Entries

The Oxford Companion to American Military History Dictionary of American HistoryThe Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence, and Security Further reading

NON JS

War of 1812

War of 1812. The War of 1812 is often referred to as the United States's second war of independence because, like the Revolutionary War, it was fought against Great Britain. The Conflict resulted from the clash between American nationalism and the war Britain and its allies were waging against the empire of Napoleonic France. Many Americans believed that England sought to humiliate the United States, limit its growth, and perhaps even impose a quasi‐colonial status upon its former colonies.

Background.

Throughout the wars between Revolutionary and Napoleonic France and Great Britain (1793–1801 and 1803–15), the belligerent powers of Europe repeatedly violated the maritime rights of neutral nations. The United States, endeavoring to market its own produce while also asserting the right to profit as an important neutral carrier in the Atlantic commercial system, was particularly hard hit. In order to man the Royal Navy, British naval officers impressed seamen from American vessels, claiming that they were either deserters from British service or British subjects, irrespective of whether they had been naturalized by the United States. The United States defended its right to naturalize foreigners and rejected Britain's claim that it could legitimately practice impressment on the high seas. Relations between the two countries reached breaking point on this issue in June 1807, when the frigate HMS Leopard fired on the USS Chesapeake inside American territorial waters in order to remove, and later execute, four of its crew.

The exact number of Americans affected by impressment is difficult to ascertain—American newspapers on the eve of the war claimed that it was in excess of 6,000—and Great Britain and the United States were never able to resolve the dispute. Over time the issue became the most flagrant example of Great Britain's reluctance to respect the sovereignty of the United States, and this was one of the reasons why President James Madison cited impressment in his 1 June 1812 message to Congress as the first major grievance that had to be settled by war.

Equally offensive to the United States was the British practice of issuing executive orders in council, particularly those of November 1807 and April 1809, in order to establish blockades of the European coast. The Royal Navy then seized neutral vessels bound for the Continent that did not first call at a British port to pay duties and unload cargo. By these means, Great Britain could simultaneously wage economic warfare against France and control American trade to its advantage. British ministries justified these tactics as fair retaliation against Napoleon's equally antineutral Berlin and Milan decrees, promulgated in December 1806 and December 1807, respectively; but American merchantmen suffered more heavily from British seizures than from French, and the administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison never accepted British blockading practices as valid under the law of nations. It was the seriousness of this dispute that ultimately raised the question of whether the United States should go to war to defend its neutral rights.

At first, the United States responded with policies of economic coercion rather than war. At the suggestion of President Jefferson, Congress passed a series of embargo laws between December 1807 and January 1809. These laws prohibited virtually all American ships from putting to sea and eventually banned any overland trade with British and Spanish colonial possessions in Canada and Florida. Because the legislation failed to change British policy and seriously harmed the U.S. economy as well, it was replaced by the Non‐Intercourse Act in March 1809. This measure forbade trade with European belligerents until it was replaced in May 1810 by Macon's Bill No. 2. This law reopened American trade with all nations subject to the proviso that in the event of either France or Great Britain repealing its antineutral policies, the United States would then enforce nonintercourse against whichever nation failed to follow suit by lifting the remaining restrictions on trade.

In August 1810, Napoleon announced he would repeal the Berlin and Milan decrees on the understanding that the United States would also force Great Britain to respect its neutral rights. President Madison accepted this as proof that French policy had changed, and in November 1810 he imposed nonintercourse against Great Britain. He then demanded the repeal of the orders in council as a condition for the resumption of Anglo‐American trade. When Great Britain refused to comply, Madison, in July 1811, summoned the Twelfth Congress into an early session in November to prepare for war. After eight months of debate, Congress responded to the president's initiatives by declaring war on 18 June 1812. The decision was bitterly controversial and was carried by Republican Party majorities alone. In the House of Representatives, the vote was 79 to 49 for war; in the Senate, 19 to 3. The Federalists, whose constituents (especially in New England) depended heavily on trade with Great Britain, believed that France had equally offended against American neutrality; they opposed the declaration of war and, thereafter, its prosecution.

Military and Naval Events.

The principal theater of operations in the war was the American‐Canadian frontier between Detroit and Lake Champlain. Upper and Lower Canada were the closest British imperial possessions that were vulnerable to U.S. military and naval power. The rapid growth of their economies in the early nineteenth century, particularly in the timber trade, had transformed them into a significant resource for Great Britain during its protracted maritime struggle against France; this reinforced the American desire to seize them, and fostered a strategy of invasion. To the extent that the British were able to carry the war to the Americans, it was by sea; thus, especially after the summer of 1814, the theater of operations expanded to include the mid‐Atlantic coast and the American territories around the Gulf of Mexico. For this reason, a war that commenced as an invasion of Canada in 1812 concluded in a defense of the city of New Orleans in the early months of 1815.

Over the summer and fall of 1812, U.S. forces, under the commands of Brigs. Gen. William Hull, Alexander Smyth, and Stephen Van Rensselaer, and Maj. Gen. Henry Dearborn, were directed to invade Canada at Detroit, Niagara, and Montréal; but inadequate preparations, poor leadership, and untrained troops undermined the invasions. The British general Sir Isaac Brock, together with Tecumseh and the Shawnee, Delaware, and other northwestern Indians who had their own complaints about American territorial expansion, captured Detroit in August 1812. In September and October, Brock and Maj. Gen. Roger Sheaffe defeated two American invading armies on the Niagara peninsula, while Dearborn's invasion of Lower Canada was called off after only one minor engagement in November. American efforts made at the same time by Maj. Gen. William Henry Harrison and Brig. Gen. James Winchester to retake Detroit were also unsuccessful; the latter officer surrendered his army to British and Indian forces on the Raisin River in Michigan Territory in January 1813.

The only American victories in the opening months of the war occurred on the ocean as the heavy frigates of the tiny U.S. Navy took to the seas to protect American trade and to harass the vastly superior naval forces of their enemy. In August 1812, the USS Constitution, under Capt. Isaac Hull, destroyed HMS Guerrière; in October, Capt. Stephen Decatur's USS United States captured HMS Macedonian; and in December, the Constitution, now under Capt. William Bainbridge, defeated HMS Java in an engagement off the coast of Brazil.

Between May and November 1813, the U.S. Army attempted to invade Canada across the Great Lakes and down the St. Lawrence River. American forces were successful inasmuch as they captured Fort George and York (now Toronto) in Upper Canada in May, but subsequent efforts to extend American control in the province were thwarted by British victories at Stony Creek and Beaver Dams in June. A major thrust from Sacketts Harbor down the St. Lawrence toward Montréal under Maj. Gen. James Wilkinson was also aborted, first by British resistance at Crysler's Farm in November 1813, then by Wilkinson's decision to end his offensive after learning that he would be unable to join forces with U.S. troops below Montréal. On the northwest frontier, American naval forces under Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry defeated a British squadron at Put‐in‐Bay on Lake Erie in September. Thereafter, Harrison and his U.S. and Kentucky troops were able first to retake Detroit, and then, in October, to destroy the alliance between the British and the Indians with a victory at the Battle of the Thames.

There were no other major American victories in 1813. The Royal Navy avenged the defeats of 1812 by capturing the USS Chesapeake in June 1813, and throughout the year British frigates steadily extended their blockade of U.S. ports, annoying coastal communities and disrupting trade. Yet another setback for the American war effort came in the fall of 1813 when “Redstick” factions in the Creek Nation, who like the Shawnees and Delawares had ample grievances against the United States, attacked forts and settlements on the southwestern frontier. Georgia and Tennessee mobilized troops in response and Tennessee forces under Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson eventually defeated the Creeks at Horsehoe Bend, Mississippi Territory, in March 1814.

By 1814, American land forces had improved in both quality and leadership. Disciplined troops under Maj. Gen. Jacob Brown and Brig. Gen. Winfield Scott resumed efforts from the previous year to expel the British from Niagara, and between July and September they fought the enemy on even terms in three major engagements at Chippewa, Lundy's Lane, and Fort Erie. But the defeat of Napoleon in Europe in the spring of 1814 allowed Great Britain to send more troops to North America, and by late summer, the United States had to contend with invasions by combined army and navy forces at Lake Champlain and in Chesapeake Bay. Capt. Thomas Macdonough's victory over a British squadron on Lake Champlain in September compelled one invading army to withdraw to Canada. Meanwhile, another British force had taken and burned the White House, the U.S. capitol, and most other government buildings in Washington, D.C. (in August), and a third had occupied the northeastern section of the District of Maine. Efforts to seize Baltimore failed as Maryland militiamen inflicted heavy losses on the British regulars of Gen. Robert Ross, and the harbor defenses of Baltimore withstood a heavy naval bombardment. It was during the shelling of Fort McHenry on 13–14 September that the poet Francis Scott Key composed the work that became The Star‐Spangled Banner as a tribute to the American defense.

Conclusion.

Efforts to end the war lasted almost as long as the conflict itself. Great Britain, in fact, repealed its orders in council in June 1812 before it had learned of the declaration of war, but President Madison decided to continue the struggle in order to obtain a comprehensive settlement of American grievances. For this purpose, he accepted in March 1813 a Russian offer to mediate the conflict and dispatched a five‐man negotiating team to St. Petersburg. Britain rejected mediation in July, but later offered to open separate peace negotiations. Madison accepted this offer in January 1814; the opening of the talks was delayed until July, however, because of changes in venue resulting from the defeat of Napoleon. At Ghent, Belgium, Great Britain initially made unrealistic demands, seeking not only to establish a neutral Indian buffer state in the American Northwest but to revise both the Canadian‐American boundary and the terms of the 1783 Treaty of Paris that had established the United States as an independent nation. The United States, which had originally wanted an end to all objectionable British maritime practices and cessions of Canadian territory as well, forbore to press any claims at this time. Its diplomats parried Great Britain's demands until the British ministry, rebuffed by the duke of Wellington (who refused to take command in Canada) and fearing the expense of a long continuation in hostilities decided to settle for a peace based on the status quo ante bellum. Between the signing of the treaty, on 24 December 1814 and the time the news arrived in the United States, the last major battle, the Battle of New Orleans, had been fought on 7–8 January 1815.

Neither the War of 1812 nor the Treaty of Ghent secured American maritime rights on a firm basis; but a century of peace in Europe after 1815 meant that they were not seriously threatened again until World War I. Nor did Great Britain pursue its future disputes with the United States to the point of risking war. And though the United States failed to obtain any Canadian territory, the campaigns of the war destroyed Indian opposition to U.S. expansion on the northwestern and southwestern frontiers. Both the United States and Canada emerged from the war with a heightened sense of national purpose and awareness, and particularly in the American case, the war consolidated the nation's military and naval establishments on more secure bases than before 1812.

In other respects, though, the war was as much a mixed blessing as an unqualified gain for the United States. The immediate domestic impact of the conflict was to heighten tensions between the northern and the southern states, on the one hand, and the Federalist and Republican parties, on the other. These strains became so serious that in November 1814, New England Federalists met in convention at Hartford, Connecticut, to consider measures to nullify the war effort. The ending of the war shortly afterwards left the Federalists marked with the stigma of disloyalty, and this undoubtedly contributed to the party's rapid demise after 1815.

The economic impact of the war was equally complex. The disruptions it entailed on America's international commerce were, to some extent, offset by greater governmental expenditures, an increased demand for domestic manufacturing, and the deflection of capital from shipping to the first large‐scale American industries, especially in New England. Yet not all of the resulting gains survived the unstable economic conditions of the postwar period; and even the American belief that the war marked a significant stride toward cultural, economic, and political independence would ultimately be overshadowed by the Civil War, which profoundly altered the meaning of all America's earlier conflicts in the shaping of the nation's identity and purposes.
[See also Neutrality; Rush‐Bagot Agreement; Trade, Foreign.]

Bibliography

Henry Adams , The History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, 9 vols., 1891; 1986.
Alfred T. Mahan , Sea Power in Its Relations to the War of 1812, 2 vols., 1905.
Frank Updyke , The Diplomacy of the War of 1812, 1915.
Bradford Perkins , Prologue to War: England and the United States, 1805–1812, 1961.
Bradford Perkins , Castlereagh and Adams: England and the United States, 1812–1823, 1964.
J. C. A. Stagg , Mr. Madison's War: Politics, Diplomacy, and Warfare in the Early American Republic, 1783–1830, 1983.
George F. Stanley , The War of 1812: Land Operations, 1983.
Steven Watts , The Republic Reborn: War and the Making of Liberal America, 1790–1820, 1987.
Donald Hickey , The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict, 1989.

J. C. A. Stagg

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

John Whiteclay Chambers II. "War of 1812." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. 2000. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

John Whiteclay Chambers II. "War of 1812." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. 2000. Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O126-Warof1812.html

John Whiteclay Chambers II. "War of 1812." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. 2000. Retrieved June 25, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O126-Warof1812.html

War of 1812

WAR OF 1812

WAR OF 1812, fought under the motto "free trade and sailor's rights," was the result of British maritime policies during the wars between Great Britain and France, the desire of President James Madison to strengthen republicanism, and the American belief that it could secure possession of Canada as a bargaining chip against Great Britain.

Neither Britain nor France cared much about the rights of neutrals in their struggle, which lasted with only short interruptions from 1793 to 1815. Britain's major asset was its navy, which contained France by closing off large stretches of the European coastline. The British blockade from Brest to the mouth of the Elbe River; Napoleon's Berlin Decree of 21 November 1806, declaring a blockade of the British Isles and prohibiting ships from entering French harbors if they previously had been in British waters; the British Orders in Council of 1807 that all neutral ships coming from France would be seized if they had not previously visited British harbors; and Napoleon's Milan Decree of 17 December 1807 that all neutral ships that concurred with the British demands would be seized had little impact on the war in Europe but affected the United States and its profitable maritime trade. Americans were in no position to do anything about this sort of war. Great Britain, straining for sailors on their warships, insisted on the right of its naval officers to "impress" from American ships deserters from the Royal Navy or other British subjects liable to naval service. British sailors had deserted by the thousands to the American merchant marine. Many who had taken out naturalization papers were nonetheless the victims of the British policy.

Anger over the British practices reached a climax on 22 June 1807, when the USS Chesapeake was stopped by the British frigate Leopard. When the American captain denied the British request to search his ship for deserters, the Leopard shelled the American vessel. Not prepared for a military engagement, the Chesapeake suffered casualties quickly. After firing one shot, the American captain allowed the British to board his ship. They took four sailors prisoner and put out to sea again. This arrogant provocation injured American national pride. Although President Thomas Jefferson seemed ready to go to war, he resorted to economic warfare. At his request, Congress

passed the Embargo Act of 1807, which was intended to prevent additional entanglement in European affairs by prohibiting the export of American goods on both American and foreign vessels. While the British and French embargoes had led to seizures of American merchantmen, they had provided an opportunity for traders to reap huge profits by counting on the fast and sleek American ships to run the blockades. Prohibiting the ships from leaving harbor prevented seizure and impressment, but it also put an end to a lucrative situation. Although smuggling became routine, the Embargo Act severely hurt communities in New England and cotton planters and farmers in the West and South who depended on the European markets, particularly the British markets.

The embargo had little impact on Great Britain and France. Amidst growing protests against the embargo, under the impression of election victories by the rival Federalists, and with New Englanders airing secessionist ideas, President Jefferson asked for a modification of the Embargo Act shortly before he left office. Congress repealed the act and on 1 March 1809 passed the Nonintercourse Act. The new law prohibited trade with Great Britain and France and banned British and French ships from U.S. waters, but it permitted trade with the rest of the world. Great Britain had found ready suppliers in Central and Latin America, and like the embargo, nonintercourse did not change British naval conduct. Having

accomplished nothing, the United States backed down and replaced the Nonintercourse Act with Macon's Bill No. 2, a bill introduced by Representative Nathaniel Macon that barred armed vessels of the belligerents from entering American ports but reopened trade with France and Great Britain. Macon's Bill promised that, if either England or France revoked the blockade, nonintercourse would be imposed against the other.

Napoleon reacted swiftly. He instructed his foreign minister, Jean-Baptiste Nompère de Champagny, duc de Cadore, to notify the Americans that the Milan and Berlin Decrees were revoked. Although the note the Americans received from Cadore was vague and stated that repeal of the decrees was contingent on resumption of American nonintercourse with Great Britain, President James Madison proclaimed the French in compliance with Macon's Bill. This gave the British until February 1811 to revoke the Orders in Council.

Great Britain remained intractable, and by the time Congress assembled in November, Madison was ready to put the nation on a war footing. Many members of Congress, however, were reluctant to go to war with the mightiest naval power on the globe. The most vocal group calling for war or at least some action was called the War Hawks. They were for the most part a group of young Jeffersonian Republicans from the West and the South who had recently been voted into office. Among them was Henry Clay of Kentucky, who had never served in the House of Representatives before and was only thirty-four years old but was nonetheless elected to the influential position of speaker of the House. Clay made sure that a number of his colleagues willing to go to war were appointed to important committees.

The War Hawks argued that British crimes were not confined to the high seas. On the northwestern frontier, in Ohio and the territories of Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan, Native Americans, led by the Shawnee prophet Tenskwatawa and his brother Tecumseh and supported by the British in Canada, resisted the relentless white encroachment on their lands. Tenskwatawa preached a return to the customary way of living, Native American brotherhood, and abstinence. Strongly opposed to the extensive land cessions secured by the Americans and using anti-white rhetoric, he attracted many young warriors. After the Treaty of Fort Wayne, in which chiefs opposed to Tenskwatawa ceded 3 million acres of land to the United States, Tenskwatawa threatened to prevent settlement of the land by force. Tecumseh would supply the necessary military and political leadership. Americans suspected that Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh were agents of British interests, and while Tecumseh traveled into the South to enlist other Native American nations, the Indiana governor William Henry Harrison moved against what he perceived to be a threatening Native American coalition. He destroyed their town at the Tippecanoe River, providing an additional incentive for the Native Americans to seek support from the British in Canada. The attacks against white settlers did not end, and the War Hawks, holding Great Britain responsible for those attacks, advocated ousting the British from North America by conquering Canada. Others


from the Southwest and the South saw an opportunity to conquer East and West Florida. The United States had long claimed that West Florida was part of the Louisiana Purchase and had begun absorbing it piecemeal.

Frontier grievances and ambitions were debated in Congress, but they were hardly sufficient by themselves to bring about war with Great Britain. Some may have hoped to incorporate Canada into the United States, but most members of Congress simply perceived Canada as an easy target because Britain was too occupied with France to divert men and arms to defend its dominion in North America. Canada was to serve as a bargaining chip to force Great Britain to change its conduct on the high seas.

After more than half a year of deliberations and persuasion, Congress declared war on 18 June 1812. The House voted 79 to 49 on 4 June 1812, with 17 Republicans voting against war and 10 abstaining. Not one Federalist voted for war. The Senate approved the declaration by a narrow margin of 19 to 13 on 17 June. Madison signed it the following day. Two days before and unknown to the members of Congress, the British Parliament had repealed the Orders in Council. When the news reached the United States, it was already too late.

Invasion of Canada

Despite the long period of debates in Congress, the nation was hardly prepared to actually wage the war it declared on a formidable enemy. Inadequate military, naval, and financial preparation resulted in insufficient and illtrained troops. Military incompetence and defective strategy led to a series of military disasters, particularly during the first year of the war, when American troops tried to invade Canada. The army was additionally hampered by a militia that generally defined itself as a defensive force and was unwilling to partake in a war of conquest and by obstruction of the war effort in the Federalist-controlled New England states. General William Hull had to surrender Detroit on 16 August 1812, Generals Stephen van Rensselaer and Alexander Smyth failed dismally on the Niagara River in October, and General Henry Dearborn broke off a feeble attempt to march on Montreal in November. On Lake Erie, U.S. forces achieved their greatest success under the command of Oliver H. Perry in September 1813. Detroit was recovered the following year, and Harrison defeated the British at the Thames River on 5 October 1813, a battle in which Tecumseh was killed, breaking Native American resistance. The year closed, however, with the complete failure of a renewed campaign against Montreal by General James Wilkinson on 11 November


1813, the British capture of Fort Niagara on 18 December 1813, and the destruction of a number of towns, including Buffalo, New York, by the British during December 1813.

By the summer of 1814 many incompetent officers had been replaced, and under the command of Generals Jacob Brown and Winfield Scott, the northern army, although failing to conquer any substantial territory, stood its ground at Chippewa River on 5 July 1814, Lundy's Lane on 25 July 1814, and the siege of Fort Erie in August 1814. In September, despite an overwhelming majority, the British broke off an attack against upper New York when their naval support was defeated on Lake Champlain.

British Landing Operations

After Napoleon's abdication in April 1814, Britain was free to transfer battle-hardened troops from Europe to North America, which made landing operations in Maine and the Chesapeake Bay possible. The British were successful in Maine, and their attack against Washington, D.C., brought about the infamous routing of the American militia and troops at Bladensburg, Maryland, and the burning of official buildings in the nation's capital, including the White House and the Capitol on 24 and 25 August 1814. In early September, the British moved against Baltimore, but there they were driven off. That battle inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Blockade of the American Seaboard

During the first six months after the declaration of war, the Royal Navy was slow to use its superiority, but by the end of 1813, the American East Coast was under blockade. Only the New England states were exempted by Admiral John B. Warren until May 1814, because they opposed the war and supplied the British in Canada and the West Indies. American exports dropped sharply, and even coastal trade became increasingly dangerous. Harbor towns were affected severely, but farmers and planters in the West and the South also suffered heavily. Most American ships, navy and merchant marine, were bottled up in port, and single-ship actions on the high seas failed to affect the overwhelming superiority of the British fleet. Even privateers, who had been quite successful in previous years, found few prizes because most British ships now sailed in convoys.

Peace

Both the Americans and the British were eager to enter into negotiations. Russia offered to mediate the conflict, and American and British peace commissioners met in Ghent, Belgium, in August 1814. The American delegation had hoped to put impressment on the negotiation table but soon found that the British would not be moved on this issue. Anxious to protect Canada and their Native American allies, the British first demanded territory, a Native American buffer state, and demilitarization of the Great Lakes. In view of little encouraging news from

North America and increasing opposition at home to war taxes, they agreed to end the war on the basis of a status quo ante bellum. The British navigation rights on the Mississippi River and the American rights to fish in Canadian waters, both guaranteed in 1783, were left out of the Treaty of Ghent, signed on 24 December 1814.

Although the United States had not achieved one thing it had gone to war for, the news that the war was over was received joyously in all parts of the United States. For the United States, it seemed that not to have been defeated by Britain was a victory. News about the most important battle victory of the war arrived almost simultaneously with word about peace and added immensely to an impression of achievement. It did not matter that the Battle of New Orleans, where, on 8 January 1815, General Andrew Jackson inflicted the most crushing military defeat of the war on a British army, took place two weeks after the war was over.

The peace treaty, unanimously ratified by the Senate, led to the final demise of the Federalists and any secession ideas harbored in New England. The years after 1815 saw a sense of national identity in the United States and in Canada that had not existed before or during the war. Capital that lay dormant during the embargo, nonintercourse, and the British blockade found a new outlet in the developing industry in the United States, now protected by high tariffs. Americans learned not to rely too heavily on a militia, making way for a reorganized army that enabled future expansion. The Second War of Independence, as the War of 1812 has been called, was the first step in establishing the United States as a serious, permanent player in international politics.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Benn, Carl. The Iroquois in the War of 1812. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.

Egan, Clifford L. Neither Peace nor War: Franco-American Relations, 1803–1812. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983.

Elting, John R. Amateurs to Arms! A Military History of the War of 1812. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books, 1991.

Fredriksen, John C., comp. War of 1812 Eyewitness Accounts: An Annotated Bibliography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwod Press, 1997.

Gardiner, Robert, ed. The Naval War of 1812. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1998.

Heidler, David S., and Jeanne T. Heidler, eds. Encyclopedia of the War of 1812. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC–CLIO, 1997.

Hickey, Donald R. The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989.

———. "The War of 1812: Still a Forgotten Conflict?" Journal of Military History 65, no. 3 (2001): 741–769.

Lord, Walter. The Dawn's Early Light. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.

Skeen, C. Edward. Citizen Soldiers in the War of 1812. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1999.

MichaelWala

See alsoCanada, Relations with ; Chesapeake-Leopard Incident ; Embargo Act ; France, Relations with ; Great Britain, Relations with ; Great Lakes Naval Campaigns of 1812 ; Impressment of Seamen ; Macon's Bill No. 2 ; New Orleans, Battle of ; Nonintercourse Act ; Tippecanoe, Battle of ; Washington Burned andvol. 9:Madison's War Message .

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"War of 1812." Dictionary of American History. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"War of 1812." Dictionary of American History. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3401804470.html

"War of 1812." Dictionary of American History. 2003. Retrieved June 25, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3401804470.html

War of 1812

War of 1812, armed conflict between the United States and Great Britain, 1812–15. It followed a period of great stress between the two nations as a result of the treatment of neutral countries by both France and England during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, in which the latter two were antagonists (1793–1801, 1803–14).

Causes of the War

American shippers took advantage of the hostilities in Europe to absorb the carrying trade between Europe and the French and Spanish islands in the West Indies. By breaking the passage with a stop in a U.S. port, they evaded seizure under the British rule of 1756, which forbade to neutrals in wartime any trade that was not allowed in peacetime. In 1805, however, in the Essex Case, a British court ruled that U.S. ships breaking passage at an American port did not circumvent the prohibitions set out in the rule of 1756. As a result the seizure of American ships by Great Britain increased.

The following year Great Britain instituted a partial blockade of the European coast. The French emperor, Napoleon I, retaliated with a blockade of the British Isles. Napoleon's Continental System, which was intended to exclude British goods or goods cleared through Britain from countries under French control, and the British orders in council (1807), which forbade trade with France except after touching at English ports, threatened the American merchant fleet with confiscation by one side or the other. Although the French subjected American ships to considerable arbitrary treatment, the difficulties with England were more apparent. The impressment of sailors alleged to be British from U.S. vessels was a particularly great source of anti-British feeling, a famous incident of impressment being the Chesapeake affair of 1807.

Despite the infringement of U.S. rights, President Jefferson hoped to achieve a peaceful settlement with the British. Toward this end he supported a total embargo on trade in the hope that economic pressure would force the belligerents to negotiate with the United States. The Nonimportation Act of 1806 was followed by the Embargo Act of 1807. Difficulty of enforcement and economic conditions that rendered England and the Continent more or less independent of America made the embargo ineffective, and in 1809 it gave way to a Nonintercourse Act. This in turn was superseded by Macon's Bill No. 2, which repealed the trade restrictions against Britain and France with the proviso that if one country withdrew its offensive decrees or orders, nonintercourse would be reimposed with the other.

In 1809, after the passage of the Nonintercourse Act, a satisfactory agreement had been reached with the British minister in Washington, David Erskine, who promised repeal of the orders in council. The pact was disavowed by Foreign Secretary George Canning, however, and Erskine was replaced by F. J. Jackson, who soon proved himself persona non grata to the U.S. government. Subsequently, by a dubious commitment, Napoleon tricked James Madison, who had succeeded Jefferson as President, into reimposing (1811) nonintercourse on England. Negotiations with Britain for repeal of the orders in council continued without result; just before the declaration of war, yet too late to prevent it, the orders in council were repealed.

In reality, it was not so much the infringement of neutral rights that occasioned the actual outbreak of hostilities as the desire of the frontiersmen for free land, which could only be obtained at the expense of the Native Americans and the British. Moreover, the West suspected the British, with some justification, of attempting to prevent American expansion and of encouraging and arming the Native Americans. Matters came to a head after the battle of Tippecanoe (1811); the radical Western group believed that the British had supported the Native American confederacy, and they dreamed of expelling the British from Canada. Their militancy was supported by Southerners who wished to obtain West Florida from the Spanish (allies of Great Britain). Among the prominent "war hawks" in the 12th Congress were Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Langdon Cheves, Felix Grundy, Peter Porter, and others, who managed to override the opposition of John Randolph and of the moderates.

Course of the War

War was declared June 18, 1812. It was not until hostilities had begun that Madison discovered how woefully inadequate American preparations for war were. The rash hopes of the "war hawks," who expected to take Canada at a blow, were soon dashed. The American force under Gen. William Hull, far from gaining glory, disgracefully surrendered (Aug., 1812) at Detroit to a smaller Canadian force under Isaac Brock. On the Niagara River, an American expedition was repulsed after a successful attack on Queenston Heights, because the militia under Stephen Van Rensselaer would not cross the New York state boundary.

On the sea, however, the tiny American navy initially gave a good account of itself. The victory of the Constitution, under Isaac Hull, over the Guerrière and the capture of the Macedonian by the United States (Stephen Decatur commanding) were two outstanding achievements of 1812. The smaller vessels also did well, and American privateers carried the war to the very shores of England. In 1813 the British reasserted their supremacy on the sea; the Chesapeake, under Capt. James Lawrence ( "Don't give up the ship!" ), accepted a challenge from the Shannon and met with speedy defeat. Most of the American ships were either captured or bottled up in harbor for the duration of the war.

It was on inland waters, however, that the American navy achieved its most notable triumphs—victories that had an important bearing on the course of the war. In Jan., 1813, at the Raisin River, S of Detroit, American troops suffered another defeat. But with the victory of Capt. Oliver Perry on Lake Erie in Sept., 1813, American forces, under Gen. William Henry Harrison, were able to advance against the British, who burned Detroit and retreated into Canada. Harrison pursued and defeated them in a battle at the Thames River (see Thames, battle of the), in which Tecumseh, the Native American chief, was killed. Yet the feeble efforts of James Wilkinson along the St. Lawrence River did nothing to improve the situation on the New York border.

The first months of 1814 held gloomy prospects for the Americans. The finances of the government had been somewhat restored in 1813, but there was no guarantee of future supplies. New England, never sympathetic with the war, now became openly hostile, and the question of secession was taken up by the Hartford Convention. Moreover, with Napoleon checked in Europe, Britain could devote more time and effort to the war in America.

In July, 1814, the American forces along the Niagara River, now under Gen. Jacob Brown, maintained their own in engagements at Chippawa and Lundy's Lane. Shortly afterward, Sir George Prevost led a large army into New York down the west side of Lake Champlain and seriously threatened the Hudson valley. But when his accompanying fleet was defeated near Plattsburgh (Sept., 1814) by Capt. Thomas Macdonough, he was forced to retreat to Canada. In August, a British expedition to Chesapeake Bay won an easy victory at Bladensburg and took Washington, burning the Capitol and the White House. The victorious British, however, were halted at Fort McHenry before Baltimore.

Negotiations for Peace

The Fort McHenry setback and the American victory at Plattsburgh helped to persuade British statesmen to agree to end the war, in which no decisive gains had been made by either side. For some time negotiations for peace had been taking place. Although Great Britain had refused an early Russian offer to mediate between it and the United States, the British entered into direct peace negotiations at Ghent in mid-1814. The American delegation to the meeting at Ghent was headed by John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and Albert Gallatin. After long and tortuous discussions, a treaty (see Ghent, Treaty of) was signed (Dec. 24, 1814), providing for the cessation of hostilities, the restoration of conquered territories, and the setting up of boundary commissions.

The final action of the war took place after the signing of the treaty, when Andrew Jackson decisively defeated the British at New Orleans on Jan. 8, 1815. This victory, although it came after the technical end of the war, was important in restoring American confidence. Although the peace treaty failed to deal with the matters of neutral rights and impressment that were the ostensible cause of the conflict, the war did quicken the growth of American nationalism. In addition, the defeats suffered by the Native Americans in the Northwest and in the South forced them to sign treaties with the U.S. government and opened their lands for American expansion.

Bibliography

See G. W. Cullum, Campaigns of 1812–15 (1879); T. Roosevelt, The Naval War of 1812 (1882, repr. 1968); A. T. Mahan, Sea Power in Its Relation to the War of 1812 (2 vol., 1905; repr. 1968); J. W. Pratt, Expansionists of 1812 (1925, repr. 1957); H. Adams, The War of 1812 (ed. by H. A. DeWeerd, 1944); F. Beirne, War of 1812 (1949, repr. 1965); G. Tucker, Poltroons and Patriots (2 vol., 1954); C. S. Forester, The Age of Fighting Sail: The Story of the Naval War of 1812 (1956); A. H. Z. Carr, The Coming of War (1960); R. Horsman, The Causes of the War of 1812 (1962, repr. 1972) and The War of 1812 (1969); H. L. Coles, The War of 1812 (1965); R. V. Remini, The Battle of New Orleans (1999); A. J. Langguth, Union 1812 (2007); A. Taylor, The Civil War of 1812 (2010); G. C. Daughan, 1812: The Navy's War (2011); D. R. Hickey and C. D. Clark, An Illustrated History of the War of 1812 (2011); T. O. Bickham, The Weight of Vengeance (2012); H. Howard, Mr. and Mrs. Madison's War (2012); J. C. A. Stagg, The War of 1812 (2012).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"War of 1812." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"War of 1812." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-War1812.html

"War of 1812." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Retrieved June 25, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-War1812.html

War of 1812

War of 1812

ADRIENNE WILMOTH LERNER

The War of 1812, spawned by the European Napoleonic Wars, was the last war in which the fledgling United States fought its former colonial power, Great Britain. After three years of fighting on land and at sea, the United States military successfully drove the British forces from United States soil, but not before British troops burned Washington, D.C. The War of 1812 assured the United States the independent sovereignty it claimed after victory in the American Revolution and shaped American foreign policy for over a century.

When continental Europe erupted in conflict in 1793, the United States declared itself neutral. Not wanting to anger France or Britain, the two main rivals in the European war, the United States tried to remain out of contentious European politics, especially in regards to European colonial holdings in the Americas. Relations were further strained by British resentment of ongoing United States trade and diplomatic cooperation with France. British ships blockaded United States ports, hoping to prevent supplies and trade goods from reaching France. United States leaders, George Washington and John Adams, worked to ease tensions and lift the blockade, and by 1795, the nation again conducted trade with allies in Europe. However, by 1803, the United States government grew deeply concerned about the presence of a strong British military force in the Great Lakes region. Negotiations with Britain to reduce their military presence in the West and along the northern border of New England failed. Tensions again mounted when France sold the United States significant territories, including the Mississippi River, in the Louisiana Purchase.

In 1805, the British Navy resumed its blockade of the Unites States coast, prohibiting the export of most goods to continental Europe. The Orders in Council of 1807 further restricted neutral trade with Europe, and authorized British ships to take both the cargo and crew of seized neutral ships. The practice of impressment, forcing captured seamen into service on British ships, inflamed anti-British sentiment in the United States. The passage of the Embargo Act, confining all United States trade to the North American coast, the failure of continued diplomatic relations, and British-incited Indian attacks on United States outposts, gave credence to the opinions of the "War Hawks" in the United States government. In June 1812, the United States declared war on Britain.

The War of 1812 forced the United States to rapidly form and train military forces. After the Revolutionary War, the federal government only reluctantly allowed provisions for national forces. Most armies were maintained by individual states, with little standardization of training and equipment. The war spanned the entire breadth of the United States and its territories, from the Great Lakes region to New Orleans, Louisiana. Regional armies facilitated troop movement and deployment, but the lack of national infrastructure made travel and communication among the different battlefronts difficult. Military generals attempted to create a complex communication and espionage network, utilizing couriers on horseback and semaphore, to deliver messages. Codes were primitive and easy to break, but both British and American forces employed invisible inks to help conceal communications.

The vast expanses of rough and unfamiliar territory that both armies traversed required the extensive use of scouts. Both British and American forces preferred to use Indian scouts, who often had superior knowledge of regional terrain and could communicated in several indigenous languages. Indian scouts also aided in the recruitment of Indians to fight rival forces. British and United States military leaders also attempted to spark warfare between rival tribes with varying allegiances, hoping to distract opposing forces or break their aid network. Extensive contact with indigenous populations proved devastating, as during the American Revolution, disease ravaged Indian villages and several thousand Indian warriors died in battle.

From 1812 to 1814, the United States suffered numerous crushing defeats at the hands of superior British forces. United States offensives failed to take the Great Lakes region, and military defenses could not keep British troops from occupying Washington, D.C. Anticipated French aid never materialized in the 1813, as the tide of war in Europe had shifted decisively in favor of the British, and Napoleon's French Empire was in grave danger of collapse. American diplomats in Paris maintained a small espionage network in Europe and the Americas to monitor the British military and diplomatic corps. A French spy, posing as a local trader, rode to the White House to inform the president and cabinet members of the British plans to invade, occupy, and then destroy Washington, D.C. The government fled the British invasion of the capital city, but only by a matter of hours.

Despite the grim prospects of the United States land campaign in the early years of the war, the new United States Navy mounted surprisingly successful battles against the powerful British Navy. The United States reluctantly formed its Navy to combat the extortionist trade monopoly of the North African Barbary Pirates who dominated shipping in the Mediterranean. While wealthier European government simply paid annual tributes and occasional ransoms to the Barbary authorities, the fledgling United States Federal government could not afford to pay such large sums of money. The nation mounted a small but highly effective Navy, eventually driving the Barbary authorities to capitulation. After the conflict, the government only narrowly voted to keep naval forces.

When the British began the blockade of the American coastline, United States navy and merchant ships successfully ran the blockade. The government employed "pirate" ships to destroy British ships, and recapture seized cargo and Americans impressed into service. With the outbreak of war, naval resources were increasingly devoted to strategic sea campaigns against British vessels. The United States Navy successfully captured the British frigate Macedonian, defeated the Java, and raided several other merchant and military ships. Victories at sea, though limited, enforced the need for a permanent navy in the United States and ensured its continued survival. One hundred and forty years later, the United States Navy surpassed the British fleet to become the world's dominant sea power.

As the French were defeated in Europe, the British devoted more resources to the battlefront in America. However, United States forces rallied, turning the tide of the war in their favor by August 1814. Wishing to avoid clear military defeat, both sides began peace negotiations. The British failure to capture Baltimore prompted the government to settle their dispute with the United States, instead of continuing a lingering, expensive, and increasingly stalemated overseas war. The Treaty of Ghent formally ended the war in 1815. On January 8, 1815, after the signing of the treaty, United States forces, commanded by Andrew Jackson, achieved a stunning victory against the British at the port of New Orleans. Since communication was tedious across the Atlantic and the expansive western territory of Louisiana, news of the Treaty of Ghent did not reach either forces in time to prevent the engagement. The Battle of New Orleans gave the impression that the long-stalemated war was a sound United States victory, but the new nation was successful largely because of the failure of British offensive operations.

After the War of 1812, the United States declared firmer international policy. With the issuance of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, the nation stated its policy of non-intervention in European conflicts. Furthermore, the United States declared the New World closed to further colonization, and that attempts of foreign powers to intervene in conflicts between colonial powers and their colonies would be viewed as an act of aggression. The War of 1812 solidified the political and military preeminence of the United States in the Americas, and began the great expansion westward toward the Pacific coast.

FURTHER READING:

BOOKS:

Dudley, Wade G. Splintering the Wooden Wall: The British Blockade of the United States, 18121815, reprint ed. Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute, 2000.

Hickey, Donald R. The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict. reprint ed. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1990.

Katcher, Philip R. The American War, 18121814 (Men-at-Arms, no. 226). reprint ed. Buffalo, MN: Osprey Publishing, 1990.

SEE ALSO

Revolutionary War, Espionage and Intelligence

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

LERNER, ADRIENNE WILMOTH. "War of 1812." Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence, and Security. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

LERNER, ADRIENNE WILMOTH. "War of 1812." Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence, and Security. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3403300807.html

LERNER, ADRIENNE WILMOTH. "War of 1812." Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence, and Security. 2004. Retrieved June 25, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3403300807.html

War of 1812

WAR OF 1812

The War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain was a conflict fought over the right of neutral countries to participate in foreign trade without the interference of other nations and the desire of many in the United States to end British occupation of Canada. The war, which lasted from 1812 to 1815, proved inconclusive, with both countries agreeing to revert to their prewar status as much as possible.

The U.S. declaration of war against Great Britain that President james madison signed on June 18, 1812, culminated nearly a decade of antagonism between the nations. The British, who from 1802 to 1815 were involved in the

Napoleonic Wars with France, sought to prevent the United States, a neutral, from trading with France. Britain imposed a blockade on France and required that U.S. ships stop at British ports and pay duties on goods bound for France. In addition, outrage grew in the United States over the British practice of boarding U.S. ships on the high seas and impressing seamen (seizing them and forcing them to serve Great Britain) who the British claimed had deserted the Royal Navy. More than ten thousand U.S. seamen were impressed between 1802 and 1812.

In 1807 President thomas jefferson succeeded in convincing Congress to pass the embargo act, which prevented virtually all U.S. ships from sailing overseas. The economic consequences of this law were disastrous to the U.S. economy, forcing the act's repeal in 1809. In its place, Congress enacted the Non-Intercourse Act, which forbade trade only with Great Britain and France. A third law, passed in 1810, allowed trade with both nations but stipulated the revival of nonintercourse against whichever nation did not remove its trade restrictions. When France announced an end to its trade decrees, the United States banned trade with Great Britain.

Anger against Britain was also fueled by a group of expansionist congressmen, nicknamed the War Hawks, who wanted more land for settlement and military action against the British in Canada. British support of the American Indians on the frontier had led to Indian wars against U.S. settlers.

The war itself provided limited success for the United States. Though a U.S. naval squadron under the command of Oliver Hazard Perry captured the British fleet on Lake Erie in 1813, battles in northern New York and Ontario, Canada, proved inconclusive. After U.S. forces burned the city of York (now Toronto), Ontario, the British attacked Washington, D.C., on September 13 and 14, 1814. The British burned the U.S. Capitol and the White House.

Both sides realized the futility of the struggle and began treaty negotiations in 1813. Because of the military stalemate, neither side could extract concessions from the other. The United States and Great Britain agreed, in the Treaty of Ghent, to return to the prewar status quo. The treaty, which was signed on December 24, 1814, in Ghent, Belgium, was ratified by the U.S. Senate on February 16, 1815. However, the Battle of New Orleans was fought on January 8, 1815, before news of the treaty reached the two armies. General andrew jackson led his troops to a decisive victory over the British forces, providing the U.S. public with the illusion that the United States had won the war. The battle also enhanced Jackson's national reputation and helped pave the way for his presidency.

The frictions that had precipitated the war disappeared. The end of the Napoleonic Wars ended both the need for a British naval blockade and the impressing of U.S. seamen. Although the United States did not acquire Canada, American Indian opposition to expansion was weakened, and U.S. nationalism increased.

further readings

Wait, Eugene M. 1999. America and the War of 1812. Commack, N.Y.: Kroshka.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"War of 1812." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"War of 1812." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3437704642.html

"War of 1812." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. 2005. Retrieved June 25, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3437704642.html

War of 1812

War of 1812 (1812–15) Conflict between the USA and Britain. The main source of friction was British maritime policy during the Napoleonic Wars, which included the impressment of sailors from US vessels and the interception of US merchant ships. Difficulties on the border with Canada also contributed. In 1811, President James Madison reimposed the Nonintercourse Act on trade with the British. The USA was ill-prepared for war and an invasion of Canada failed. Stephen Decatur restored US pride. Victory on Lake Erie (September 1813) enabled US forces, led by William H. Harrison, to force British troops back across the Canadian border. The Hartford Convention raised the possibility of New England secession, while the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1814) freed more British forces. The British imposed a naval blockade and captured Washington, D.C., burning the White House. A US naval victory on Lake Champlain, however, ended the British threat to New York. With the war at stalemate, John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay led US negotiations that resulted in the Treaty of Ghent (December 24, 1814). Andrew Jackson's victory at New Orleans occurred after the signing of the treaty.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"War of 1812." World Encyclopedia. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"War of 1812." World Encyclopedia. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O142-Warof1812.html

"War of 1812." World Encyclopedia. 2005. Retrieved June 25, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O142-Warof1812.html

War of 1812

War of 1812. The last conflict between Britain and the USA began when the British blockade of Napoleonic Europe and naval impressment of American sailors inflamed relations. Western American politicians campaigned for conquest of Canada to open land for settlement and eliminate Indian resistance. Congress declared war on 16 June 1812—four days after Castlereagh had announced relaxation of the blockade. The Americans failed to overrun Canada, despite battles including Queenston Heights (1812), Chrysler's Farm (1813), Lundy's Lane, and Chippewa (1814). The British retaliated for the destruction of York (later Toronto) in April 1813 by occupying Washington in August 1814 and burning the White House. Indians played a significant role as British allies. American pride was salved by unexpected victories at sea, and on the Lakes. The heaviest fighting took place at New Orleans after peace had been concluded. The war was ended by the treaty of Ghent, with its causes unresolved. The diversion of troops to Canada limited forces available for the Waterloo campaign.

Ged Martin

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

JOHN CANNON. "War of 1812." The Oxford Companion to British History. 2002. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

JOHN CANNON. "War of 1812." The Oxford Companion to British History. 2002. Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O110-Warof1812.html

JOHN CANNON. "War of 1812." The Oxford Companion to British History. 2002. Retrieved June 25, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O110-Warof1812.html

War of 1812

WAR OF 1812


The War of 1812 (18121814) remains one of the least known of American wars. Some historians regard it as a minor sidelight to the Napoleonic Wars (18001814)in Europe. Others see it as a continuation of the struggle that began with the American Revolution (17751783). Most agree, however, that the war had its origins in the economic problems facing the young republic in the early nineteenth century. The war's end resolved some of these problems. But other problems raised by the war continued to plague the United States through the first half of the nineteenth century.

Contemporary sources suggest that the United States entered the War of 1812 partly to end British impressment (a kind of forced draft) of American sailors. This was undoubtedly the case. But the complete cause of the war was much more complex. The War of 1812 had just as much to do with American trading interests as it did with foreign powers respecting the rights of American citizens. Some of the war's fronts were opened to seize Canadian lands and to end British influence over Native Americans in the Great Lakes area. Historians have also suggested that the war was fought to enhance the prestige of the Republican (Anti-Federalist) Party, and to enhance the prestige of the United States. The end of the war is equally confusing. Although the United States has won most of its wars, the War of 1812 was a major exception. The Treaty of Ghent (1814) that ended the conflict simply restored the state of affairs that had existed before the war began.

The problem of European powers interfering with American trade was an old one, stretching back decades into the years following the American Revolution. They were rooted in the French Revolution (17891795) and the Napoleonic period (17991815). At the time, the British were trying to choke off foreign trade with France, while the French were denying the British access to Continental ports. The Orders in Council established Great Britain's intention to seize goods carried in neutral ships that were intended for French ports, while Napoleon's Berlin Decrees performed a similar service for ports in other mainland European nations. When the British warship HMS Leopard boarded the USSChesapeake in 1807 and removed four sailors who had allegedly deserted from the British navy, the Americans responded with outrage. Following the example set by the thirteen American colonies in the 1760s, President Thomas Jefferson (18011809) guided an Embargo Act (1807) that ended almost all American foreign trade. However, the Embargo Act hurt the United States far more than it did the nation's trading partners. In 1809 Congress reopened trade with foreign nations (except for Britain and France) in the Non-Intercourse Act. This act also stated that trade with Britain and France would be resumed if the two countries agreed to respect U.S. shipping. Even this step did not help the faltering U.S. economy, and in 1810 Macon's Bill No. 2 opened trade with both countries with the stipulation that trade with either country would be cut off if the other agreed to drop its restrictions on U.S. trade. Napoleon quickly took advantage of the opportunity to hurt the British, and in 1811 President James Madison (18091817) cut off trade with England. In June of 1812 the British government finally repealed the Orders in Council. But by that time Madison had already asked Congress for a declaration of war.

The other major source of conflict between the British and the Americans was on the Great Lakes frontier. Since the conflict known as the Little Turtle's War (17911794), the territory known as the Old Northwest had been a place of constant conflict between Native Americans and U.S. settlers. After the Treaty of Greenville (1795) awarded most of what is now Ohio to the U.S. government, most Indians left the area. Among them were the Shawnee leader Tecumseh and his younger brother Tenkswatawa, sometimes known as the Shawnee Prophet. Tecumseh was determined to put together an inter-tribal confederacy to resist further American incursions into Indian lands. His dream was smashed at the battle of Tippecanoe (1811), when General William Henry Harrison confronted the Shawnee Prophet at Prophetstown and scattered Tecumseh's Native American confederation. Tecumseh promptly joined the British forces in Canada as a commander of auxiliaries. He helped seize Detroit from American general William Hull in 1812 before being killed at the Battle of the Thames (1813). Tecumseh's death marked the effective end of Indian resistance to white settlement in the Old Northwest.

The problem of how to pay for the war was also one that occupied the government of the young republic. One of the reasons that the United States lost most of its battles in the first year of the war was that Congress had made a declaration of war, increased pay for its soldiers and raised money to encourage enlistments, but it had also adjourned before voting taxes or appropriating funds. In March of 1813, Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin was reduced to begging for money through subscribed loans. Gallatin had to call on financial lion Stephen Girard, who had made his money through a shipping business centered in Philadelphia, for help. Girard was probably the richest man in the United States at the time. The same Congress that had authorized war with Great Britain had also refused to renew the charter of the Bank of the United States effectively killing off the government's primary financial institution. Girard himself, along with fur trader John Jacob Astor and a syndicate of wealthy businessmen, underwrote most of the needed loans. In less than two weeks he had sold $4,672,800 worth of loan subscriptions to the American public, and purchased a further $2,383,00 himself. Girard's efforts helped bring about U.S. victories in 1813, and contributed to Great Britain's willingness to negotiate an end to the war.

The War of 1812 came to an end when British and American negotiators signed the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814. At the time the treaty was signed, events were going on at opposite ends of the country that dramatically affected the future of the United States. New Englanders had long objected to the restrictions placed on trade by Congress as war measures. From December 1814 to January 1815, the Hartford Convention met in Connecticut and published a list of New England grievances. These ranged from undue influence of southerners in Congress to a series of constitutional amendments designed to protect New England from the damaging effects of national actions. The Hartford Convention also established the principle of nullificationthe right of a state to overturn a federal law in order to protect the interests of its citizensa principle that would later be taken up by southern states. At the same time, on January 8, 1815, in Louisiana, General Andrew Jackson was beating the British army at the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson's victory, along with the news of the peace treaty, virtually destroyed the Federalist Party in the United States. Despite the fact that none of Madison's war aims had been achieved, many citizens regarded the War of 1812and the "Era of Good Feelings" that followed itas an unqualified success.

See also: Embargo Act, Andrew Jackson, Tecumseh (Death of)


FURTHER READING

Brown, Roger H. The Republic in Peril: 1812. New York: Columbia University Press, 1964.

Hickey, Donald R. The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989.

Horsman, Reginald. The Causes of the War of 1812. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1962.

Stagg, J. C. A. Mr. Madison's War: Politics, Diplomacy, and Warfare in the Early American Republic, 17831830. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983.

Wilson, George. Stephen Girard: America's First Tycoon. Conshohocken, PA: Combined Books, 1995.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"War of 1812." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. 2000. Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"War of 1812." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. 2000. Encyclopedia.com. (June 25, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3406401017.html

"War of 1812." Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. 2000. Retrieved June 25, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3406401017.html

Facts and information from other sites