Madison\'s demand was interpreted as a prelude to war. The embargo was passed promptly by Congress, and it expired on June 1. On that date, no satisfactory solution having been offered, Madison addressed his war message to Congress. He told Congress that "our commerce has been plundered in every sea," that Britain was intent on destroying American commerce "not as supplying the wants of her enemies, which she herself supplies; but as interfering with the monopoly which she covets for her own commerce and navigation." Madison also made an allusion to British participation in recent Native American uprisings and to other "injuries and indignities ... heaped on our country." He also condemned the hostile acts of France, but recommended that action on these be postponed for the moment. Madison concluded: "We behold ... on the side of Britain a state of war against the United States, and on the side of the United States a state of peace toward Britain." He asked Congress to decide whether the United States should remain at peace under these circumstances as "a solemn question which the Constitution wisely confides to the legislative department of the government." On June 18 Madison signed a declaration of war passed by both houses of Congress.
Ironically, and unknown to Madison, Britain had in fact revoked its restrictions on American shipping on June 16. The action had come after France\'s public repeal of its decrees restricting American trade, which had supposedly been effected more than a year before. When the long-anticipated war with Britain came, the United States was ill prepared. Madison\'s warning to put the nation "into an armour" had not been heeded. The president did not possess the qualities necessary for organizing an effective war machine, and he did not quickly enough find those who did. His attempts to take a personal role in conducting the affairs of the War and Navy departments led only to ridicule.
Madison\'s efforts were also hampered by opposition to the war from various quarters. The Federalists had been against war with Britain from the start. Northerners generally showed no enthusiasm for taking over Spanish Florida. Southerners similarly regarded a conquest of Canada as merely adding to the strength of the North. Throughout the war the New England states balked at contributing their financial and military share. Northern opposition resulted in the so-called Hartford Convention, where representatives of the northeastern states seriously discussed a separate peace with Britain. The widespread lack of enthusiasm for the war, combined with early military reverses, made the presidential election of 1812 an especially hard-fought one. Madison was opposed by Governor De Witt Clinton of New York. Clinton, though a Republican, drew his support from the Federalists and from dissident members of Madison\'s own party. The war was the primary issue of the campaign. Madison was criticized for carrying on the war and was also condemned for not pursuing it more successfully. He replied by expressing a desire for peace but asking the country\'s support in a "just and necessary" war.