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Feb 6 1812: Volunteer Bill

On February 6, 1812, President James Madison signs the Volunteer Bill into law. The bill had passed the House of Representatives on January 17, 1812 by a vote of 87 to 23. The law authorized the President to accept up to fifty thousand volunteers from the states. The President could only call on the volunteers for three purposes: to execute the laws, to put down an insurrection and to repel an invasion.
As noted in my earlier post, the extent to which the President or Congress had authority to order this volunteer militia to fight on foreign soil was left unresolved. This was a glaring inconsistency because the main impetus behind the legislation had been to raise troops to carry out an invasion of Canada.The law was silent as to whether the President could use the volunteers for such an invasion. In fact, most Congressmen thought the President could not employ the volunteers outside the United States. An amendment to have each volunteer sign an agreement to serve outside the United the States had been defeated.*
The Volunteer Bill thus failed to accomplish the policy objectives that had led to its passage. It represented a failure of the American Congress to pass effective legislation that would have contributed to organizing for an armed attack on Canada. Of course, from a Canadian perspective, this was a good thing. As events were to unfold, it is a remarkable fact that Canada owes its existence to American military incompetence.    
*John Back McMaster in his A History of the People of the United States  (New York, Cosimo Inc., 2006),  at pages 438-439 


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