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War Hawk

From Academic Kids

War Hawk is a term originally used to describe a member of the House of Representatives of the Twelfth Congress of the United States who advocated going to war against Great Britain in the War of 1812. The term has since evolved into an informal Americanism used to describe a political stance of preparedness for aggression, by diplomatic and ultimately military means, against others to improve the standing of their own government, country, or organization. The term is an allusion to the hawk (a bird of prey), and is usually contrasted with the term dovish, alluding to the more peaceful dove.

War Hawks of 1812

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Henry Clay, thirty-four year-old Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, was regarded as the leader of the War Hawks.

The War Hawks in the Twelfth Congress were mostly young Republicans (later called Democratic-Republicans) who had been imbued with the ideals of the American Revolution as youths, and were primarily from southern and western states. (The American West then consisted of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio, as well as territories in the Old Northwest, which did not yet have votes in Congress.) The War Hawks advocated going to war against Great Britain for a variety of reasons, mostly related to the interference of the Royal Navy in American shipping, which the War Hawks believed hurt the American economy and injured American prestige. War Hawks from the western states also believed that the British were instigating American Indians on the frontier to attack American settlements, and so the War Hawks called for an invasion of British Canada to punish Great Britain and end this threat.1

The term "War Hawk" was coined by the prominent Virginia Congressman John Randolph of Roanoke, a staunch opponent of entry into the war. There was therefore never any "official" roster of War Hawks; as historian Donald Hickey notes, "Scholars differ over who (if anyone) ought to be classified as a War Hawk." A few historians consider the reality of the War Hawks to be a myth—a product of the political rhetoric of the era.2

However, most historians use the term to describe about a dozen members of the Twelfth Congress. The leader of this group was Speaker of the House Henry Clay of Kentucky; John C. Calhoun of South Carolina was another notable War Hawk. Both of these men would become giants on the American political landscape for decades. Other men traditionally identified as War Hawks included Peter B. Porter of New York, Langdon Cheves and William Lowndes of South Carolina, Felix Grundy of Tennessee, and Richard M. Johnson of Kentucky.

Modern usage

The term War Hawk (or warhawk or hawk) has often been used since the War of 1812 to describe politicians with "hawkish" positions on warfare. It is sometimes extended to describe a tough stance on other issues, such as "deficit hawk" for someone who puts a high priority on reducing the United States federal budget deficit. A pejorative variation is "Chickenhawk", used to belittle someone who advocates war but has not served in the military.

Notes and references

  • Note 1: Reginald Horsman, The Causes of the War of 1812 (New York: A.S. Barnes, 1962), ch. 13.
  • Note 2: Donald Hickey, The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1989), p. 334n.8.ja:タカ派
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