United States: 1789 - 1861



Petersen does a fine job of covering publications large and small for this period of American history (see Chapter 2. B. National Consolidation and Expansion 1783-1860), and no attempt is made here to duplicate his work.

Topics included here:

1. Early U.S. Intelligence History

2. American Expansion

3. Thomas Jefferson

4. Aaron Burr

5. James Madison

6. War of 1812

7. John Tyler & Daniel Webster


1. Early U.S. Intelligence History

Currie, James T. "First Congressional Investigations: St. Clair's Military Disaster of 1791." Parameters (Dec. 1990): 95-102.

This article does not deal with intelligence, but discusses an early instance of Congressional efforts to exert oversight of Executive Branch activities. The House of Representatives formed a committee to investigate Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair's defeat in an expedition against the Indians.

Knott, Stephen F. Secret and Sanctioned: Covert Operations and the American Presidency. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Clark comment: The focus of this work is the use by U.S. presidents of covert operations in approximately the first 100 years (1776-1882) of American history. However, the presidents who served between 1849 and 1861 are not covered. Knott finds that covert operations did not begin with the Cold War, but rather date back to the Founders. The author concludes with a section on modern-day dilemmas surrounding covert activities, and argues that it is the President who is best situated to decide on whether to pursue the covert option in U.S. foreign policy.

Secret and Sanctioned was named one of the "Outstanding Academic Books of 1996," by the editors of Choice, the publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries. Rozell, Choice, Jan. 1997, comments that Knott's "most valuable and well-documented insight is that covert activity has its roots in the origins of the republic, not in the Cold War.... Bolstered by meticulous research, this book stands as an effective challenge to the 'imperial presidency' thesis."

Jeffreys-Jones, I&NS 12.4, concedes that Knott has established that "covert operations are not an invention of the post-World War II 'imperial presidency.'" Nevertheless, the author has failed "to consult adequately the published historical literature," especially "some of the most significant works on the American Constitution," in his arguments regarding the intent of the Founders.

For Cohen, FA 75.5 (Sep.-Oct. 1996), part of the book "is an interesting if fairly conventional account" of covert actions from Washington through Lincoln; the remainder is "a polemic against congressional micromanagement ... of the intelligence community." This latter part is "a rehash of old debates," and the author's "preoccupation with the controversies of the present mars the book's treatment of the past." Nevertheless, the first six chapters represent "a useful account of successful cloak-and-dagger work that predates this century." Similarly, Johnson, APSR 91.1, suggests that "[d]espite the commendable value of his historical research, Knott is on less firm ground when he turns to the modern era."

Murdoch, R. K. "Intelligence Reports of British Agents in the Long Island Sound Area, 1814-15." American Neptune 29 (1969): 187-198.

Naylor, Chris. "Abraham Forbes: A Forgotten Spy in a Forgotten War." Intelligencer 17, no. 1 (Winter-Spring 2009): 65-72.

Forbes spied for the Americans along the Canada-U.S. border in the War of 1812. His later life was a succession of mostly failed efforts to get rewarded for that service.

2. American Expansion

"The great explorations of the trans-Mississippi West are classic examples of the collection of basic intelligence for advancing the national interest.... The great expedition of Captain Meriwether Lewis and Lieutenant William Clark (May 1804-September 1806) fits this interpretation.... Jefferson clearly conceived of it as an intelligence mission.... He planned it to its finest detail, and he chose soldiers rather than scientists to carry it out." Ameringer, U.S. Foreign Intelligence (1990), pp. 34-35.

Gough, Barry M. "Lieutenant William Peel, British Naval Intelligence, and the Oregon Crisis." Northern Mariner 4, no. 4 (1994): 1-14.

Jackson, Donald. "Zebulon M. Pike 'Tours' Mexico." American West 3, no. 3 (1966): 67-71, 89-93.

Argues that Pike's travels in 1806-1807 were not a spy mission.

3. Thomas Jefferson

Ambrose, Stephen E. Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. F5927A49

Knott, Stephen F. "Thomas Jefferson's Clandestine Foreign Policy." International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 4, no. 3 (Fall 1990): 325-355.

"While serving successively as an American envoy to France, Secretary of State, and President of the United States, Jefferson authorized a variety of operations designed to acquire information on the activities of foreign governments; in certain instances, he authorized covert operations intended to influence the workings of those governments. Jefferson stretched the outer limits of presidentially-authorized clandestine activity ... by authorizing a diverse range of covert operations including the bribing of foreign leaders, the toppling of a foreign government, and providing indirect but tangible assistance to insurgents designed to remove the old world powers from the North American continent."

London, Joshua E.

1. "Victory in Tripoli: Lessons for the War on Terrorism." Naval Intelligence Professionals Quarterly 22, no. 4 (Sep. 2006): 13-17. [Originally published by the Heritage Foundation; see Lecture #940 at http://www.heritage.org]

Includes a precis on William Eaton's "covert action" and the fall of Derna.

2. Victory in Tripoli: How America's War with the Barbary Pirates Established the U.S. Navy and Shaped a Nation. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2005.

Medlicott, Carol. "Interpreting National Security and Intelligence in Geographic Exploration: Explorers and Geographers in America's Early Republic." Intelligence and National Security 22, no. 3 (Jun. 2007): 321-345.

"[W]e should consider the larger enterprise of America's geographic expansion as a process in which the stakes for national security were truly the highest and which, therefore, also engendered many of the same methodologies that are now commonly associated with the intelligence and security profession."

Zacks, Richard. The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805. New York: Hyperion, 2005.

According to Peake, Studies 50.1 (Mar. 2006), the author details William Eaton's covert mission to rescue the sailors and Marines held in Tripoli after the frigate Philadelphia ran aground in the harbor and was captured along with its crew in 1803. The work "is a carefully documented, exciting, little-known story." It reminds us that "covert actions, even when successful, are politically risky and not always career enhancing." Ledeen, National Review, 27 Jun. 2005, says that "Zacks gets it right ... putting events into their proper context."

4. Aaron Burr

Abernathy, Thomas Perkins. The Burr Conspiracy. New York: Oxford, 1954. Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1968.

Beirne, Francis F. Shout Treason: The Trial of Aaron Burr. New York: Hastings House, 1959. [Petersen]

Brown, Charles H. Agents of Manifest Destiny. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1980. [Petersen]

5. James Madison

Cox, Isaac Joslin. The West Florida Controversy, 1798-1818: A Study in American Diplomacy. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1918.

This work provides a detailed and well-documented study of the intrigues surrounding the U.S. acquisition of West Florida in 1810.

Cusick, James G. The Other War of 1812: The Patriot War and the American Invasion of Spanish East Florida. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2003. With new Preface. Athens, GA: University Press of Georgia, 2007. [pb]

This is the story of President James Madison's failed covert operation to acquire Spanish West Florida by using George Mathews, a former Georgia governor, to stir up an insurrection in the area. The author focuses on the immediate action and the reasons for it and on the unintended consequences set in motion by Madison's ambitions. In the process, Cusick offers an amended view of Madison as president.

6. War of 1812

Petersen: "Prominent features of the war were British espionage and inadequate American military intelligence in the invasion of Canada and other operations."

Beirne, Francis F. The War of 1812. New York: Dutton, 1949.

Berton, Pierre. The Invasion of Canada. Vol. I. 1812-1813. Boston: Little, Brown, 1980.

7. John Tyler & Daniel Webster

Knott, Stephen F. "Covert Action Comes Home: Daniel Webster's Secret Operations Against the Citizens of Maine." International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 5, no. 1 (Spring 1991): 77-87.

"President John Tyler and his Secretary of State Daniel Webster engaged in one of the most blatant abuses of presidential covert authority in American history. They authorized a covert campaign designed to influence political sentiment within the United States.... The setting for this event involved negotiations over the disputed boundary between the state of Maine and Canada. Secretary of State Daniel Webster was caught in the uncomfortable position of trying to prevent hostilities with Britain over this issue while at the same time to avoid being accused of appeasement.... By influencing public sentiment in Maine, Webster hoped to win the consent of the state's commissioners for compromise, as well as persuade the rest of the nation of the propriety of compromise.... Webster's high risk gamble paid handsome dividends, and his reputation as a giant of nineteenth-century American politics endures to this day."

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