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May 10th, 2019

When Thomas Jefferson ran for re-election in 1804, he was much more popular than he was by the end of his term. This was something that hampered James Madison's chances to succeed Jefferson as President, but it wasn't fatal to Madison's aspirations. With the Federalists collapsing as a national party after 1800, the chief opposition to Madison's candidacy came from other members of the Democratic-Republican Party, especially from Congressman John Randolph of Virginia, a leader of a faction of the party known as the tertium quids. Despite this opposition, Madison won his party's presidential nomination at the January 1808 congressional nominating caucus. The Federalist Party mustered little strength outside New England, and Madison easily defeated Federalist candidate Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, the same man that Jefferson had faced in 1804.

Upon his inauguration in 1809, Madison's Presidency got off to a rough start. He faced opposition to his planned nomination of Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin as Secretary of State. Madison chose not to fight Congress over the nomination and instead he kept Gallatin in the Treasury Department. The remaining members of Madison's Cabinet were chosen for the purposes of balancing the competing national interests and maintaining political harmony. Some of them were largely unremarkable or incompetent, with the exception of Gallatin. Madison rarely called Cabinet meetings and instead frequently just with Gallatin alone. He gained another trusted ally in the Cabinet when he dismissed Secretary of State Robert Smith in 1811, replacing him with fellow Virginian James Monroe.

Madison sought to continue Jefferson's policies of low taxes, small government and reduction of the national debt. In 1811, Congress allowed the charter of the First Bank of the United States to lapse after Madison declined to take a strong stance on the issue. It was a move that would come back to haunt him as war with Britain loomed on the horizon.

Congress had repealed Jefferson's Embargo Act shortly before Madison became president, but troubles with the British and French impressment of American ships continued. Madison tried a different strategy designed to pit the British and French against each other. He offered to trade with whichever country would end their attacks against American shipping. Negotiations with the British collapsed in mid-1809. Napoleon offered to end French attacks on American shipping so long as the United States punished any countries that did not similarly end restrictions on trade. Madison accepted Napoleon's proposal in the hope that it would convince the British to finally end their policy of commercial warfare, but the British refused to change their policies, and the French reneged on their promise and continued to attack American shipping.

Madison decided that there was no other course of action other than war with Britain. A faction of Americans known as "war harks" called for a "second war of independence" to restore honor and stature to the new nation, and an angry public elected a "war hawk" Congress. It was led by Henry Clay of Kentucky and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. Britain was in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars, and many Americans, Madison included, believed that the United States could easily capture Canada and use it as a bargaining chip for all other disputes or simply keep it.

On June 1, 1812, Madison asked Congress for a declaration of war, stating that the United States may as well recognize Britain's "state of war against the United States." The declaration of war was passed along sectional and party lines, with opposition to the declaration coming from Federalists and from some Democratic-Republicans in the Northeast. It was a war that the nation was not ready to fight. Both Jefferson and Madison had reduced the size of the military, leaving the country with a force consisting mostly of poorly trained militia members. Madison asked Congress to expand the size of the army and navy.

Madison hoped that the war would end in a couple months after the capture of Canada. He believed the state militias would be gung ho to invade Canada, but the governors in the Northeast failed to cooperate. Their militias either sat out the war or refused to leave their respective states. The American invasion of Canada suffered a major setback when General William Hull surrendered to British and Native American forces at the Siege of Detroit, and a separate U.S. force was defeated at the Battle of Queenston Heights. Madison also lacked adequate revenue to fund the war because of his tax cuts and the lack of a central bank. Madison administration was forced to rely on high-interest loans furnished by bankers based in New York City and Philadelphia. It was against this backdrop that the 1812 presidential election was held during the early stages of the War of 1812.

The election of 1812 was held from Friday, October 30, 1812 to Wednesday, December 2, 1812. Madison faced New York Governor DeWitt Clinton as the unofficial candidate for the Federalist Party. Clinton drew support from dissident Democratic-Republicans in the North as well as Federalists. It was the first presidential election to be held during a major war involving the United States. Northern Democratic-Republicans had long been unhappy about the Southern dominance of their party. DeWitt Clinton's uncle, Vice President George Clinton, had unsuccessfully challenged Madison for the party's 1808 presidential nomination. Although the May 1812 Democratic-Republican congressional nominating caucus re-nominated Madison, the party's New York caucus, also held in May, nominated Clinton for president. After the United States declared war on Great Britain in June 1812, Clinton sought to create a coalition of anti-war Democratic-Republicans and Federalists.

With Clinton in the race, the Federalist Party declined to formally put forth a nominee. They did not want to split the anti-Madison vote and hoped that their members would vote for Clinton. Federalist Jared Ingersoll of Pennsylvania became Clinton's unofficial Federalist running mate.

Despite Clinton's success at attracting Federalist support, Madison was re-elected with 50.4 percent of the popular vote to his opponent's 47.6%/ The 1812 election the closest election up to that point in the popular vote. Clinton won the Federalist stronghold states in New England as well as three Mid-Atlantic states, but Madison dominated the South and also won Pennsylvania. This was the most closely contested election held between 1800 and 1824.

Expansionists in the south and west of the United States coveted British Canada and Spanish Florida and wanted to use British provocations as a pretext to seize both areas. Madison was popular in these regions and they still hoped for a victory in the war. They also resented the New England states for not supporting the takeover of Canada militarily by sending their militia.

Before the election, some Democratic-Republicans hoped to broker a compromise by making DeWitt Clinton the nominee for the Vice Presidency, taking over the same office his uncle now held. DeWitt Clinton was not opposed to the offer, but preferred to wait until after the conclusion of the New York caucus to make his decision. On May 18 a Democratic-Republican Congressional nominating caucus was held, and James Madison was formally nominated as the candidate of his party, though not with unanimous support. Only 86 of the 134 Democratic-Republican Senators and Congressmen participated in the caucus. The sought a northerner for a running mate and chose New Hampshire Governor John Langdon to balance the ticket. Langdon declined due to his age, (he was 70 years old). A second caucus nominated Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts for the Vice Presidency even though he was not much younger than Langdon at 68.

When the New York caucus met on May 29, it was dominated by anti-war Democratic-Republicans, and nominated DeWitt Clinton for the presidency almost unanimously. Clinton's candidacy was opposed by many other Democratic-Republicans who, while not necessarily supporting Madison, fwere afraid that Clinton would irreparably divide the party.

Clinton was unsure about how to conduct his campaign. Many of Clinton's supporters were war-hawks, and their position on the war was at odds with many in New England. Clinton knew he would have to appeal to Federalists to win, and they were almost wholly opposed to the war.

Before Clinton entered the race as an alternative to President Madison, Chief Justice John Marshall was a favorite for the Federalist nomination. He was relatively popular and would have carried most of the Northeast while potentially taking Virginia and North Carolina as well. But without Clinton, the Federalists knew that they would probably lose New York, possibly throwing the election into the House of Representatives, dominated by Democratic-Republicans, where Madison would almost certainly be elected. In light of this the Federalist party considered endorsing Clinton's candidacy, but instead they decided that the party simply would not field a candidate that year. They did not endorse Clinton, but most Federalists planned to vote for him. Though there was much support among the Federalists for Clinton, it was felt that openly endorsing him as the party's choice for president would damage his chances in states where the Federalists remained unpopular and drive away Democratic-Republicans who would normally be supportive of his candidacy. A Federalist caucus in Pennsylvania chose to nominate Jared Ingersoll, the Attorney General of the state, as Clinton's running-mate, a move Clinton decided to support considering the importance of Pennsylvania's electors.

Many Federalists did not support Clinton's candidacy. Rufus King, a former Ambassador and Congressman, had led an effort at the September Caucus to nominate a Federalist ticket for the election that year, but he was unsuccessful. In Virginia, the state Federalist Party chose to nominate King for President and William Richardson Davie for Vice President. The ticket would get about 27% of the vote in the state. In New York, the Federalists having gained control of the state legislature that summer, it was planned that the Federalists would nominate a slate pledged to Rufus King now that they had the majority. But a coalition of Democratic-Republicans and Federalists defeated the motion and succeed in nominating a slate pledged to Clinton.

The war heavily overshadowed the campaign. Clinton adopted an anti-war stance in the Northeast (the region hurt most by the war), and a pro-war stance in the South and West. The election ultimately hinged on New York and Pennsylvania, both of which Clinton needed to win. He took his home state, he failed to take Pennsylvania and thus lost the election. Despite the loss, the election was the best showing for the Federalists since that of John Adams The party made gains in Congress.

Madison became the first of just four presidents to win re-election with a lower percentage of the electoral vote than in their prior elections, as Madison won 69.3% of the electoral vote in 1808, but only won 58.7% of the electoral vote in 1812. Madison received 140,431 votes (50.4%) and 128 electoral votes. Clinton received 132,781 votes (47.6%) and 89 electoral votes. Pennsylvania's 25 electoral votes made the difference in the election. Only 9 of the 18 states chose electors by popular vote and those states that did choose electors by popular vote had varying restrictions on who could vote, according to various property requirements.

In New Jersey, Federalists had just taken over the state legislature and decided to change the method of choosing electors from a general election to appointment by state legislature. Some towns did not get the news and held elections, but these votes were not counted.


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