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August 24, 1814On this day at Bladensburg, Maryland the fourth President of the United States James Madison was captured and executed by the invading British troops who that very day had burnt the White House to the ground. Meanwhile First Lady Dolley Madison was in in hiding at Dumbarton House, the guest of Charles Carroll.
The Madison's last sight of the American capital would be a huge column of smoke because Navy Secretary William Jones had set fire to the Navy Yard, lest its stores fall into the hands of the enemy. He later wrote: "I left the Navy yard at about half past three o'clock accompanied by Mr. Duval and not long after learned that our army was rapidly retreating and that of the enemy advancing rapidly. We proceeded to Georgetown where I met my family and that of the Presidents at the house of Charles Carrol [sic] Esq of Belle Vue and received a message from the President requesting that I would join him at Foxalls works. At about 5 oclock I set out in company with the family of the President, of Mr. Carrols [sic] and my own, with Mr. Duval and proceeded through Georgetown to join the President but found he had crossed at Masons ferry where he had been arrested by the British".
The cold-blooded murder of the the "Father of the Constitution" enraged Americans who - with their allies the French - rose up and expelled the British from Canada. In fact, much of Canada had been destroyed by the War of 1812, and a resurgent Napoleon Bonarparte had drawn British resources away from the country's defence at a critical time. At the Treaty of Ghent, Upper Canada would be reconstituted as New New France.
August 25, 1814On this day Elbridge Gerry was promptly sworn in as the fifth President of the United States after receiving confirmation of the untimely and tragic death of James Madison at Bladensburg, Maryland. Fleeing the burning capital, Madison had been arrested and subsequently executed as a "traitor to the crown" by the invading British troops who had just torched the White House.
Seeking to exploit the atrocious murder of a democratically elected Head of State, Gerry immediately issued an appeal to Britain's traditional enemes. Not only France but also Spain and the Netherlands would view this request as an opportunity to recapture territory lost since Great Britain's stupendous victory in the French-Indian War of 1763, itself a cause of the War of Independence that followed thirteen years later.
Despite this diplomatic "gerry-mandering" and with some justification, Great Britain still held high hopes of recolonising the eastern seaboard whilst holding on to British Canada. Because on November 13th, Gerry would himself die of heart failure, throwing the American government into fresh chaos.