Richard Mentor Johnson entered politics at age 23. He joined congress at 25 and served ably. In June 1812, America declared war on Britain leading Johnson to recruit volunteers. The Kentuckian led a militia group against Britain’s Indian allies. Johnson became a national hero at the Battle of the Thames after being credited with killing Indian leader Tecumseh.
American grievances against Britain dated to the Washington Administration. The British Navy attacked American shipping, boarded U.S. vessels, and kidnapped American sailors. By 1812, the Madison Administration had enough and declared war. Richard Mentor Johnson served in Congress at the time. By 1812, he gained some attention for aiding Alexander Hamilton’s widow in her attempt to receive her husband’s Revolutionary War pay. Hamilton had declined payment, but his death left Mrs. Hamilton in economic peril. Johnson’s efforts resulted in full payment.
The congressman threw himself into the war effort with the same energy and efficiency as the Hamilton case. Johnson allied with the war hawks clamoring for satisfaction against British privations. After the war declaration, the congressman returned to Kentucky to recruit volunteers. On September 18, 1812, his unit rescued Fort Wayne from Indians. Afterward, he disbanded the militia and returned to Washington D.C.
Congressman Johnson approached President Madison with plans to wage a guerrilla war against the Indians. The army employed his tactics in the summer of 1813 when Johnson returned to the field with volunteers. His Kentuckians engaged Tecumseh after Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory at Lake Erie. Tecumseh advocated pan-Indian nationalism and the creation of an independent Indian state. He viewed the British as potential saviors and allies. When the war broke out, he sided with Britain and participated in Detroit’s capture. The Americans considered Tecumseh a major threat to national security.
Johnson defeated Tecumseh on September 29 and confiscated British supplies on October 3. The British decided to fight the Americans on October 5. Johnson’s older brother, James, attacked the main British force while Richard engaged Tecumseh’s Indians. James Johnson’s force ravaged the enemy inflicting 75% casualties. Meanwhile, his younger brother fought a tougher battle on the edge of a swamp.
The Battle of the Thames grew desperate for Congressman Johnson and Tecumseh. An American cavalry charged failed in the swampy ground. Reinforcements forced the Indians into the swamp proper. Tecumseh died during the retreat. Someone on horseback killed the Indian leader. By this point, Johnson was one of few Americans left on horseback and received credit.
The Kentuckians discovered Tecumseh’s remains near Johnson’s hat with wounds consistent with Johnson’s pistol and rifle. Additionally, an Indian chief wounded the congressman before being shot dead. Johnson collapsed during the engagement from five bullet wounds. An additional 25 bullets lodged in his horse and equipment. His men removed him from the field and the Kentucky native recovered.
The war hero Johnson returned to Washington D.C. and work. The war concluded at the end of 1814. The congressman worked to secure pensions for widows and orphans. He served in the Senate from 1819-1829 and returned to the House of Representatives before becoming vice president. The Democrats wanted a war hero on the ticket alongside Martin Van Buren. The pair won the 1836 election and Johnson assumed the second highest office in America.
Richard Mentor Johnson worked for widows as a Congressman. Between congressional sessions, he fought in the War of 1812. Johnson organized volunteers and led them into battle. He emerged a war hero after defeating and killing Tecumseh in 1813. His achievement led to the Vice Presidency of the United States.