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Fighting for Both Sides in the War
Charles Ball, as a free man, was lucky enough to have a choice. Besides the Navy and privateering, there were even a few black battalions in the American army. But for most American slaves, the options were limited to the British navy. When the British fleet arrived in the Chesapeake Bay in March 1813, entire families of slaves made their way by canoe to the enemy ships. The British commanders had orders to welcome these refugee slaves, but also to take care not to encourage an outright rebellion against their white masters. The British did not want insurrection among blacks to spread to their own slave-holding territories in the West Indies.
James Madison had an opportunity to end the War of 1812 almost as soon as it began. The British had repealed the Orders in Council – rules that curbed American trade with Europe – and thus one of Madison’s major reasons for war was now moot. If the British had foregone the right to impress American sailors, Madison could well have gone back to Congress with the suggestion that hostilities cease immediately. However, the British considered impressment their right by custom, and believed it essential to their naval might. And so James Madison took his country to war.