With insurrection on the mind of Americans today, let’s take a look at how the Insurrection Act of 1807 came to be.
After their defeat by the Americans, the British concentrated on the assertion of control over Canada (née New France), and on waging a global maritime war with France, characterized by massive interference with American shipping and commerce.
They refused to surrender their posts at Oswego, and elsewhere on the Great Lakes, for thirteen years after the Treaty of Paris formally concluded the Revolutionary war. Since the British were the only game in town, Oswego’s first business cohort was at the beck and call of the King’s army. That made Oswego a British outpost on the American frontier, and before long, the hotbed of insurrection that hardened the dividing line between Jefferson and Monroe’s democratic-republicans and the federalists of Washington and Adams.
The mistakes and omissions of the 1783 Treaty of Paris were addressed by the 1796 Jay Treaty, which was designed by treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton, negotiated by chief justice John Jay and opposed by secretary of state Thomas Jefferson, thus transforming the new nation into the two-headed monster it so clearly remains today!
The federalists of Washington, Adams, and Hamilton represent the forces that coalesced into the party of Abraham Lincoln. (Trump’s party has a Lincoln too: the American Nazi George Lincoln Rockwell.) Thomas Jefferson’s republic-loving cohort begat the democratic party.
If you think the U.S.A. is irretrievably cleaved in half today, then Oswego accounts for the initial blow from the sword of partisanship. It’s no wonder that the greatest fear of our revered ancestors, the thing that united small “f” federalists and small “d-r” democratic-republicans was abhorrence of political parties.
Last “real” thing on Alexander Hamilton’s mind?
Principle results of the Jay Treaty were twofold: the withdrawal of the British from their Oswego fortifications, and the establishment of Alexander Hamilton as the region’s largest landowner! His Oswego real estate was one of the last things on his mind – he made arrangements for its disposition the night before Aaron Burr out-dueled him in a New Jersey field. (The traitor Burr was allowed to walk! Dangerous precedent, that!)
But, the Jay Treaty had no effect on British bullying and meddling in American affairs; they continued to seize American ships, kidnap American sailors, and blockade American ports at will – as if they were pirates in fancy costume doing the king’s bidding.
President Jefferson knew the British were trying to sucker him into a war at sea that could not be won, since Britannia ruled the waves. Jefferson and the republicans were determined to maintain peace at any cost; they opposed the establishment of a standing army and a floating navy, such as John Adams, Hamilton, and the federalists advocated.
Quoting the Henry Adams (great-grandson of John) book, History of the United States of America During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson:
“Of all the old Republican arguments for a policy of peace, the commonest was that a standing army would be dangerous, not to foreign enemies, but to popular liberties; yet the first use of the new army and gunboats was against fellow citizens. New England was chiefly controlled by the navy, but in New York the army was needed, and was employed. Open insurrection existed there. Besides forcible resistance offered to the law, no one was ignorant that the collectors shut their eyes to smuggling, and that juries, in defiance of court and President, refused to indict rioters. Governor Tompkins announced that Oswego was in active insurrection, and called on the president to issue a proclamation to that effect. Jefferson replied by offering to take into the United States service the militia required to suppress the riots, and begged Governor Tompkins to lead his troops in person.”
President Jefferson’s reply: “I think it so important in example to crush these audacious proceedings and to make the offenders feel the consequences of individuals daring to oppose a law by force, that no effort should be spared to compass this object.”
In the news today is the Insurrection Act of 1807, now we know a little about how it came to be!
Coincidentally, James Fenimore Cooper, stationed there in 1807, tells us about the place, in his preface to an edition of The Pathfinder, or the Inland Sea:
“In youth, when belonging to the navy, the writer of this book served for some time on the great Western lakes. He was, indeed, one of those who first carried the cockade of the republic, on those inland seas.
“Oswego is a large and thriving town; Toronto and Kingston, on the other side of the lake, compete with it; while Buffalo, Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Chicago, on the upper lakes, to say nothing of a hundred places of lesser note, are fast advancing to the level of commercial places of great local importance.”