How I Brought the Good News from Aix to Ghent

Macdonough's victory on Lake Champlain and defeat of the British Army at Plattsburg by Genl. Macomb, Sept. 17th 1814


The following anecdote of Mr. Clay, at Ghent, is worth repeating.

Being on a tour through the Netherlands preparatory to the negotiation, Hon. Henry Goulbourn, one of the British commissioners, procured and sent him a file of London papers, containing accounts of the burning of Washington by the British troops, with a courtsey epistle, stating that he presumed Mr. Clay would be happy to receive the latest news from America. Mr. Clay returned his thanks for the civility, and in further acknowledgement, enclosed to Mr. Goulbourn a later file of Paris papers containing accounts of the defeat of Sir George Prevest at Plattsburg, and the utter destruction of the British flotilla in the fight at that place.


As to whether it’s “worth repeating” opinions may vary.

This anecdote makes clear that, despite whatever impression the Whigs had attempted to give that Mr. Clay had stood beside Harrison in the War of 1812, that he stood beside him at a distance of over three thousand miles.

The British troops had indeed taken Washington in August 1814 and burned the White House (and other government buildings, including the Library of Congress) in revenge for earlier burning of Canadian government buildings by US troops.   General Ross, the British commander, realized that while he could take Washington he couldn’t hold it, and so withdrew three days later. (In the course of the fight for Washington, President James Madison took command of an artillery battery at the Battle of Bladensburg, Maryland, and so became the only US Commander in Chief to hold a combat command while president.)

The Battle of Plattsburgh in September 1814 was, in fact, a major US military victory, one that put the US in a good bargaining position to end the war on favorable terms.  (Favorable terms were, pretty much, everyone back to their starting places; pretend this never happened.) The treaty of Ghent was signed in December, 1814, but the word of the treaty didn’t reach the US until after Andrew Jackson had won the Battle of New Orleans in January, 1815.

“Mr. Goulbourn” was Undersecretary for War and the Colonies Henry Goulburn, one of the negotiators at Ghent.  (He later had a town in Ontario named after him.)

Tomorrow: Wake Up Whigs

2 thoughts on “How I Brought the Good News from Aix to Ghent

    RJ Yeatman & W C Sellar

    I sprang to the rollocks and Jorrocks and me
    And I galloped, you galloped, we galloped all three…
    Not a word to each other; we kept changing place,
    Neck to neck, back to front, ear to ear, face to face;
    And we yelled once or twice, when we heard a clock chime,
    ‘Would you kindly oblige us, Is that the right time?’
    As I galloped, you galloped, we galloped, ye galloped, they too have galloped; let us trot.

    I unsaddled the saddled, unbuckled the bit,
    Unshackled the bridle (the thing didn’t fit)
    And ungalloped, ungalloped, ungalloped, ungalloped a bit.
    Then I cast off my bluff-coat, let my bowler hat fall,
    Took off both my boots and my trousers and all –
    Drank off my stirrup-cup, felt a bit tight,
    And unbridled the saddle, it still wasn’t right.

    Then all I remember is, things reeling round
    As I sat with my head ‘twixt my knees on the ground –
    For imagine my shame when asked what I meant
    And I had to confess that I’d been, gone and went
    And forgotten the news I was bringing to Ghent,
    Though I’d galloped and galloped and galloped and galloped and galloped
    And galloped and galloped and galloped. (Had I not would I have been galloped?)

    So, I sprang to a taxi and shouted ‘To Aix!’
    And he blew on his horn and he threw off his brakes,
    And all the way back till my money was spent
    We rattled and rattled and rattled and rattled and rattled
    And rattled and rattled –
    And eventually sent a telegram.

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