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Henry Clay, oil on canvas by Charles Bird King, 1821

Speaker of the House Henry Clay of Kentucky and other congressional War Hawks rallied under the slogan “Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights” to push for war against Great Britain.


Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund, 81.9, 36 1/8 x 28 1/8 inches

Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Henry Clay

War of 1812: Congress Declares War

The 1783 treaty that ended the American Revolution did not resolve all conflicts between the United States and Great Britain. Tensions escalated over Great Britain’s impressment of American sailors, interference with trade, occupation of U.S. territory, and relations with American Indians. In June 1812 Speaker of the House Henry Clay persuaded Congress to use its constitutional power to declare war for the first time. President James Madison signed the declaration into law, and the United States and Great Britain were at war for the second time.