Delawarean played a vital role in averting early national crisis

Jul 2, 2012

Written by
robin brown

The state just began its official celebration of the bicentennial of the War of 1812, a little-known war with high local stakes.

A new exhibit on Delaware’s role in the war against Great Britain is at the state archives in Dover. Archivist Stephen Marz noted more than 8,000 residents served as soldiers and sailors – more per capita than any other state.

A proclamation by Gov. Jack Markell and Lt. Gov. Matt Denn cite the bombardment of Lewes after residents defied British supply demands, the heroism of Jacob Jones commanding the USS Wasp in victory and Thomas Macdonough leading naval forces in the Battle of Lake Champlain.

Both state heroes are in the display, and Macdonough graces a limited-edition pin, free to its first 300 visitors.

The display and proclamation also honor James A. Bayard, a negotiator of the war’s Treaty of Ghent – and more. “He may have saved the nation,” Marz said.

Wilmington lawyer Richard H. Bayard said his great-great-great-grandfather was a patriot who loved his state and cited his little-known role in the 1800 presidential election, when Federalists and Republicans fought bitterly over how to run the country.

“Sound familiar?” Marz said.

Bayard was “the forgotten Delaware man who got Thomas Jefferson elected president,” said John Schropp, who teaches history at Concord High School. Bayard was the topic of his master’s degree thesis.

“In 1800, the nation was only 17 years old,” he said, and each party said the other would ruin it.

Each state got one vote – for the Republican Jefferson or Federalist Aaron Burr.

As votes tied, it got nasty and states readied militia, he said: “It was a crisis. The nation was going to be without a president … divided.”

“Bayard wouldn’t let that happen,” he said. “He put the good of the country over the good of his party.”

Well-educated, influential and charismatic, the Federalist with Republican friends worked behind the scenes and got Jefferson to assure he would keep the Federalist ideas of a national bank and better navy, and not fire good Federalists in office, Schropp said.

Bayard kept voting for Burr as he brokered the deal, getting other states’ Federalists ready to shift their votes because of the assurances, Schropp said.

After 35 ties, Bayard made his move in the 36th vote.

He cast Delaware’s vote blank. South Carolina’s Federalist did the same.

Maryland and Vermont changed to Jefferson. Final vote: Jefferson 10, Burr 4 – 2 blank.

“Bayard allowed Jefferson not only to win, but to win convincingly, to have a stable country back on track. He was a hero,” Schropp said. “We need people like that now.”

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