Daniel D. Tompkins, Speech to the New York legislature, 27 September 1814
Sept. 27, 1814.
GENTLEMEN OF THE SENATE,
AND OF THE ASSEMBLY,
THE extreme pressure of public business, and the peculiar emergencies of the war in which we are engaged, induced me to call this session of the Legislature. At the close of the last session, a confident expectation prevailed, that existing hostilities would soon be terminated by a fair and honorable peace. Great-Britain, it is true, had declined the proffered mediation of the Emperor of Russia; yet, as far as professions could be relied on, she was still disposed to restore amicable relations between the two countries upon satisfactory and mutual terms. Subsequent events, however, have shewn that such hopes were fallacious. Whether originally insincere in his professions, or flushed by the recent events in Europe, and the vast disposable forces they have left at his command, the enemy has certainly assumed a tone of arrogance and a spirit of increased hostility incompatible with feelings of reconciliation. The most palpable delays and evasions have been practised to defer a meeting of negociators, while in the mean time large armaments have been dispatched to our coast, and powerful armies collected on our frontiers, in the presumptuous hope of overwhelming us in a single campaign. A predatory and wanton warfare, destitute of all generous principle, and disgraced by pillage and conflagration, has been carried on in our bays and rivers; and the enemy has openly avowed his intention of laying waste our cities, and of making a common ruin of public and private property.
But beside the general causes of alarm, our apprehensions have been more immediately awakened for our own security, and we have been called upon to exert all our forces to protect our own homes from desolation. From information received, and corroborated by the movements of the enemy, there were sufficient grounds of belief, that one great object of his campaign was to penetrate with his northern army by the waters of Lake Champlain and the Hudson, and by a simultaneous attack with his maritime force on New-York, to form a junction which should sever the communication of the states. To defeat this arrogant design, to save the state from inroad, and our cities from destruction, it was necessary immediately to exercise fuller powers and more ample resources than had been placed in my hands by the Legislature. The exigency of the time, while it subjected the executive to great responsibility, admitted of no delay. I proceeded therefore to make such dispositions as were deemed indispensable to secure the exposed points against menaced invasion. To effect these objects, I found it necessary to transcend the authority and means vested in me by law; but I feel perfectly satisfied, that the Legislature will approve and sanction what I have done. In the mean time, I have requested this session for the purpose of devising further measures of security and defence, and of clothing some public officer with the requisite powers to carry them into effect. A particular detail of the steps which have been taken, and of those which appear to me essential for the future safety of our frontiers, will form the subject of a special communication.
When we reflect that the present campaign was one in which the enemy had threatened to visit us with his wrath, and to make us feel his power, we cannot but exult that thus far we have sustained the shock with firmness, and have even gathered laurels from the strife. He has, it is true, been able to maraud our sea board, and harrass and ruin individuals. He has even penetrated to our Capital, feebly opposed by a hasty levy of undisciplined militia, and has wantonly demolished edifices and monuments of art, hitherto held sacred in all but barbarous warfare. But whenever we have met with him in fair and open contest, the result has been signally honorable to our arms. A series of brilliant actions, which shed lustre upon the Niagara army, has entitled its distinguished generals, Brown, Scott, Porter, Gaines and Ripley, and their brave associates, to the lasting gratitude of their country.
The gallant deeds of Porter, Warrington and Blakesley, have well sustained the splendid character of our navy. At the invasion of Baltimore the foe was promptly met, was harrassed in his approach, and fled back with heavy loss to his ships. But the late glorious triumph at Plattsburgh, for grandeur of circumstance and importance of effect, renders all encomium feeble and inadequate. This was the blow by which the enemy hoped to lay open our Northorn frontier. He advanced with confidence in the superiority of his land and naval forces, and counted on a certain victory. After a severe and bloody contest, his whole fleet was conquered and captured in the sight of his astonished army. His land troops were likewise discomfited and driven to a precipitate and ignominious retreat, before a handful of regulars under Brigadier-General Macomb, and an inconsiderable body of the militia and volunteers of New-York and Vermont, under Generals Mooers and Strong. The conduct of our troops on that occasion, both in repulsing the powerful assaults of the enemy, and in pursuing and harrassing him in his retreat, reflects the highest honor on the commanding officers and their companions in arms.
The achievement of Commodore Macdonough and his intrepid comrades is not surpassed in the records of naval history. It sheds glory on the nation at large; but its immediate benefits are more peculiarly felt by the states of New-York and Vermont. Permit me to recommend a prompt and public expression, by the constituted authorities of this state, of their high sense of the illustrious services of these brave men, who have so eminently contributed to the safety and glory of the nation; and the presentation of some testimonial of gratitude, worthy of the dignity of the state, and the acceptance of gallant and high-minded heroes.
I have heretofore submitted to the consideration of the Legislature, the propriety of relieving the poorer classes of community from bearing that unreasonable proportion of the burthen of militia duty, to which they are subjected by the existing laws. I must be permitted to renew my solicitations upon that subject. The experience of this campaign has furnished abundant evidence of the unequal operation of the present system, and has shewn the indispensable necessity of substituting property as the criterion of contribution to the public defence. We may then establish a more disposable, better disciplined, and more economical and efficient force, than can possibly be organized from militia at large, hastily assembled, at a moment of hurry and alarm. The population and resources of this state enable us to place at the disposal of the nation, for the continuance of the war, ten thousand uniformed troops, and to reserve for local defence, ten thousand minute men, uniformed, equipped and disciplined, to take the field at a moment's warning, as a substitute for ordinary militia. It is however due to the militia of this state, to acknowledge, that they have repaired to their country's standard, whenever summoned, with promptness and alacrity; that they have cheerfully endured the hardships and privations of the camp, and that they have generally conducted themselves in action with the coolness and bravery of veteran troops.
It is with heartfelt satisfaction that I witness the unanimity and patriotic spirit that actuates all classes of the community, The acrimony of party has disappeared in the combined exertion for the maintenance of national honor and common safety, The present time will form a proud era in the history of this state. It will develope the vastness of her resources, the strength of her population, the intelligence and liberality of her Legislative bodies, and the valor and patriotism of her citizens. She has it in her power to assume an attitude worthy of her intrinsic character, to set an example of open handed munificence that will challenge emulation, to impart vigor and effect to the national arm, and thus to secure and pepetuate the independence of the United States.
Daniel D Tompkins.