War is Declared:
On June 1, 1812, President James Madison sent a message to the Congress recounting American grievances against Great Britain, thought not specifically calling for a declaration of war. After Madison's message, the House of Representatives deliberated for four days before voting to declare war, and the Senate agreed. The conflict began on June 18, 1812 when Madison signed the measure into law. This was the first time that the United States had declared war on another nation, and the Congressional vote would prove to be the closest vote to declare war in American history. Madison had not made any serious war plans. He called upon Congress to put the country "into an armor and an attitude demanded by the crisis," specifically recommending enlarging the army, preparing the militia, finishing the military academy, stockpiling munitions, and expanding the navy.
Although the outbreak of the war had been preceded by years of angry diplomatic dispute, neither side was ready for war when it came. The British were occupied with other wars in Europe and the United States was hard pressed to find competent senior military commanders. The Treasury discovered the war was almost impossible to fund since the national bank had been closed and major financiers in the Northeast refused to help. Madison believed the US could easily seize Canada, making for a good bargaining chip at the peace talks, but initial invasion efforts failed. Madison had assumed the militia would rally to the flag, but the governors in the Northeast failed to cooperate and their militias either sat out the war or refused to leave their states.