A Proud Nation Arrives at Peace
A Proud Nation Arrives at Peace
The War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain was provoked by two major issues. The first was Britain's maritime policy of impressment in its war with France. This policy was where British officials boarded U.S. ships to capture deserters from their own navy, often wrongfully taking American citizens in the process. The other issue that led to the war was Great Britain's overly friendly relations with Native Americans. Americans believed that the British were encouraging Native Americans to attack white settlers who were moving west. The Native Americans believed that the settlers were encroaching on (gradually taking over) their land. Although these two issues led to Americans being eager to fight a war with Britain, the United States was not necessarily ready to fight such a war. As a result, almost as soon as the war began, the effort to end it through diplomatic rather than military means also began.
War was declared in early June 1812, and later that same month Jonathan Russell (1771-1832), the U.S. chargé d'affaires (the top diplomat when there is no ambassador in place) in London, told the British government that the United States would be willing to make peace if the British would discontinue the practice of impressment. In return, the United States would bar all British seamen from serving on U.S. ships. In October 1812 Great Britain offered an armistice (peace agreement) but would not agree to cease impressing American seamen. In March 1813 the Russian government offered to mediate, wanting Great Britain, its ally in the war against French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), to focus all of its energies on the European conflict; in addition, Russia wanted to restore a normal trade relationship with the United States. The British turned down this offer, preferring to negotiate directly with U.S. representatives.
Negotiations begin in Ghent
When Great Britain and its allies defeated Napoleon in the spring of 1814, the British grew more interested in ending the conflict in North America, which was tapping their financial resources as well as proving to be more difficult to put to an end than expected. Everybody in Great Britain was tired of war. In the spring of 1814, U.S. president James Madison (1751-1836; see biographical entry) received an offer from Great Britain to begin peace talks, and he eagerly accepted. It was agreed that envoys (representatives) from both nations would meet in a neutral spot, Ghent, Belgium.
The men Madison appointed to serve as envoys represented a fairly wide spectrum of backgrounds and viewpoints. Twoof them were men he had chosen for the proposed Russian-mediated talks: diplomat John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) and James Bayard (1767-1815), a Federalist senator known for his moderate views. (Federalists are members of a political party who favored a strong central government and disliked the idea of fighting a war with Britain.) In addition, Madison named Speaker of the House Henry Clay (1777-1852), who had been an avid advocate of going to war with Great Britain. When Madison learned that Albert Gallatin (1761-1849), former secretary of the treasury and a nominee (though he did not receive congressional approval) for the Russian talks, was still in Europe he added him to the list. Jonathan Russell was the fifth member of the team. This time, Congress had no problem with any of Madison's appointees.
The Americans arrived in Ghent in June, well ahead of the British. Because they wanted to allow their forces in North America more time to win battles and gain ground that could be used to bargain at the peace talks, the British took their time getting to Ghent. It is generally agreed that the British representatives were overshadowed by their U.S. counterparts. Great Britain's top diplomats were busy at the Congress of Vienna (the peace negotiations that followed Napoleon's downfall), so they had to send men with less skill and experience to Ghent. Their representatives included Admiralty lawyer William Adams; Lord Gambier of the Royal Navy, who was charged with looking after Great Britain's maritime rights; and Henry Goulburn, an undersecretary of the Colonial Office, who was supposed to protect Great Britain's Canadian interests.
The British make their first offer
The negotiations began on August 8. Although the United States soon decided to drop impressment as an issue (now that the Napoleonic Wars were over, Great Britain's need for sailors had dropped off, and the practice of impressment had stopped), it soon became clear that other issues divided the two nations. The U.S. envoys found the first terms offered by the British totally unacceptable. They wanted the Canadian-U.S. border to be adjusted in their favor (this applied to parts of Maine and Minnesota they had taken over), and they demanded that that the United States remove all its warships and forts from the Great Lakes and that Great Britain retain the right to navigate on the Mississippi River. Most troubling to the United States, the British wanted most of the Northwest Territory (including a third of Wisconsin, half of Minnesota, and almost all of Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan) to be returned to the Native Americans who had originally inhabited those areas.
The issue of a Native American homeland, which the British presented as non-negotiable, seemed to the Americans an insurmountable obstacle. Westward expansion was a major goal and driving force in the United States, and it would be seriously hampered by the loss of all that land; in addition, there were already one hundred thousand American settlers living there. The United States rejected the British offer and, with the talks seemingly deadlocked, sent a discouraging report home to Madison.
Actually, though, the British had simply been probing to find out how far they could go with the Americans. The Native American homeland was negotiable, as the U.S. envoys would eventually learn. In the meantime, throughout the fall of 1814, the war continued. At first the British were convinced that dragging out the peace talks could only benefit them, and the British capture and destruction of Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1814, seemed to confirm this. But following close on the heels of that glorious moment were two troubling defeats for the British: at the Battle of Plattsburg on September 11, and at the Battle of Baltimore, September 12 through 14.
The two sides come to an agreement
In October, Great Britain made a new offer: Each side would keep whatever territory it held at the end of the war. When the United States rejected this offer, the British were forced to consider whether or not they were willing to hold out for the territory they had won on the battlefield. Doing so would probably mean more fighting, and the next year's campaign might put them in a position worse than their current one. The great British military leader Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) cautioned Great Britain's leaders not to push for more territory. That answered the question for the British, and they gave up their territorial demands.
Now that the most difficult issues had been decided, the two sides could come up with a treaty relatively quickly. The final document was put together during the month before its December 24 signing. Significantly, the treaty made no mention of the maritime (related to the sea) issues (free trade and impressment) that had caused the war and simply restored conditions to their "status quo antebellum" (the way they were before the war began). The United States and Great Britain each agreed to vacate each other's territories. No enemy property was to be confiscated, and prisoners were to be returned to their home countries as soon as possible.
Each side was to make its own peace with the Native Americans, restoring the possessions and rights they had held in 1811. (This clause would prove to be meaningless, for the Native Americans would continue to lose more land in the years to come, and they had never really had any rights to begin with.) The two nations also agreed to postpone the resolution of any boundary dispute until sometime in the future. Finally, the United States and Great Britain agreed that the war would end not with the envoys' signing of the treaty, but when the governments of both nations had ratified (approved) it.
The Battle of New Orleans
During the months of negotiations, the two sides had continued fighting the war, with gains and losses on both sides and many deaths. In fact the bloodiest confrontation of the whole war—the Battle of New Orleans—was fought two weeks after the treaty had been signed.
During December 1814 General Andrew Jackson (1767-1845; see biographical entry) had been preparing U.S. troops for a British attack on New Orleans. By early January 1814 British and U.S. troops at New Orleans had already met in skirmishes (small-scale battles), including confrontations at Lake Borgne and Villeré's plantation. The British had made two unsuccessful attacks on the U.S. line but had been driven back. But after the arrival of more troops, the British force was at its full strength of ten thousand and ready for a full-scale advance against the Americans.
The U.S. force numbered about five thousand and was made up of a colorful assortment of Baratarian pirates (pirates who volunteered to serve for the United States in exchange for them being pardoned for violating trade laws); Choctaw (Native American) warriors; militiamen (members of small armies made up of troops residing in a particular state) from Mississippi, Kentucky, and Tennessee; and U.S. Marines; sailors; and regular soldiers. On January 8 the British began their direct assault on the American line, moving across an expanse of open land called Chalmette's plain. At first their movement was covered by fog, but when the fog lifted they were completely exposed.
What followed was one of the most disastrous battles in British military history. When the British troops were five hundred yards away, the Americans fired their cannons. When they were three hundred yards away, the riflemen went to work, and at one hundred yards the muskets (long-barreled guns that had been used more before rifles were invented) were employed. The rain of fire and bullets was devastating to the British. Vast numbers of them were mowed down, while others fled the battle or laid down on the battlefield pretending to be dead until after it was over. Mounted on a white horse as he rode around desperately trying to rally his troops, Major General Edward Pakenham (1778-1815) made an easy target and was killed.
General John Lambert (1772-1847) took over command for Pakenham and soon stopped the battle, the major part of which had lasted only an hour and a half. The British asked to be allowed to bury their dead, and they piled the bodies into a mass grave (Pakenham's corpse was sent back to England in a cask of rum to preserve it).
The Battle of New Orleans was the most lopsided conflict of the war, if not of all time. The British lost about two thousand men (including three hundred dead and five hundred captured) while the Americans lost only seventy (including only about a dozen dead). Many battle-hardened British veterans of the Napoleonic War claimed that this was the worst fight they had ever experienced.
Despite their defeat at New Orleans, the British stayed in the area for another ten days, taking part in a few minor skirmishes and making an unsuccessful attack on Fort Saint Philip, located sixty miles downriver from New Orleans. They also made another try at taking Mobile, Alabama, and on February 11 they managed to forcibly gain Fort Bowyer from U.S. control. Before they could move on Mobile, however, they received the news that the war had ended.
Jackson stayed in New Orleans after the battle, where—to the great annoyance of its citizens—he ruled with an iron fist. He had declared martial law (rule by a military force or government in which civil rights are suspended) on December 16 and did not lift it until March 13, even though news of the Treaty of Ghent ending the war had arrived on February 19. When a journalist complained about Jackson's heavy-handedness in a newspaper article, Jackson threw him in prison, and he also jailed the judge who ordered the journalist released. Jackson also dealt severely with his own troops. A group of Tennessee militiamen decided that they were only required to serve for three months instead of six and headed home. Jackson charged them with desertion and had the six leaders of the groups executed by firing squad.
News of peace brings joy
People in the twenty-first century, who are used to instant communication, find it hard to imagine a time when news traveling from Great Britain to the United States could only travel as fast as it took a ship to cross the ocean, which could take several months. Thus Americans heard no word of the Treaty of Ghent, which was signed on December 25, until the news arrived aboard the HMS Favorite in New York harbor on February 11, 1814. In the meantime, a significant number of Americans as well as British suffered death or injury in a conflict that had already been resolved.
Noisy celebrations soon erupted in New York, then in Boston, and eventually all over the United States. Madison submitted the treaty to Congress on February 15, 1815, and Congress ratified it the next day (Great Britain had ratified the treaty on December 28, 1814). The war officially ended at 11 P . M . on February 17. Most Americans felt that their side had won the war, no matter what the actual terms of the treaty might say. The United States had fought the most powerful nation in the world and emerged, if not quite victorious, then at least on equal footing. People felt that by signing the Treaty of Ghent, Great Britain was acknowledging that the United States truly was an independent nation.
Members of both the Republican and Federalist parties found reasons for pleasure in the news of peace. Federalists felt that in its notable lack of any mention of the original war-causing issues, the treaty proved that they had been right all along in saying that there was no reason to go to war against Great Britain. Republicans, however, interpreted the treaty as an American victory, and their speechmakers and writers soon went to work proclaiming it as such. In a special message to Congress, Madison noted that the war had been full of "most brilliant successes." He praised "the wisdom of the Legislative councils, … the patriotism of the people, … the public spirit of the militia, and … the valor of the military and naval forces of the country," as recorded in the Annals of Congress.
On the other side of the ocean, British leaders and citizens also welcomed peace, for with the treaty came the easing of what had become an unwelcome burden. There were some in Great Britain, however, who felt that the United States should have been more severely punished. The London Times, on December 27 and December 30, 1814, expressed regrets that the United States had not received a "sound flogging [good beating with a whip]."
The War of 1812 has often been called the Second War of Independence, and it did involve many of the same issues and ideas of the American Revolution (1775-83), especially that of the fitness of the United States of America to be an independent nation. But some critics have noted that the War of 1812 was never really about independence, except in the minds of a few particularly passionate Republicans. Certainly the British—embroiled as they were in their own troubles with Napoleon, much closer to home—did not see it as a conflict of such grandiose consequence. For them, according to historian John R. Elting, it was "a minor colonial squabble, something to be mopped up as soon as possible to free ships and men for whatever new crises Europe might develop."
Costs and consequences
The War of 1812 lasted for two years and eight months. Official reports (which were often inaccurate) said that 528,274 troops had participated in it, including 57,000 regular soldiers, 10,000 volunteers, 3,000 rangers, and 458,000 militia. Another 20,000 served in the navy and marines. Casualty records showed 2,260 soldiers killed in battle and 4,505 wounded.
There are no figures available, however, for the number of troops who died from sickness, and historians agree that this number was huge due to unhygienic conditions in camp as well as inadequate treatment methods and supplies. Among the diseases that claimed thousands of soldiers' lives were dysentery, typhoid fever, pneumonia, malaria, measles, and smallpox. It has been estimated that there were about 17,000 non-battle-related deaths (in other words, deaths from illness or accidents) during the War of 1812. Adding in the numbers of soldiers executed (205 of them, mostly for desertion) and casualties among the privateer and civilian populations produces a grand total of about 20,000 casualties. The war took a high financial toll, too; the cost to the U.S. government was $158 million dollars.
The war leads to increased sectionalism
Besides the losses already discussed, the war had exposed many U.S. weaknesses, including a lack (at least during the first year of the war) of competent leaders and officers, not enough troops, and an overdependence on militiamen, who tended to be inexperienced and inefficient and who would often flee a battle that got too hot or refuse to cross the U.S. border into Canada. The war also led to political discontent and to an increase in sectionalism, which is a narrow-minded concern for one section of the country over all others.
Divisions between the various areas of the United States had existed since colonial times, but they were expressed in strong terms during the War of 1812, and they would only intensify as the nineteenth century progressed. The United States was made up of three sections—the West, the South, and the Northeast—each of which had its own kind of economy, social life, and political ideas.
Westerners had left the security of the long-settled East Coast for the dangers and hardships of the frontier. They stressed the values of self-reliance, courage, initiative, and hard work and tended to judge people by these standards rather than by family connections or wealth. Eager not only to defend the honor of their country but to possibly expand its borders, westerners had by and large been in favor of war with Great Britain. The life of the South was dominated by large plantations on which cotton was grown with the aid of slave labor. The cultural focus was on social graces and social rank, factors that dated back to the English aristocracy (noble or privileged class) that many southerners idealized. Yet the trade restrictions imposed by Great Britain had hurt the southern economy, and most of them also had supported the war effort.
As many farmers moved west, the Northeast increasingly relied on shipbuilding, fishing, and trade with foreign countries for its economy. These activities were brought to a halt by the War of 1812, fueling New England's opposition to the war and to the Republican administration who favored it. At the same time, the war had sparked a trend toward domestic manufacturing that would grow throughout the rest of the century, especially as new inventions and processes were introduced, as cities grew, and as transportation improved.
As the nineteenth century progressed, these sectional differences became centered on one important issue: slavery. The northern and southern states came into strong opposition over this matter, with northerners either condemning slavery's inhumanity or resenting the economic advantage it gave the South, and with southerners defending their right to live as they chose. In the American Civil War, the violent conflict between the North and the South that erupted in 1861, the loyalties of the western states would be determined, generally, by their geographical location in either the northern or southern part of the country.
Who got the blame?
Congress took much of the blame for the nation's problems during the War of 1812, especially in failing to pass a tax program or establish a national bank, steps that many believed would put the country back on a solid financial footing. Criticized even more than Congress—at least while the war was still in progress—was President James Madison, who was faulted for weak leadership during a difficult period. A shy, cautious person who did not like to offend anyone, Madison treated his foes and enemies with fairness and humanity, but he also tolerated poor performances by his subordinates for far too long. He made, for example, several very bad cabinet choices (especially Secretary of War William Eustis and Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton) that probably had much to do with the disasters of the first year of the war.
Madison had been unable to inspire confidence in either Congress or the American people and thus contributed to the divisiveness that dominated the war years. Yet when the war was over, the perceived U.S. victory suddenly restored Madison's image, and he finished his term as a popular president. Faring far less favorable was the Federalist Party, which finally lost its long struggle for dominance over the Republican Party, and went into a steep decline after the war. The Federalists' loss of popularity had deeper roots (the country was changing, becoming both larger and more democratic, and the Federalist model of a compact nation ruled by a centralized, aristocratic elite no longer fit), but the war provided the final blow.
Opposition to the war may have been tolerated somewhat during the conflict, but after it had ended, that same opposition was considered traitorous. Federalists were seen as having wanted to prevent the United States from trouncing the British. The party's opponents cast the Hartford Convention, which had actually been dominated by moderation and no talk of seceding (separating) from the union, as the ultimate expression of Federalists' disloyalty. Although the Federalists claimed that they were being unfairly portrayed and unjustly criticized, their party continued to decline in popularity.
Another negative consequence of the War of 1812 was a heightening of the anti-British feeling that had prevailed in the United States since the days of the American Revolution. Americans especially resented the British use of Native American allies, attributing many atrocities to their presence in battles. Hatred for the British also had been stirred by the raids on the Chesapeake Bay region between 1813 and 1814, during which many Americans felt the British had been unnecessarily harsh and arrogant.
Adding to this hostile feeling was the treatment of the approximately twenty thousand Americans who were prisoners of war during the conflict. Two of the most notorious prisons were located at Halifax in Canada and at Dartmoor in southwestern England. At Dartmoor Prison, about sixty-five hundred American prisoners suffered from the damp and very poor conditions and lack of adequate food. When the war ended, a dispute about who was responsible for getting the prisoners home caused a delay in releasing them. On April 6, 1815, the prisoners became unruly and their British guards opened fire on them, killing seven and injuring thirty-one. News of the "Dartmoor Massacre" sparked many anti-British editorials in U.S. newspapers.
The war brings some important changes
So the War of 1812 was expensive in many ways. What did the United States gain after paying such a high price? From a military perspective, the War of 1812 ended in a tie, with neither side showing clear dominance on either the land or sea. It accomplished nothing that it had set out to do, for the Orders in Council (British laws which required anyone intending to trade with France to stop first in England and purchase a license) had already been dropped when the war began and impressment had become a nonissue by the time it ended. In other ways, though, the war had some important consequences for the United States.
Despite its hopes of a successful invasion of Canada, the only land the United States acquired during the War of 1812 was part of West Florida, and that gain was connected more with the Creek War (see Chapter 4) than the war with Great Britain. But another important land issue was resolved by the war, for a wide expanse of U.S. territory in the northwest was made safer for white settlement. The death of the dynamic Shawnee war chief Tecumseh (c. 1768-1813; see biographical entry) at the Battle of the Thames signaled the end of a Native American alliance that had threatened the progress of westward expansion. Disheartened by the loss of their great leader, Native Americans gave up the dream of banding together to halt the tide of white encroachment (gradually taking) on Indian lands.
The failure of Great Britain to live up to its promises to establish a Native American homeland between the borders of Canada and the United States sealed the fate of those who had fought alongside the British. During the next century, the United States would continue to push Native Americans farther and farther west, into smaller and smaller spaces, with little regard for the rights and privileges mentioned in the Treaty of Ghent.
The War of 1812 resulted in some important changes in the U.S. military. The United States had been caught unprepared and without adequate troops too often during the war. In addition, the dangers of relying heavily on state militias had been well demonstrated. After the war, the troop level for the peacetime army was set at ten thousand, which was three times what it had been twelve years earlier. Congress also authorized the construction of twenty-one new ships and a program to fortify the U.S. coastline. Reforms in how the military was organized and run would be introduced during John C. Calhoun's term (1816-1819) as secretary of war. The war also had changed the face of the military, as older (and often problematic) men like James Wilkinson (1757-1825) and Henry Dearborn (1751-1829) gave way to more dynamic officers who had proven themselves in battle, like Jacob Brown (1775-1828), Andrew Jackson (1767-1845; see biographical entry), Oliver Hazard Perry (1785-1819; see biographical entry), and Thomas Macdonough (1783-1825; see biographical entry).
Other effects of the war
The war had a strong—though not entirely positive—effect on the U.S. economy. The New England and southern states suffered greatly due to the British blockade, which brought the fishing and shipping industries to a standstill; by contrast, the middle and western states prospered, because their crops and other products were needed to sustain the U.S. troops. Manufacturing received a big boost during the war years, because the loss of imports (goods shipped from other countries) caused by the British blockade meant that more products had to be made in the United States. To keep these manufacturing gains alive, Madison pushed through Congress a two-year extension on duties (similar to a tax) on imports.
Another economic consequence of the War of 1812 involved the Bank of the United States. It had been chartered by the federal government in 1791, and by 1805 it had eight branches and served as the government's bank, while also accepting the deposits of private citizens and businesses. Even though the bank had served the government well and succeeded in establishing a sound currency, many leaders (including Madison) feared that it was too dangerous to have a financial institution with so much centralized power. Thus when the bank's charter expired in 1811, it was not renewed.
The War of 1812, however, exposed the need for a national bank, because in trying to finance the war, the government had to borrow money from the less reliable state banks, at higher interest rates. Alerted to this weakness, Madison and others changed their positions on the national bank, which would be rechartered in 1816. The second Bank of the United States would follow the same pattern as the first, functioning well before falling to political concerns in 1836, when President Andrew Jackson would veto its charter renewal.
Americans may have disliked the British more than they had before the war, but in Europe, the war led to increased admiration for the United States. Despite the mixed performance of U.S. troops in battle, their courage was noted and their accomplishments praised, even by some British observers. The War of 1812 also had established good reputations in the United States for some notable figures who later turned their wartime accomplishments into successful political careers. In addition to numerous governors, senators, congressmen, and other elected officials, the war helped to produce four presidents: James Monroe (1758-1831; see biographical entry), John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), Andrew Jackson (1767-1845; see biographical entry), and William Henry Harrison (1773-1841; see biographical entry).
One of these men, Monroe, would succeed Madison as president in 1818. He would run unopposed for the office, since the Federalist Party would by then have almost completely disappeared, and the one-party political system that George Washington and others had envisioned as the best possible for the U.S. (because it avoided the self-interested concerns of multiple parties or factions) would now prevail. Monroe would preside over the Era of Good Feelings (1817-23), a period so-called because it was free from the political bickering and bad feeling that had marked the war years.
Americans remember the war as glorious
News of the U.S. victory at the Battle of New Orleans reached most Americans only shortly before they heard about the Treaty of Ghent, and for them the two events were tied together. Even though it had been fought after the treaty was signed, the Battle of New Orleans was linked to the coming of peace in people's minds, almost as if the heroic actions of Jackson and his troops had actually brought about the peace. Americans were especially proud of having beaten not just Great Britain but the fabled British force that had fought Napoleon.
As time passed, most Americans seemed to forget about the negative aspects of the War of 1812—the blunders, the defeats, the goals unattained. They remembered it only as a glorious episode in American history, one in which the United States had proven that it could stand united against a powerful foe and win. The war did succeed in building U.S. confidence and determination, ushering in the all-too-short Era of Good Feelings. By the middle of the century, however, the unity and nationalistic pride that characterized this period would give way to disharmony as regional differences became more important and problematic. That disharmony would result in the American Civil War.
But for the moment, as the War of 1812 drew to a close, Americans felt for the most part unified, and they felt proud of themselves and their nation. Even before the terms of the Treaty of Ghent were widely known in the United States, Congressman Charles J. Ingersoll (1782-1862) said that it hardly mattered what was in the peace agreement, because it was enough for the United States to revel in its victory.
Where to Learn More
Annals of Congress, February 16, 1815, pp. 13-3, 1156.
Coles, Harry L. The War of 1812. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965.
Elting, John R. Amateurs to Arms!: A Military History of the War of 1812. Algonquin Press, Chapel Hill, N.C., 1991. Reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 1995.
Heidler, David S., and Jeanne T. Heidler, eds. Encyclopedia of the War of 1812. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 1997.
Hickey, Donald R. The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989.
Hitsman, Jay McKay. The Incredible War of 1812: A Military History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1972.
Mahon, John K. The War of 1812. Da Capo Press, 1991. Reprint. Originally published by University of Florida Press, Gainesville, FL, 1972.
Discriminating Generals. [Online] http://www.militaryheritage.com/home.htm (accessed on November 26, 2001).
DocumentsontheWarof1812. [Online]http://www.hillsdale.edu/dept/History/Documents/War/FR1812.htm (accessed on November 26, 2001).
Thomas Warner Letters. [Online] http://www.haemo-sol.com/thomas/thomas.html (accessed on November 26, 2001).
War of 1812. [Online] http://www.galafilm.com/1812/e/index.html (accessed on November 26, 2001).
"War of 1812." KidInfo. [Online] http://www.kidinfo.com/American_History/warof1812.html (accessed on November 26, 2001).
"War of 1812." Studyweb. [Online] http://www.studyweb.com/links/388.html (accessed on November 26, 2001)
War of 1812-1814. [Online] http://www.members.tripod.com/~war1812/ (accessed on November 26, 2001).
War of 1812—Forgotten War. [Online] http://www.multied.com/1812/ (accessed on November 26, 2001).
Jean Lafitte is one of the most colorful and romantic outlaw figures in American history, and certainly among the most memorable characters of the War of 1812 period. A pirate who always claimed he was really a privateer (someone with a license from a government to plunder enemy ships), Lafitte and his followers joined the diverse force assembled by General Andrew Jackson to defend the city of New Orleans from British attack in late 1814 and early 1815. The U.S. victory in the famous Battle of New Orleans was at least partly due to their help.
Lafitte's earliest years are shrouded in mystery. He may have been born in Bayonne, France (other possible birthplaces include Haiti and Spain). The youngest of three boys, he may have been raised in the West Indies by his grandmother until he was fourteen. It also is possible that he attended a private school on the Caribbean island of Martinique and received military training on St. Christopher Island.
In 1800 Lafitt probably migrated with his brother Pierre to New Orleans, Louisiana, from Santo Domingo (now the capital city of the Dominican Republic, a Central American nation). It was at this time that he seems to have begun his career as a pirate, opening a blacksmith shop as a cover for his illegal activities.
A tall, handsome, well-educated (he is supposed to have spoken four languages) man with pleasant, diplomatic manners, Lafitte was an expert organizer and had a great ability to motivate people. Between 1807 and 1810 he became the leader of a large, successful network of pirates and smugglers (sellers of stolen goods) that was based on Grand Terre Island, located about fifty miles south of New Orleans, in a swampy region generally referred to as Barataria. By 1810 the operation included fifty ships, forty warehouses, and a force ranging from three thousand to five thousand men.
Lafitte's illegal business flourished because many people were willing to buy goods and slaves from him, and officials generally looked the other way. But in November 1812, the U.S. government finally took action against Lafitte. U.S. troops ambushed several of Lafitte's boats, and he was taken prisoner. Lafitte was soon released on bond, however, and no further action was taken against him until about a year later, when a federal agent was killed in another raid on Lafitte's operation. Louisiana governor William C. Claiborne offered a $500 reward for the capture of Lafitte, who in turn ridiculed the governor by offering his own reward of $1500 for Claiborne's capture.
Aware of the possible benefits of an alliance with the Baratarian pirates, inSeptember 1813 the British proposed that Lafitte and his men join their side in the war. Lafitte was offered $30,000 in cash, a pardon for his crimes, and the position of captain in the British army. Lafitte immediately informed the U.S. government of this offer, claiming that he preferred to offer his services to the American side, in exchange for a pardon. The offer was rejected, and in September 1814, several of his ships were captured, and eighty of Lafitte's followers were taken prisoner.
Despite the U.S. actions, Lafitte still refused to form an alliance with the British. Meanwhile, Jackson had been assigned to command the defense of New Orleans. Although he disliked the Baratarian pirates, Jackson now had a desperate need for both their weapons and their expertise (especially in navigating through the difficult surrounding terrain). Thus he offered a pardon to any pirate who would assist in the defense of New Orleans.
Lafitte's men responded with enthusiasm, and Lafitte offered to serve as Jackson's personal advisor and guide. Thus the Baratarian pirates made up an essential part, by all accounts, of the U.S. troops that defeated a much larger British force on January 8, 1815. Without the pirates, the impressive victory won by the United States might never have occurred.
In recognition of their contribution to the U.S. victory, President James Madison officially pardoned Lafitte and his followers in February 1815 for their crimes. Many of Lafitte's men then settled into legitimate pursuits, but the restless Lafitte was not able to mend his criminal ways. He eventually established another large, highly profitable pirating and smuggling operation, this one at Galveston, Texas. In 1819 eighteen of his followers were captured by the U.S. Navy, tried and publicly hanged in New Orleans. The next year, Galveston officials ran Lafitte out of town.
How Lafitte's life ended is almost as mysterious as its beginning. One story says that he moved to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula in 1821, where he died of fever five years later. In another account, he changed his name to John Lafitte and ended up in the U.S. Midwest, dying in May 1851 in Illinois. Those who still live in Barataria, however, are sure that Lafitte is buried somewhere along the bayou that winds through that region.
Sources: Heidler, David S., and Jeanne T. Heidler, eds. Encyclopedia of the War of 1812. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 1997; "Jean Lafitte: Gentleman Pirate of New Orleans." Dark Horse Multimedia. [Online] http://crimelibrary.com/americana/lafitte/main.htm (accessed on November 21, 2001); The New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation. "Jean Lafitte." Great Characters of New Orleans. [Online] http://dev.neworleansonline.com/culture/gcno-lafitte.shtml (accessed on November 27, 2000.
The Treaty of Ghent
The Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814 by representatives of the United States and Great Britain, who had gathered at Ghent, Belgium, four months earlier to begin negotiations. Below are excerpts from each article contained in the treaty.
Treaty of Peace and Amity between His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America.
Article the First.
There shall be a firm and universal Peace between His Britannic Majesty and the United States.… All hostilities both by sea and land shall cease as soon as this Treaty shall have been ratified by both parties.… All territory, places, and possessions whatsoever taken by either party from the other during the war, or which may be taken after the signing of this Treaty, excepting only the Islands hereinafter mentioned, shall be restored without delay.…
Article the Second.
Immediately after the ratifications of this Treaty by both parties as hereinafter mentioned, orders shall be sent to the Armies, Squadrons, Officers, Subjects, and Citizens of the two Powers to cease from all hostilities….
Article the Third.
All Prisoners of war taken on either side as well by land as by sea shall be restored as soon as practicable.…
Article the Fourth.
…the boundary of the United States should comprehend all Islands within twenty leagues of any part of the shores of the United States and lying between lines to be drawn due East from the points where the aforesaid boundaries between Nova Scotia on the one part and East Florida.… In order therefore finally to decide upon these claims it is agreed that they shall be referred to two Commissioners to be appointed in the following manner: One Commissioner shall be appointed by His Britannic Majesty and one by the President of the United States … and the said two Commissioners so appointed shall be sworn impartially to examine and decide upon the said claims according to such evidence as shall be laid before them.…
Article the Fifth.
…The said Commissioners shall have power to ascertain and determine the points above mentioned … and shall cause the boundary aforesaid … to be surveyed and marked according to the said provisions. The said Commissioners shall make a map of the said boundary … certifying it to be the true Map of the said boundary.… And both parties agree to consider such map … fixing the said boundary.…
Article the Sixth.
…The said Commissioners shall … designate the boundary through the said River, Lakes, and water communications, and decide to which of the two Contracting parties the several Islands lying within the said Rivers, Lakes, and water communications, do respectively belong.… And both parties agree to consider such designation and decision as final and conclusive.…
Article the Seventh.
It is further agreed that the … Commissioners after they shall have executed the duties assigned to them … shall be, and they are hereby, authorized upon their oaths impartially to fix and determine … that part of the boundary between the dominions of the two Powers, which extends from the water communication between Lake Huron and Lake Superior to the most North Western point of the Lake of the Woods;—to decide to which of the two Parties the several Islands lying in the Lakes, water communications, and Rivers forming the said boundary do respectively belong … and to cause such parts of the said boundary as require it to be surveyed and marked. The said Commissioners shall … designate the boundary aforesaid.…
Article the Eighth.
The … two Commissioners … shall respectively have power to appoint a Secretary, and to employ such Surveyors or other persons as they shall judge necessary.… The said Commissioners shall be respectively paid in such manner as shall be agreed between the two contracting parties.… And all other expenses … shall be defrayed equally by the two parties.…
Article the Ninth.
The United States … engage to put an end immediately after the Ratification of the present Treaty to hostilities with all the Tribes or Nations of Indians with whom they may be at war at the time of such Ratification, and forthwith to restore to such Tribes or Nations respectively all the possessions … and privileges which they may have … been entitled to … previous to such hostilities. Provided … that such Tribes or Nations shall agree to desist from all hostilities … upon the Ratification of the present Treaty.… And His Britannic Majesty engages on his part to put an end immediately after the Ratification of the present Treaty to hostilities with all the Tribes or Nations of Indians with whom He may be at war at the time of such Ratification, and forthwith to restore to such Tribes or Nations respectively all the possessions … and privileges, which they may have … been entitled … previous to such hostilities. Provided always that such Tribes or Nations shall agree to desist from all hostilities … upon the Ratification of the present Treaty.…
Article the Tenth.
Whereas the Traffic in Slaves is irreconcilable with the principles of humanity and Justice, and whereas both His Majesty and the United States are desirous of continuing their efforts to promote its entire abolition, it is hereby agreed that both the contracting parties shall use their best endeavours to accomplish so desirable an object.
Article the Eleventh.
This Treaty when the same shall have been ratified on both sides … shall be binding on both parties.…
Camp Life at Point Henry, Kingston, May 1813
This account first appeared in 1895, when it was translated from the French and published as Reminiscences of the War of 1812-14: Being Portions of the Diary of a Captain of the "Voltigeurs Canadiens" While in Garrison at Kingston, Etc. The writer is Jacques Viger, who would go on to become Montreal's first mayor in 1833.
[We] were ordered by General Prevost on the 17th of May to cross over to Point Henry, where we now occupy tents which we again once more put up in a wilderness of stumps, fallen trees, boulders, and rocks of all sizes and shapes; sharing our blanket with reptiles of varied species; carrying out the precepts [commands] of the most self-sacrificing charity towards ten million insects and crawling abominations, the ones more voracious and disgusting than the others. Phlebotomized [opening veins] by the muskitoes, cut and dissected by gnats, blistered by the sand flies, on the point of being eaten alive by the hungry wood rats as soon as they shall have disposed of our provisions. Pray for us! Pray for us! ye pious souls.
Broken down with fatigue, drenched with rain, I enter my tent to find that the birds of the air have besmirched me with lime; I have no sooner sat on my only camp stool when a horrid toad springs on to my lap in a most familiar way; I cast my wearied limbs on to my couch, a slimy snake insists on sharing with me the folds ofmy blanket, I hastily retire and leave him in possession. Let us have supper! The frying pan is produced to fry the ration of pork. Horror! A monstrous spider has selected it for his web; he holds the fort in a viciously threatening attitude in the centre of its rays, he defiantly seems to say, remove me if you dare! The flinty biscuit must be pounded and broken or one can't eat it, here again the beastly wood-bug must needs crawl under the masher, and in losing his life infect everything with his sickening odor. Oh! Captain, what can we do? exclaims my valet.… Light the candle, you blockhead, light the candle. Let us write to our distant friends the excess of our misery. O ye gods, what a place this is! The candle is lighted, it is the next moment surrounded by myriads of flying things. My table is littered with writhing abominations, June bugs hasten from all sides, they besiege the light, extinguish it under one's very nose, strike you in the eye, and as a parting shot stun you with a blow on the forehead. What a paradise this spot would be for an entomologist [person who studies insects]!
We remained in this inferno a whole fortnight, but thank heavens these very unpleasant experiences came to an end and were followed by better times.…
Source: The War of 1812 Website. [Online] http://www.militaryheritage.com/home.htm (accessed on November 26, 2001).
American Prisoners of War
Most U.S. soldiers and seamen who were captured by the British during the War of 1812 either were soon exchanged for British prisoners or sent to one of two prisons: Melville Island Prison in Halifax, Nova Scotia (located in northeastern Canada), or Dartmoor Prison in Devonshire, England.
Great Britain maintained the Melville Island military prison from 1803 until 1905. During the War of 1812, more than eight thousand American prisoners (some of them serving multiple terms) were housed there. About twelve hundred were army or militia soldiers, and a small number U.S. Navy sailors; the majority of prisoners were crew members from captured privateers (the privately armed ships that were authorized to attack enemy merchant ships). More than one hundred prisoners died at Melville, many of them succumbing to the diseases of smallpox or typhus.
Upon entering the prison, inmates would be issued the following supplies: a hammock, a blanket, a horse rug, a yellow jacket, pants, a vest, wooden shoes, and a cap. They also were also given a small amount of money so that they could buy food from local people who came into the prison to sell their products.
Used exclusively for prisoners captured on the high seas, Dartmoor Prison was even more notorious and dreaded than Melville Island. The first U.S. prisoners of war were brought there in April 1813, and by April 1815 there were 5,542 Americans confined there. During this two-year period, 252 American prisoners died. Dartmoor Prison was a dark, damp, dismal place where disease was rampant. The prisoners were harshly disciplined, and food was scarce (though fairly nutritional); however, the medical care they received was relatively good. U.S. prisoners always were offered the chance to escape imprisonment by enlisting in the British navy, but only 75 of them did so.
Two months after the February 1815 ratification (official approval) of the Treaty of Ghent had ended the war, the U.S. prisoners had, because of an administrative mix-up, not yet been released. As a result, they staged a noisy demonstration on April 6 and were fired upon by their British guards, who killed seven prisoners and wounded thirty-one. British officials would later refer to the incident as an unfortunate accident and offer cash payments to the families of the dead and wounded. Even with this offer, anti-British sentiment in the United States was inflamed. The prisoners finally were released at the end of April.
Sources: "Dartmoor Prison." Dictionary of American History, 7 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976. Reproduced in History Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group. http://www.galenet.com/servlet/HistRC/ ; Heidler, David S., and Jeanne T. Heidler, eds. Encyclopedia of the War of 1812. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 1997; Shea, Iris. Melville Island. [Online] http://www.udata.com/users/hsbaker/melville.htm (accessed on November 27, 2001).