Baltimore: July 27 1812. The war of 1812 is a done deal. Most of the surrounding “Democrats” support war with Britain, over stained honor from an attack of the USS Chesapeake. They want to fight because Britain is supporting guerrilla warfare. But, one old Revolutionary war veteran, doesn’t agree with the mob. General James MacCubban Lingan wishes for peace. And he defends the home of the publisher of a pro-peace newspaper, the home of the editor of the Federalist Republican.
To the Federalist Republican, war with Britain is merely helping Napoleon. The United States has nothing to gain and everything to lose.
The mob of “Democrats” didn’t see things that way. They saw this old veteran James McCubbbin Lingan, and his friend Lee, as traitors for defending the paper. Napoleon may have made himself emperor, but he wasn’t as bad as the British regime. Napoleon stood for liberty, including freedom of religion, and he weeded out much worse tyrants than himself. Britain, on the other hand, sided with pirates in North Africa, despots in Europe, and America’s enemies closer to home.
But the opposing views were not at issue here. Who was right or wrong was unimportant. The Constitution of the United States declared freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and there is no provision in the Bill of Rights which says “except for times of war” nor anywhere where rights are guaranteed “only in times of peace.”
George Washington Parke Custis saw it this way, Lingan was defending free speech against mob rule. He wasn’t duped into standing up against the mob, he stood up against those tyrants who would silence they voices they disagreed with.
No[,] friends, the whole heart of the veteran was in this thing: – and it was, because he had seen the laws of this country prostrated before the feet of tyrannic power, and the liberty of the press violated and usurped. And when he saw a band of youth prepared to defend their rights, or perish in the breach, the veteran rejoiced. — “I admire these gallant boys,” he said “their heroic reminds me of my other days — I will join their gallant calling — age and experience will be used to temper their valor, to moderate their zeal, to direct their energies. I will be the Nestor to the Young Achilles.”
Was the newspaper guilty of treason by discouraging a war it disagreed with? Anti-Federalist-Republican protestors were not interested in the publisher’s rights. This newspaper was seen to be siding with a power that had kidnapped something like 50,000 American citizens, a power that had no qualms with attacking any American ship that did not obey its every order. The fact that the author once fought against this power, to them, was irrelevant. Benedict Arnold was also once a patriot.
As the angry mob gathered outside, they began to lose rational thinking. They forgot about the freedoms they had fought for. The newspaper’s defenders had to resort to the use of rifles to keep the mob from entering the building.
“they knew they had done no wrong — for the people of America know, that when the laws of the community can no longer protect the citizen, the great law of nature commands him to protect himself!!!”
Local authorities offered their protection if the newspaper’s men disarmed themselves. This offer was almost given as an order, and Lingan and his newspaper staff, and the newspapers defenders, were marched “to the Prison House.” In order to prevent bloodshed, the newspaper men decided it was best to let the government guards protect them, and they gave up their weapons. That was a deadly mistake.
The government guards had little interest in the Federalist Republican newspaper, and soon tired of discouraging the mob.
What happened next is unclear, there are not many stories to go by. So, I’ll resort to a British account by Edward Baines.
The mob now dispersed and this ebullition of popular phrenzy would probably have subsided, had not a journal opposed in principle to the Federal Republican had the baseness to fan the dying embers, by calling upon the insurgents not to let their victims escape without executing vengeance upon them. Roused again to action by this incendiary publication the mob reassembled, broke open the jail and attacked the objects of their fury.
In the midst of the commotion several of the prisoners succeeded in escaping from the hands of their persecutors, but others, less fortunate, were assailed with clubs and knives, and left with out signs of life at the outside of the prison.
General Lingan, died of his wounds, and one other was reported dead. Another aging veteran by the name of Lee, was wounded for life. *
THE MURDER OF PRISONERS
“The Murder of Prisoners” Custis decried. He remembered the mercy shown to British prisoners of war, even after the patriots had remembered what the British soldiers had done to their homes and their fellow American servicemen. No, prisoners were to be treated well, but now “Even Sanguinary France now cowers to our superior genius in iniquity – She is no longer supreme in sin.”
George Washington Parke Custis never met General Lingan, but on September 1 1812 he recalled Lingan’s life, and called Lingan a “brave man who fought the battles of my country’s liberty, who died in defense of one of the dearest rights of which freemen can boast.” That right being the right to freedom of the Press.
Custis continued about Lingan’s heroism in the revolution.
“witness the dreadful combat of long Island, where the famous Maryland Regiment, after bearing the brunt of the day, were nearly annihilated and cut to pieces — Again, behold him at the storming of Fort Washington, and then you may change the scene. You have yet only viewed your friend, the gallant soldier, in the tented field. You must now behold him the wretched prisoner in the dungeons of a Prison Ship. There, while listening to groans of expiring humanity; there, while beholding his brave brethren dying by inches in all the horrors of captivity and want, might well your LINGAN say – sweet oh my country, should be thy liberties, when they are purchased at this monstrous price!
General Lingan’s final rest.
Lingan died on the second day of the riots, 28 July 1812, but he wasn’t laid to rest quite yet. Anger at the anti-war activist meant that this revolutionary war veteran was in a quiet unmarked grave.
The mob was so fierce, that Lingan’s “friends, on securing the body from the mob, were afraid to inter it near Baltimore, for fear the grave would be desecrated. Consequently it was removed from the city and sent to Georgetown, where it was quietly, almost secretly, buried in a lonely spot.” And for over eighty years “the grave remained unmarked by tablet or fence.” (Washington Times on 12 May, page 2, column 6)
The Dolly Madison chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution put a tablet over his grave on 12 May, 1903. The Washington Times reported on it the next day ( 13 May, 1903, on page 2, column 6)
Tardy justice is being shown General Lingan. Only within the last twenty years has his grave been inclosed with an iron rail.
Grass and weeds overran it for a long while previous.
* A previous version of this article stated that Lee died on that day. This was not accurate. Lee was injured. Henry “Light-horse Harry” Lee was a Princeton graduate who served Washington, later congressman and governor of Virgina. Lee had a famous son by the name of Robert Edward Lee.
Edward Baines, Edward. History of the Wars of the French Revolution: From the Breaking Out of the War in 1792, to the Restoration of a General Peace in 1815; Comprehending the Civil History of Great Britain and France During that Period, Volume 2. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown … and James Harper, 1817. p 366, 367
Custis, George Washington Park. An address occasioned by the death of General Lingan : who was murdered by the mob at Baltimore, delivered at Georgetown, September 1, 1812. Boston : Bradford & Read, 1812. 16 pages.
The title is taken from British newspapers of the period. As the newspapers tended to copy each other, I’m not sure who came up with it.
Photo credits: Monumental thoughts. used with permission.