History of the Founding of the Society of the War of 1812 in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

The Society of the War of 1812 exists to cultivate and maintain sentiment and a love of country; to preserve all records relating to a war (rightly designated as our Second War for Independence) waged by an infant government to celebrate the glorious victories achieved by our ancestors in such an apparently unequal conflict; to honor the memories and perpetuate the spirit of those who completed the work of the American Revolution, and to hand down to posterity a feeling of reverence for their heroic forefathers, who risked their lives and hazarded their fortunes for their country’s sake.

Although some date the beginnings of the Society of the War of 1812 to the bombardment of Ft. McHenry in 1814, the Pennsylvania Society has two births during its existence: the creation of the original Soldiers and Defenders Society in 1857 by the veterans and its reincarnation as the Pennsylvania Society of the War of 1812 in 1891 by the descendants of eligible veterans.

As the Society exists to commemorate the conflict of the War of 1812, it originally came into existence during a different fight: the battle to obtain land grants and pensions for the veterans of that war.  Shortly after the conclusion of the War with Mexico, Congress passed legislation allowing veterans of that struggle and their widows not only to receive bounty lands but the opportunity to sell their warrants, in the same manner as Congress had honored veterans of the original War of Independence.  Judge Joel B. Sutherland, of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia, and former 5-term member of the House of Representatives, expressed his desire to see veterans and widows of the War of 1812 receive the same benefits as Revolutionary War and Mexican War veterans, including the right to sell bounty land warrants and receive pensions for their service.

Sutherland’s open letter of 17 December 1850, which was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on 19 December 1850, struck a responsive chord throughout the United States and empowered the veterans of the War of 1812 to begin meeting and advocating for changes.   On 11 December 1852, a large meeting of the War of 1812 veterans occurred at the County Court House, chaired by Judge Sutherland.  Numerous resolutions were passed pertaining to the inequities of the current bounty and pension laws relating the veterans of the army and navy of the War of 1812.

Conventions of veterans then occurred periodically, including several in July 1853 in New York and Philadelphia.   The attendees of the meeting in Philadelphia on 15 July 1853 called for a national convention of veterans to meet in Philadelphia on 8 January 1854, the 39th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans.

According to a local account, “the great gathering of the Soldiers of 1812, and the resolutions adopted on the occasion, are everywhere noticed in terms of approval . . . The Convention was in truth, one of a truly remarkable character, and the movement cannot but excite an enthusiastic feeling among the old soldiers, and their children throughout the length and breadth of the Union.  Kindred Association, as we understand, are about to be formed in each State, and it is probable that another National Convention will be held at some future period.”   Judge Sutherland again took the chair at the 1854 National Convention.  Numerous resolutions were passed: many requesting changes to the bounty and pension laws.   There was a call for annual conventions to be held on or about the 4th of July.

Among the other resolutions passed at the National Convention was the resolution “that with a view of doing full justice to the vast interests we represent and of understanding the condition of our friends in every portion of the Union, it is respectfully recommended to the Soldiers of the War of 1812 to form a Society in each of the States of the Republic.”

According to the surviving records of the Pennsylvania society, “the soldiers of the War of 1812, residing in Pennsylvania, held meetings from time to time when it was resolved that a permanent organization should be formed and a Committee was appointed to draft a Constitution and Code of By-laws, for the Government of the Association.”   Such a meeting took place in July 1854 at Independence Hall with similar resolutions passed for the benefit of the veterans and their families.

National Conventions of the Soldiers of the War of 1812 were held until at least 1861, each convention still attempting to solicit Congress to pass legislation for appropriate pensions.  Most of these conventions were held in Washington, D.C.

At a meeting of 22 February 1857, a committee was appointed by the Pennsylvania society to draft the Constitution and By-Laws.  The committee reported back at the meeting of 4 July 1857 and their work was adopted creating a permanent association known as the Soldiers and Defenders of the War of 1812.   As had been done at every meeting of the veterans, Judge Joel Sutherland was elected President of the Society under the terms of the new constitution.

The preface to the Constitution reads:

Believing that every association that tends to incourage a love of country or to inspire youth with sentiments of attachment to its institutions is promotive of the cause of human liberty, believing that the sufferings and privations and dangers endured by the Soldiers of the War of 1812, have given, and will continue to give birth to sentiments of fraternal regard, honorable to the parties engaged therein, and believing also that it is our duty to inspire, cherish and perpetuate those sentiments: We the subscribers, surviving soldiers of the war of 1812 of the City of Philadelphia, do hereby agree to form ourselves into an association, and to adopt the following constitution, for our rule and government, and do solemnly pledge ourselves to use our best exertions to carry the same into full and perfect effect.

Annual meetings of the survivors continued until 1886.  In 1885, four of the ten  surviving  members attended the 4th of July celebrations.  In 1887, two members attended the Washington’s Birthday celebrations but held no actual meeting.   According to the obituary of John Stallman in 1890, last President of the Veteran’s Society, “he was the last surviving member of Capt. John Huston’s company and president of the Association of the War of 1812 until it was dissolved by the death of nearly all the members.”

Although the membership was quickly passing on, the spirit which motivated these soldiers to form such an association moved into succeeding generations.  On 8 January 1891, a meeting was held of the survivors and their descendants.  John Cadwalader was elected the new President.  On 19 June 1891, a reconstituted Society of the War of 1812 met at Congress Hall.  According to the newspapers, “it is composed of veterans of the last war with Britain, their sons and grandsons and numbers 300 members, including five veterans of the war, who live in this city.”   The membership rolls do not indicate that 300 men were members in 1891: it took until 1895 to reach that number.

One of the sparks leading to a renewed interest in maintaining a society commemorating the War of 1812 occurred in September 1890 when Congress passed a joint resolution relating to insignias of military societies to be worn by members of the Army and Navy.  This resolution stated:

That the distinctive badges adopted by Military Societies of men who served in the Armies and Navies of the United States in the War of the Revolution, the War of Eighteen Hundred and Twelve, the Mexican War, and the War of the Rebellion, respectively, may be worn upon all occasions of ceremony by officers and enlisted men of the Army of the Navy of the United States who are members of said organizations in their own right.

The Secretary of War issued a decision in April 1891 allowing “Officers of the Army who are members by inheritance of any of the Societies” to wear such insignia.[1]

On 25 October 1892, the Court of Common Pleas, No. 2, for the City and County of Philadelphia granted a charter to the Society of the War of 1812.  There were 13 subscribers and 19 signatories to this charter.  Of the 13, 9 lived in Pennsylvania, 1 in Washington, D.C. and 3 in New York.  One of the subscribers, a resident of Brooklyn, Abram (or Abraham) Dally, was an actual veteran of the War and was in his late 90s at the time of incorporation.  (He died on 19 February 1893 and is buried in Cypress Hill National Cemetery in Brooklyn.)   Four of the signatories were members of the older Soldiers and Defenders of the War of 1812: Peter Stuart Hay, Andrew Jackson Reilly, Brigadier General Marshall Independence Day Ludington and Thomas Chase.  All were sons of 1812 veterans.   Another signatory is Brigadier General Charles Sutherland, son of Judge Sutherland.  For unknown reasons, he did not officially join until 1892.

The new Society of the War of 1812 organized by John Cadwalader was intended as a national organization and quickly attracted members from various corners of the United States.  Most notably, no less than 43 of the 94 members elected in 1891 were members of the military.  Two of these men were holders of the Congressional Medal of Honor:  Lieutenant Oscar Fitzalan Long and Brevet Lt. Colonel Edmund Rice.  Rice earned his medal at the Battle of Gettysburg; Long at the Battle of Bear Paw Mountain, Montana, against the Native Americans.    A third member of the 1891 class, Adolphus Washington Greely, was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1935 for his service following his retirement.  Enlisting as a private at the beginning of the War Between the States, he rose to the rank of Major General in 1906.  He was also one of the founders of the Society of the War of 1812 in the District of Columbia.

The Pennsylvania Society also acted as a seedbed for new state societies.  In 1894, 17 members of the Pennsylvania Society were among the original members of the Connecticut Society, and 12 other members help form the Massachusetts Society.  Together with the reconstituted Maryland Society, the four societies combined to organize the official General Society in 1894.   The Pennsylvania Society also assisted in the creation of the Ohio and Illinois Societies in 1895 and the New Jersey Society in 1898.   Eleven men from Ohio and Illinois each joined the Pennsylvania Society in preparation of forming their own societies.  The first five members of the New Jersey Society were members of the Pennsylvania Society.  One of these, Appleton Morgan, was one of the signatories of the Pennsylvania Society charter and received member # 1 of the New Jersey Society.  Later, four of the first five members of the original Delaware Society (organized 1902) were members of Pennsylvania.

The Society continues to honor and respect our ancestors who participated in the War of 1812 as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the repulse of the British at Baltimore and the creation of the song which eventually became the National Anthem.

[1] After the passage of the Army’s General Orders No. 133, issued in compliance with this resolution on 18 November 1890, William O. McDowell, who refused to abide by the rules of the Sons of the Revolution and created the rival Sons of the American Revolution, wrote to numerous editors around the country in December 1890 to drum up support for an 1812 society which he intended to organize.  Cadwalader’s actions to create a society were already in motion when McDowell’s letters started to appear in print.  McDowell joined the Society of the War of 1812 in 1891 but played no role in its organization or administration.