September 03, 2014

A divided nation

Spies played an important role during the War of 1812 by providing vital information to military and civilian authorities. One spy’s revelations helped to divide the Americans before and during the war.

John Henry was born and educated in Dublin before moving to Philadelphia in the mid-1790s. Henry was described as a tall, handsome, charming gentleman who cultivated Federalist patrons by selling them wine and editing one of their newspapers. Henry was rewarded for his service with a captain’s commission in the army, but he abruptly resigned in 1800 and moved to Montreal, professing his renewed loyalty to the British crown.

President James Madison
During the Chesapeake crisis in late 1807, Henry served as a British secret agent by provoking Federalist disaffection in New England. He predicted that, “By good management, a war will make half of America ours.” Henry went to New England in 1808 and reported that the Federalists were prepared to secede and join the British.

Once the Chesapeake crisis passed, Henry sought payment in London but only received vague promises. Henry decided to go to the president and secretary of state to sell his papers, predicting that the damning letters would discredit the Federalists “and produce a popular war.” Madison and Monroe decided to spend the nation’s entire secret service budget for the year, $50,000, to buy Henry’s papers.

Initially the Federalists were worried, but closer examination of Henry’s papers proved that he relied on gossip and his reports lacked hard evidence. Congress attempted to questions Henry, but Monroe reported that he had left the country with the administrations blessing. The Republicans used the papers as proof that the British and the Federalists were up to no good. One Republican remarked, “Such is the conduct we have ever expected from England, while she retains possession of Canada – such the cause that necessarily forces us into a state of war.”

In the end, John Henry’s reports helped to polarize U.S. politics and bitterly divided the nation, a fact that continued throughout the War of 1812.

On Saturday, September 6, two great events are happening in Niagara. During the day, Fort George will be hosting Polo Niagara with polo events happening throughout the day. At night, Old Fort Erie will be having their annual Murder Mystery where visitors will interrogate suspects to help solve a murder. Don’t miss these great events.

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