April 21, 1812
In a war with England we shall need numerous armies and ample treasuries for their support. The war-hounds that are howling for war through the continent are not to be the men who are to force entrenchments, and scale ramparts against the bayonet and the cannon’s mouth; to perish in sickly camps, or in long marches through sultry heats or wastes of snow. These gowned warriors, who are so loudly seconded by a set of fiery spirits in the great towns, and by a set of office hunters in the country, expect that their influence with the great body of the people, the honest yeomanry of our country, is such that every farmer, every mechanic, every laborer, will send off his sons, nay, will even shoulder his firelock himself and march to the field of blood. While these brave men who are “designing or exhorting glorious war,” lodged safe at Monticello or some other secure retreat, will direct and look on; and will receive such pay for their services as they shall see fit to ask, and such as will answer their purposes.
Citizens, if pecuniary redress is your object in going to war with England, the measure is perfect madness. You will lose millions when you will gain a cent. The expense will be enormous. It will ruin our country. Direct taxes must be resorted to. The people will have nothing to pay. We once had a revenue; — that has been destroyed in the destruction of our commerce. For several years past you have been deceived and abused by the false pretenses of a full treasury. That phantom of hope will soon vanish. You have lately seen fifteen millions of dollars wasted in the purchase of a province we did not want, and never shall possess. And will you spend thousands of millions in conquering a province which, were it made a present to us, would not be worth accepting? Our territories are already too large. The desire to annex Canada to the United States is as base an ambition as ever burned in the bosom of Alexander. What benefit will it ever be to the great body of the people, after their wealth is exhausted, and their best blood is shed in its reduction? — “We wish to clear our continent of foreign powers.” So did the Madman of Macedon wish to clear the world of his enemies, and such as would not bow to his sceptre. So does Bonaparte wish to clear Europe of all his enemies; yea, and Asia too. Canada, if annexed to the United States, will furnish offices to a set of hungry villains, grown quite too numerous for our present wide limits; and that is all the benefit we ever shall derive from it.
These remarks will have little weight with men whose interest leads them to advocate war. Thousands of lives, millions of money, the flames of cities, the tears of widows and orphans, with them are light expedients when they lead to wealth and power. But to the people who must fight, if fighting must be done, — who must pay if money be wanted — who must march when the trumpet sounds, and who must die when the “battle bleeds,” — to the people I appeal. To them the warning voice is lifted. From a war they are to expect nothing but expenses and sufferings; — expenses disproportionate to their means, and sufferings lasting as life.
In our extensive shores and numerous seaports, we know not where the enemy will strike; or more properly speaking, we know they will strike when a station is defenceless. Their fleets will hover on our coasts, and can trace our line from Maine to New Orleans in a few weeks. Gunboats cannot repel them, nor is there a fort on all our shores in which confidence can be placed. The ruin of our seaports and loss of all vessels will form an item in the list of expenses. Fortifications and garrisons numerous and strong must be added. As to the main points of attack or defence, I shall only say that an efficient force will be necessary. A handful of men cannot run up and take Canada, in a few weeks, for mere diversion. The conflict will be long and severe: resistance formidable, and the final result doubtful. A nation that can debar the conqueror of Europe from the sea, and resist his armies in Spain, will not surrender its provinces without a struggle. Those who advocate a British war must be perfectly aware that the whole revenue arising from all British America for the ensuing century would not repay the expenses of that war.