6 “When the American Stripes Alone Protect the Western Hemisphere”
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163 . . . . . . 6 “When the American Stripes Alone Protect the Western Hemisphere” T he London Morning Chronicle broke the news of the new BritishAmerican commercial treaty in October 1815. While both governments had ratified the peace treaty concluded at Ghent on Christmas Eve 1814, the commercial convention marked the final conclusion of the broader diplomatic settlement ending the War of 1812. As the Morning Chronicle had feared, the British negotiators had proved no match for their American counterparts: the commercial agreement abandoned the king’s Indians to “the mercy of their neighbours” and left the British Empire “on worse ground than when we began the war.”1 Over the next two months, the Morning Chronicle constructed an extensive critique of the Treaty of Ghent and its related commercial convention , which the newspaper argued had dealt a devastating blow to Britain’s imperial ambitions in North America. The diplomatic agreements ensured the loss of the Montreal fur trade by confirming the border of 1783 and by extinguishing the right of free movement that British subjects and Native peoples had enjoyed under the Jay Treaty. Consequently, the Morning Chronicle predicted, the United States would shortly amass “an immense empire,” reaching westward to the Pacific Ocean and perhaps extending southward to include the “insurrectional provinces of New Spain.”2 Distracted by the negotiations held in Vienna about the future of Europe, the British government had played into the hands of American imperialists by abandoning the fur trade of the Great Lakes, the Mississippi and Missouri River Valleys, and the Pacific Northwest. “Whilst we are buried in apathy and neglect, and disregard that immense field of enterprize the efforts of SpanishAmericaopenuponus,”theMorningChroniclelamented,“theGovernment and individuals of the United States are eager to improve all the advantages to our detriment.” The revolutions in Spanish America meant that empire was up for grabs, but Great Britain stood idly by as the United citizens of con venience 164 States prepared for “the day when the American stripes alone protect the Western hemisphere.”3 The Morning Chronicle provoked a response from the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, which ran a series of editorials in December 1815 arguing for the exclusion of the Montreal fur trade from the territory of the United States. William Duane penned his column to assail the Morning Chronicle’s argument that the Native peoples residing within the borders of the United States were independent nations that ought to enjoy the right of trading with whomever they pleased. Duane denounced the “most lame and impotent effort” of British imperialists to use the fur trade to maintain their influence among the Indians.4 To the Aurora and its readers, the very idea of Native independence was as an affront to American sovereignty. Moreover , the fur trade worked against the United States’ paternalistic project of civilizing Native peoples by destroying their cultural practices. This Jeffersonian program sought to convert American Indians to sedentary farming practices as a way of assimilating them into U.S. society. From this point of view, the Montreal fur trade threatened to cast Native peoples into oblivion by encouraging them to resist the inevitable march of American progress. The American Republic’s recent experience of fighting a war against the British Empire and its Indian allies had made real the threat that foreign traders posed to ordinary American citizens. Indeed, Duane and the Aurora had played a leading role in fighting the Republican propaganda war against Federalist opponents of the conflict, printing lurid accounts of Indian “depredations” committed against wounded soldiers and unarmed women and children with the assistance, or at the very least indifference, of British officers and Indian Department agents. Duane’s arguments in favor of excluding British traders were hardly novel by 1815, but the shadowy agents that menaced the antebellum frontier had taken on new, inhuman faces. Duane asked, “do not the practices of her Dicksons and her Elliotts, and other agents along our whole frontier, from Detroit to Chickago, and thencetotheMississippi,demandoftheUnitedStatesgovernment,theprotectionofoursettlersfromtheinstigatedmassacresofthosebarbarousagen cies ?”5 He could pose this rhetorical question to his readers knowing well that the names of Robert Dickson and Matthew Elliott would conjure up innumerableatrocitiesreportedintheAurora’spagesoverthepastfewyears. The War of 1812 was the second civil war fought within the British Atlantic World. As historian Alan Taylor has argued, the conflict pivoted 165 “The American Stripes Alone” on the ambiguous boundary between British subjects and American citizens . While subjects and citizens would fight on both sides of the conflict, as would Native peoples, the bitter experience of fighting...


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