expansionism pointed southward as well as westward and northward. Kentucky's young U.S. Senator Henry Clay switched to the House, leading the hawks as speaker. Clay appointed others as chairs of committees, and steered legislation for military preparations. Powerfully effective hawks were four South Carolinians: John C. Calhoun, William Lowndes, Langdon Cheves, and David R. Williams. John A. Harper of New Hampshire, Peter Porter of western New York, Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky, Felix Grundy of Tennessee, and George M. Troup of Georgia further proved that the war hawks represented frontier areas of the young republic. Born in the era of the American Revolution, these men expressed a burning desire to defend independence, which they supposed Britain threatened. They resented Britain's Orders-in-Council and impressments just as strongly as they denounced British encouragement of Indian resistance to U. S. expansion—most notably Tecumseh's confederation. Their national leaders, the Virginia Presidents Jefferson and Madison, also vigorously promoted territorial expansion, Indian removal, and the freedom of the seas throughout their public service. Most of the war hawks had distinguished careers during and after the war.


Hickey, Donald R. The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989. Follows the hawks through the war in political, military, and diplomatic roles.

Perkins, Bradford. Prologue to War: England and the United States, 1805–1812. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1961. Demonstrates Jefferson's and Madison's determined pursuit of the freedom of the seas.

Pratt, Julius W. Expansionists of 1812. New York: Macmillan, 1925. Argues that the war hawks and the expansionist urge they embodied caused the War of 1812.


See alsoWar of 1812 .