The Burning of Washington : The Death of James Madison and the End of the Republic

My first idea for this site, which I actually came up with yesterday. In 1814, James Madison was forced to flee Washington, D.C. as the British burnt the city to the ground. We all know the famous story of his wife retaining the painting of Washington and what not, but seldom mentioned is Madison taking command of a unit to fight back the British outside of Washington.

OTL, he was forced to retreat in loss.

What if, however, Madison refused to retreat, and was killed in battle by British troops?

Vice President Elbridge Gerry would take the oath of office shortly after, but probably wouldn't serve long, as he died in OTL a few months later in 1814, leaving the office vacant. Who would take Gerry's place? President Pro Tempore John Gaillard of South Carolina?

Whoever does, I'm willing to bet they'll keep the war going or even escalate in response to the death of Madison, which would in turn lead to the Federalist secession of New England at the Hartford Convention. New England would most likely make a separate peace with the British while the United States is in shambles about keeping up the fight with Britain or reconquering New England...

I'm thinking that whoever is in office (provided the U.S. hasn't been delegated under military authority by this point) by the 1816 election will lose any hopes of a second term and a government favoring peace with Britain and New England will be elected.

But yeah, just some ideas.

I'd love some feedback on all of this. :)
 

Anaxagoras

Banned
Madison was nearby, but he didn't "take command" of anything, nor would he have been foolish enough to do so.
 
Madison was nearby, but he didn't "take command" of anything, nor would he have been foolish enough to do so.
Not quite. Madison was nominally in command of the forces at the Battle of Bladensburg. Though he didn't directly organize troop movements.
If he had tried to lead the inexperienced soldiers into battle, say as an attempt to raise morale by "leading by example", he could be killed in action. Or, alternatively, as he is fleeing Washington, a small unit of British troops, probably light dragoons, could intercept him and kill him.
 
Wouldn't that kind of be like against their 'honour' or some such though? Although I could see in the heat of battle maybe yeah they just shoot first and ask questions later; I'll admit my U.S History pre-1900 is sketchy but was the succession to the presidency as thought out and organized, just asking. good question and idea though :)
 
Some more thoughts on the matter.

Under the Presidential Succession Act of 1792, the Vice President would have assumed the duties of the Presidency, with the President Pro Tempore next in line for the job. Supposing Madison dies and Gerry is sworn in, what do you think his action would be?

At seventy years old, one wonders how Congress would view the elderly President, not to mention that in OTL, he would die just months later. Provided Gerry dies as he does OTL, the country would be an even bigger mess.

Gerry would probably keep the war going on, I believe, in part because of rampant pressing of doing so by Congressional War Hawks led by Henry Clay and John Calhoun. In not wanting to oppose the Congress, Gerry probably becomes something of a figurehead for Congressional radicals, seeking blood for the death of Madison. This, in turn, would cause New England's anger as in OTL, but it would be far less subdued as the war effort is stepped up under Gerry.

The issue of Gerry's death in November of 1814 would leave the war raging as the President Pro Tempore, John Gaillard of South Carolina, assumes the Presidency. By this time, the New England states are growing weary of the war, and in December, they hold the Hartford Convention to amass plans of secession, which in this timeline, come to fruition by early 1815.

New England signs a separate peace treaty with Britain as the United States is crippled by an economic downturn in the midst of the secession of New England. With loss after loss, President Gaillard commissions Secretary of State James Monroe to forge a peace treaty with Britain in hopes of ending the economic downturn and stabilizing the traumatized United States.

Thoughts on how the treaty should go about? Should it be just like the Treaty of Ghent OTL, or should the British gain territory or anything like that because of their overwhelming victory in the war?
 
a few problems:

1. New England was already very dissatisfied with the war effort and planned on the Hartford Convention no matter what else happened. By the same token, all of the states sent their Moderates, and this is again pretty much going to go the same as in OTL, unless the US suffers major military losses. On to...

2. By the time of the burning of Washington, the war at the Canadian frontier had basically ended, Sir George Prevost had retreated and refused to initiate any new offensives, and American ships controlled Lake Champlain and Lake Erie (Lake Ontario was a perennial battleground). In any event, it is very unlikely that the British could operate to any further advantage here. On to...

3. After Washington, no matter if the British succeed so much more than in OTL, they cannot stay there indefinitely. The only other target in the area is Baltimore, and no reason that should go differently than in OTL. The British need to get back to their ships for the New Orleans drive in the winter. On to...

4. Even the war hawks were not blind. By 1814 America was essentially bankrupt, except of course for some western states due to war spending. In any case, even Henry Clay admitted as much in OTL. onto...

5. Negotiations for a peace treaty were already going on by the time of Washington's burning, and their results are unlikely to change except in the face of massive changes in the war's direction. Recalling that it was signed on Christmas Day, before New Orleans, someone will have to make a new campaign in early autumn for any results to get to Ghent in time to affect anything. Certainly not the British (see 2 and 3, and they were already committed to New Orleans). However, if the War Hawks are foolish enough to undertake a new campaign, then (ignoring fiscal and political observations) militarily there is no way that it can weaken America's position, with the British fighting on the defensive. Objectively, however, it is highly unlikely for a massive American victory at this point.

So, Peace Treaty is signed as in OTL, and Hartford convention fizzles as in OTL. What you want is an earlier BP, like the death of General Proctor on the British side, or of Harrison, Macomb, or Scott on the American side.
 
Thank you, thank you. :)

I'll modify the timeline aptly. I'm thinking of removing Harrison from the mix.
 
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