"The War of 1812 was the first major conflict conducted by President of the United States under the document of which Madison was justly revered as the 'Father.' During the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia, Madison and the other Founders had debated the quandaries of war. They sought to ensure that, unlike in the Old World societies governed by sovereigns, Americans would go to war only when it was absolutely necessary – and that the decision would be made not by the President but by the legislature. Virginia’s George Mason had written that he was 'ag[ainst] giving power of war to the Executive, because [that branch was] not safely to be trusted with it.' James Wilson of Pennsylvania insisted that the Constitution 'will not hurry us into war; it is calculated to guard against it.' Madison himself considered war 'the true nurse of executive aggrandizement.' As he reminded Jefferson in 1798, 'The constitution supposes, what the History of all Gov[ernmen]ts demonstrates, that the Ex[ecutive] Is the branch of power most interested in war, & most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care, vested the question of war in the Legisl[ative].'*

"The 1812 conflict proved to be the first major test of the constitutional system for waging war. In Philadelphia, Madison the Founder had worried that American Presidents, like the European monarchs they execrated, might be tempted to take the nation into military confrontation without a national consensus and an immediate, overwhelming foreign danger. But with the War of 1812, Madison had, however reluctantly, succumbed to exactly that temptation. Much of the country and Congress had opposed waging war with Great Britain, and two years into this struggle, many Americans still did not fully understand why they were fighting.

"By leading his country into a major war that had no absolute necessity or overwhelming support from Congress and the public, Madison, of all people, had opened the door for later Presidents to seek involvement in future conflicts that suffered from such shortcomings. Madison’s fateful decision to seek this war had brought him, after midnight, to this dark Virginia forest, searching for Dolley and running for his life.

"*Early in the process, Congress was to be given authority to 'make' war, but Madison and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts successfully changed that word to the more specific 'declare,' so the record shows, 'leaving to the Executive the power to repel sudden attacks.' ”