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Warring for AmericaCultural Contests in the Era of 1812$
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Nicole Eustace and Fredrika J. Teute

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781469631516

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469631516.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA PRESS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.northcarolina.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of North Carolina Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in NCSO for personal use.date: 23 September 2021

The Self-Abstracting Letters of War

The Self-Abstracting Letters of War

Madison, Henry, and the Executive Author

(p.313) The Self-Abstracting Letters of War
Warring for America

Eric Wertheimer

University of North Carolina Press

John Henry, the British spy, seemed to understand what it took to move the powerful to action, using secret letters to his handlers in British colonial administration as an incitement to Constitutionally declared war. My discussion here relies on that metanarrative of “abstraction” to produce a conversation between its historical actors. Though Henry wrote his letters on Federalist activities to Sir James Craig, Governor-General of the Canadas, he saved copies for his own use. Ultimately, he found the means to sell them to James Madison in February of 1812, at a moment when the president was equally keen to know of the activities of his political opponents. Madison published the letters almost as soon as he received them. In some sense then, the Henry letters, though addressed to Craig, were written for Madison. And Madison’s own subsequent rhetorical and legal moves towards war came in “conversation” with Henry. Henry abstracts authority and the public so as not to risk the ruin of the fictive and novelistic, but to harness it and its mediational effects. It redefines the relationship between the people and the Constitution, from the irrationally voiced nation, which diffuses authority, to a proper realignment with Presidential power. The move is a containment of the role of individual self-hood in the process of naming national interests and declaring war. In the process, that republican devotion to bottom-up persuasive transparency, idealized in the contemporaneous media of letters, print, and opinion, is critically diminished. He invites us to consider how late eighteenth century networks of information—letters, secret communiqués, war messages to Congress--abstract the self (its “absurd” opinions, its “inconsistent” rationales) to the benefit of a new (masculinized) executive. The executive model of authority will replace the irregular multitude of republican political culture.

Keywords:   metanarrative, letters, material enactment of war, rhetoric of victimhood, John Henry, James Madison

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