From Ohio History Central
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In 1797, Madison retired from the House of Representatives and returned to his home in Virginia. For the next two years, he engaged in agricultural pursuits, but he returned to politics in 1799 as a member of the Virginia legislature.
Thomas Jefferson became President in 1801. He appointed James Madison to be his Secretary of State. As Secretary of State, Madison dealt with the conflicts between
England and France. These two nations had been at war with each other nearly continuously since the 1680s. Jefferson and Madison, although they were Democratic-Republicans and favored the French, hoped to remain neutral. Both Great Britain and France kidnapped U.S. sailors and illegally seized cargoes of U.S. ships. At this point, the United States did not have a military force capable of preventing these countries' actions. Instead, Jefferson and Monroe tried to hurt Great Britain and France economically with the Embargo Act of 1807. Under this act, the United States cut off all trade with the rest of the world.
In 1808, Jefferson chose not to run for reelection as President. Madison, running for the Democratic-Republican Party, easily defeated Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, the Federalist candidate. The tensions between Great Britain and France dominated Madison's administration. Realizing that the Embargo Act severely hurt the United States' economy, Madison reestablished trade with all nations except
England and France in 1809. This action did not dramatically improve the plight of people in the U.S. because most sold their products to these two countries. In 1810, a law called Macon's bill Number 2 lifted the embargo on England and France but stated that if either nation recognized U.S. neutrality, the United States would cut off all trade with the other country.
In November 1810, the French attempted to convince the United States to cut off trade with Great Britain by promising to respect the neutrality of American ships. Although President Madison did not trust the French promise, Great Britain took further offense at both France and the United States.
In 1812, Madison asked for a declaration of war against
England. The main reasons for Madison's action included England's impressment (kidnapping) of U.S. sailors and Great Britain's seizure of U.S. goods. England's trade with Native Americans also concerned Madison. The British provided natives with guns in exchange for furs. The British hoped that a well-armed Native American population could prevent further territorial expansion of the United States. The natives used their British weapons to slow U.S. westward expansion. The natives, with their guns, made life especially dangerous for white settlers living on the frontier, including people in Ohio. On June 18, 1812, Madison signed a declaration of war, officially beginning the War of 1812.
Although the United States did not have a strong military during the War of 1812, U.S. forces fought quite well on many occasions. By December 1814, both Great Britain and the United States realized that neither side was close to victory. Rather than continuing the fight, they agreed to try and settle their differences at the peace table. In December 1814, both sides agreed to the Treaty of Ghent. Both nations kept the land they had owned prior to the War of 1812. The peace treaty reestablished the situation that had existed before the conflict. More importantly for Madison and the U.S. public was their belief that they had won a war against the mightiest military power on the face of the earth. The War of 1812 left many in the U.S. with feelings of patriotism and a belief that they had been selected for greatness.