“On August 24, 1814, a British army of 4,000 soldiers, led
by Admiral Cockburn, entered Washington, D.C., and proceeded
to plunder and destroy by fire everything that represented the
national honor and public affections of the people of the United
States. Marching straight to the Hall of Representatives, Admiral
Cockburn, in a strain of coarse levity, mounting the Speaker’s
chair, put the question, ‘Shall this harbor of Yankee democracy
be burned? All for it say aye,’ to which loud cries of assent
being vociferated by the British troops, he reversed the question,
pronounced it carried unanimously, and the mock resolution
was executed by rockets and other combustibles applied to
the chairs and furniture heaped up in the center, and fired wherever
there was a fit place. The library and its invaluable contents,
in an upper room of the Senate wing everything that
would take fire, soon disappeared in sheets of flame, illuminating
and consternating the environs for thirty miles round,
whence the conflagration was visible. The fugitive and morti-
fied American soldiery, the humbled, scattered and concealed
cabinet; the affrighted and hiding few remaining in the city,
looked on the conflagration of the Capitol, and some houses
near it, as the beginning of the destruction of all the rest.
“The admiral was merry in his grotesque rambles about
Washington, laughing at the terrified women imploring him
not to destroy their homes. Arriving at the offices of the National
Intelligencer, the semiofficial newspaper of the country,
Cockburn, as at every other incendiary act, presided with
characteristic brutality; not aware that the types were then set
for a proclamation, intended to be issued by General Winder,
denouncing British barbarities and rousing the people in mass
to rally to his standard. ‘Be sure,’ said Cockburn, superintending
the destruction of the types with Mongolian vengeance,
‘that all the C’s are destroyed, so that the rascals can have no
further means of abusing my name as they have done.’ ”
Thus historian Charles J. Ingersoll in The War of 1812 describes the British sack of Washington. It was a precarious time. The very existence of the United States was at stake, and the enemy was not just in London. Following the burning of Washington, the British, flush with success, were at the point of launching a series of military attacks designed to destroy the key American defenses. Mercy was not to be expected; the British had already committed the most horrendous acts: the enslavement of thousands of Americans on British ships, the hiring of American Indians to kill the populations of the Northwest, wanton murder and rape of the population of the seaboard.
The greatest threat against this country, however, was civil war. The most “respectable” citizens of Boston had brought almost to fruition an 18-year project to effect a separation of the Union. Their machinations had brought the most deadly power plays of parties and factions within parties to the point that the county was barely governable. The Federalist Party, which had fallen under the control of George Cabot, Timothy Pickering, John Lowell, Josiah Quincy, Thomas Handasyd
Perkins, Harrison Gray Otis, and other arch-traitors of the “Essex Junto,” after the murder of Alexander Hamilton, was opposing in Congress and the Senate every measure to repel the enemy and ensure the salvation of the country. These leading Boston citizens, allied with other British agents and American patricians, were dedicated to overthrowing the U.S. government in whichever way possible.
At the beginning of the war, this traitorous grouping had founded the “Peace Party,” whose philosophy was that the United States must agree to peace, no matter what humiliation it was subjected to in order to obtain it. The warmongers-turned-peaceniks such as George Cabot,
publicly called for the people of the United States to prevent the nation from fighting the war. The group thus looked forward to losses on the American side. If the U.S. military was defeated by the British, and the U.S. Navy sunk, then the “warhawks” in the government would be forced to sign a peace with the “magnanimous British.” It is no surprise then, that when the news of the burning of Washington reached Boston, the leading “Patricians” of the city took to the streets and celebrated!
But, the treason of this primarily Boston grouping, whose scions are today what is called the “Eastern Establishment,” did not stop there.
• They carried out an active trade with the British during
the war, through smuggling and other means, and were the
main suppliers to the British armies in Canada—the same
supplies that the U.S. armies could not obtain.
• They sabotaged the efforts of the government to raise
war funds; this at the same time that Boston newspapers were
advertising British war bonds for sale.
• In the winter of 1813-14, they sought to implement a
scheme to use their financial advantage—an advantage obtained
as a result of illegal trade with the enemy—to drive
most U.S. banks south of Boston into bankruptcy. Their purpose:
to stop the wheels of government. What happened to the
money taken out of the country by Boston’s massive capital
flight operation? It was loaned to the British government.
Mathew Carey’s The Olive Branch rallied the
nation to prevent a British takeover of the young
American Republic, by uniting the patriots from
both the Federalist and Democratic parties.
• The same grouping announced
in 1815 that representatives of each
New England state would attend the
Hartford Convention in December to
decide whether or not to secede from
The Significance of a Book
What saved the United States from this almost unfathomable treason?
Ill-informed on American history as most of us are—consistently lied to on the
subject in textbooks and news media— the average citizen must be astonished
at the assertion that this country owes its existence today to a single book, written in 1814, by a today unheard-
of author under an unheard-of title. Yet, granting the importance of other men, and other actions at other
times, the assertion is true. The book is The Olive Branch, first issued a few months after the sack of Washington. The author is Mathew C. Carey, who was one of America’s great economists. The book’s impact was extraordinary. Sold out soon after being published, a second edition of Carey’s book was issued. By 1818, it had gone through ten editions, and it was the bestselling book, other than the Bible, for decades in the 19th Century.
The reaction from the American public was immediate. Federalists and Democrats used it to work together to save the country from ruin.
In passionate prose, Carey exposed not only the intent of the invaders, but their American collaborators. He named names: the Lowells, the Cabots, the Pickerings, the Peabodys, et al.—he made clear that they were outright traitors. Addressing himself to well-meaning but duped men, he decried their factious condition, which found them blocking one or several acts urgent for the nation’s survival, on no other ground than that the other party happened to be in favor of it. Carey offered such otherwise good men of all parties an “olive branch,”1 uniting them in the nation’s defense—and just in time.
“Go Olive Branch, into a community, which, drugged into
a death-like stupor, with unparalleled apathy beholds the pillars
of the Government tearing away,” Carey said in his dedication.
“The Nation nearly prostrate at the feet of a ruthless
foe; anarchy rapidly approaching; a number of ambitious leaders,
regardless of the common danger, struggling to seize upon
the government and apparently determined the country shall
go to perdition, unless they can possess themselves of power;
and with this view, opposing and defeating every measure, calculated
to insure salvation.
“Appeal to the Patriotism, the Honour, the Feeling, the Self-
Interest of your readers, to Save a Noble nation from ruin.”
The Niles Weekly Register, the best periodical of the day,
wrote in late 1814: “There is, perhaps, no book extant that in
so small a compass, contains so great a quantity of momentous
political truth. Like the two-edged sword, said to have been
wielded by the angel of light against ‘Satan and his legions,’ it
dispels and puts to flight the army of error and of falsehood
that jacobinism had collected to war against the constitution:
and I trust that it, with the contemporaneous labors of others
devoted to the same object, may bind the deceiver in ‘chains
of adamant,’ and consign him forever to the ‘bottomless pit,’
where there is ‘weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.’. . .
I cannot decline to recommend it to the earnest perusal of all
my countrymen, desirous to know the truth and fearing it
not—and especially to those of the eastern estates. It may well
serve as a handbook for the honest politician. . . . We propose
to enrich our numbers by liberal extracts from the ‘Olive
Branch’ ” (emphasis in original).
1. The origin of the term “olive branch” to mean a peace offering comes from
the Old Testament story (Genesis 8:11), in which a dove is released by Noah
after the Great Flood in order to find land. The dove returns carrying an olive
branch in its beak, which indicated to Noah that the Flood had receded, and
that Man could once again settle on land. “And the dove came in to him in the
evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf plucked off: so Noah knew
that the waters were abated from off the earth.”
The Olive Branch accomplished two things:
First, it politically crushed the “Boston Brahmins.” From
brazenly advertising their organization of an independent
army in Massachusetts, and a “Hartford Convention” to secede
from the Union pending reunification with Britain, these
treasonous families were driven underground to continue
their plotting out of the public eye. It would be five long decades
before they succeeded in provoking the Civil War they
had plotted in the period leading into 1812. Then, they were
defeated by Lincoln, and the United States emerged as a great
industrial power on the basis of the program devised by Lincoln’s
chief economic advisor Henry Carey—son of the author
of The Olive Branch.
Second, The Olive Branch consolidated the principle of
the “harmony of interests,” the focus of Mathew Carey’s
“American System” economic theory, which was itself based
on the economics of first Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton,
and made this the efficient, positive force in America’s
development. An active political alliance of farmers, laborers,
industrialists, and merchants, with their representatives in
government, discovered, as Carey preached, that they could
“raise profits and wages at the same time,” through technology.
That alignment built and then defended the Union into the
period 1861-65 and afterward.
The year 1814, of course, did not see the country’s enemies
and traitors destroyed, only defeated. Their manipulation
of faction and party to the detriment of a national interest
“As an admonition to posterity,” Carey issued new
editions of The Olive Branch long after the crisis which
prompted it had passed. He even wrote new “olive branches”
in the 1830s, to stamp out new fires of sedition then sweeping
down out of New England.
“I hope the Olive Branch will . . . serve as a beacon to
other times than ours. When a navigator discovers new
shoals, and rocks, and quicksands, he marks them on his
chart, to admonish future navigators to be on their guard and
to shun the destruction to which ignorance might lead. . . . I
have endeavored to delineate a chart for the most formidable
of the rocks on which our vessel was striking, to serve as a
guide to future state pilots. . . . It established an important, but
most awful political maxim, that during the prevalence of the
destructive and devouring and execrable spirit of faction,
men, otherwise good and respectable, will, too frequently,
sacrifice, without scruple or remorse, the most vital interests
of their country, under the dictates, and to promote the view,
of violent and ambitious leaders! What a terrific subject for
Once again American citizen, it is time to read The Olive Branch.
At times of national crisis in America, large extracts of The Olive Branch have been carried in the best of the nation’s newspapers. New Solidarity here revives that tradition, in the hope that now, as in the past, it will help to bring Americans to their sense five minutes before midnight.
Excerpts from Mathew Carey’s
The Olive Branch, 3rd Edition, printed in February
1815, is contained in a PDF file that contains the above article.