War Hawk is a term
originally used to describe members of the House of
Representatives of the Twelfth Congress of the
States who advocated waging war against Great Britain in the War of
The term has 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. This term is usually
contrasted with the term dovish
alludes to the more peaceful dove
The War Hawks in the 12th Congress were Democratic-Republicans
been imbued with the ideals of the American Revolution
, and were primarily
and western states.
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 popular impression
that they were mostly younger members of the congress has been
shown to be false in recent scholarship, and indeed those
advocating war were largely from the older block of the Congress
and encompassed most Republicans.
The War Hawks advocated
going to war against Britain for a variety of reasons, mostly
related to the interference of the Royal
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
Indians on the frontier to attack
American settlements, and so the War Hawks called for an invasion
of British Canada to punish
Britain and end this threat.
"War Hawk" was coined by the prominent Virginia Congressman
John Randolph of Roanoke, a
staunch opponent of entry into the war.
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." Indeed, one scholar believes the term
"no longer seems appropriate." 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
John C. Calhoun of South Carolina was another notable War Hawk.
Both of these
men became major players in American politics for decades.
traditionally identified as War Hawks included Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky, William Lowndes of South Carolina, Langdon Cheves of
Carolina, Felix Grundy of Tennessee, and William
W. Bibb of
The older members of the Party, led by United States President James Madison
and Secretary of the
Treasury Albert Gallatin
unsuccessfully to defeat the War Hawks movement. They felt the
United States was not prepared for war.
The term War Hawk
has often been used since the War of 1812 to describe politicians
or other persons 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
, used to
belittle someone who advocates war but avoided military service
- Roger H. Brown, "The War Hawks of 1812: An Historical Myth" in
Indiana Magazine of History, Vol LX (June 1964),
- Reginald Horsman, The Causes of the War of 1812 (New
York: A.S. Barnes, 1962), ch. 13.
- Donald Hickey, The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict
(Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1989), p.
- Daniel M. Smith, The American Diplomatic Experience
(Boston, 1972) p.60