With the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent coming up on Christmas Eve, we thought it would be a good time to announce that the Law Library has recently acquired a manuscript copy of Article 9 of the Treaty of Ghent in the hand of Henry Clay.
The treaty, which was signed on December 24, 1814, brought an end to the war of 1812. In fact, hostilities continued after the treaty’s signing, but this was in part due to geography and limitations on speedy travel. The treaty was negotiated and signed in the city of Ghent, which was then in the United Provinces (the Netherlands) and is now in northwest Belgium. The diplomatic commissions from the United States and the United Kingdom met there during the second half of 1814 to work out an agreement that would resolve the issues that led to the conflict. It took some weeks to send the signed treaty to Washington, D.C., where the Senate passed a resolution of ratification of the treaty on February 16, 1815.
The commission that represented the United States included John Quincy Adams, Albert Gallatin, James Bayard, Jonathan Russell, and Henry Clay. Henry Clay’s presence on the commission was noteworthy. One of the major figures in American politics of the antebellum period, Clay was a member of the House of Representatives, and from 1811-1814 served as the Speaker of the House, a leadership role he would reprise several times in the future. In the years before the war, he gained prominence for his aggressively nationalist and pro-war stance toward the United Kingdom, leading a group of congressmen known as the War Hawks, in their repeated demands that the United States take up arms against Great Britain.
Clay, who represented Kentucky in Congress, echoed the broad support for the war found among people in the western and southern states. Many people across the West held Britain responsible for ongoing conflicts with Native Americans, and accused the British of inciting Native Americans to aggression and resistance toward American interests. This accusation had basis in fact. Over several decades, the British had offered support to Native Americans in the Great Lakes, upper Mississippi, and Ohio River areas in their resistance to American expansionism (Jung, p. 31). During that time, the British proposed to create an Indian buffer state that would exist between the United States and Canada. Their idea was that they could use the buffer state block American westward expansion on the one hand, and to protect British interests in the inland fur trade on the other (Piro, p. 45).
At the start of negotiations, both sides followed news of the progress of the war in America – but also the progress of the war that Britain was fighting against France, to determine their relative bargaining strength. For much of the negotiations it appeared the British had the upper hand. The British commission began with maximal demands, among which was their position on the Indians. When they met on August 8, 1814, Henry Goulburn of the British commission announced that the “Indian allies of Great Britain” must be included in the peace agreement, and that a definite boundary must be settled for their territory. In addition, this requirement was a sine qua non for any peace deal. The British commissioners expected the Americans to break off the conversation at this point and to send home for additional instructions. The Americans, however, responded by reasserting the United States’ Indian policy that the United States had complete sovereignty over its territory and over the Native Americans that occupy it; it was up to the United States and the tribes to make peace between themselves if peace is to be had (Bemis, p. 200-201).
In the next months, the commissioners traded a series of memoranda to refine their respective positions and to advance the conversation in the face of their disagreement. The British commission’s priorities changed during that time, allowing them to deemphasize the Native American issue in favor of other war aims. The fourth British memorandum, of October 8, 1814, broke new ground, proposing that “each side, reciprocally agreed to make peace with the hostile Indian tribes, restoring them to all the possessions, rights and privileges that they might have enjoyed previous to such hostilities – providing that the tribes in each case should agree to cease hostilities as soon as notified of the peace treaty between Great Britain and the United States” (Bemis, p. 208). This memorandum provided just enough overlap with the American position that the Americans could come to agreement on it; it did not acknowledge American sovereignty over the Indians, but neither did it deny it (Bemis, p. 208). This language became the basis of Article 9 of the treaty. The practical result of that article included the British withdrawal from direct interference in Native American conflicts with the United States and its interests. This changed the balance of power between Native Americans and U.S. Americans decisively in favor of the United States.
In the Library’s new manuscript, Clay writes out the text of Article 9 of the treaty, and includes it in a package of materials that the American commission sent during the negotiations to William H. Crawford. Crawford (1772-1834) was a judge and politician who served in a number of elected and appointed positions through his life. President James Madison appointed Crawford to be the United States Ambassador to France in 1813, a post that he continued to hold as the United States commission negotiated the Treaty of Ghent with its British counterparts. Madison relied on him as a central point of contact for all information related to the treaty negotiations, progress of Britain’s war with France and America’s dealings with European nations. Subsequently, this document was in the possession of Crawford’s descendants.
Bemis, Samuel Flagg. John Quincy Adams and the foundations of American foreign policy. New York, A.A. Knopf, 1949.
Gough, Barry. “Michilimackinac and Prairie du Chien: Northern Anchors of British Authority in the War of 1812.” Michigan Historical Review, Vol. 38, No. 1, Special Issue: the War of 1812 (Spring 2012), pp. 83-105.
Jung, Patrick J. “Toward the Black Hawk War: The Sauk and Fox Indians and the War of 1812.” Michigan Historical Review, Vol. 38, No. 1, Special Issue: the War of 1812 (Spring 2012), pp. 27-52.
Remini, Robert V. Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1991.
Tiro, Karim M. “The View from Piqua Agency: The War of 1812, the White River Delawares, and the Origins of Indian Removal.” Journal of the Early Republic, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Spring 2015), pp. 25-54.