Ghent, Treaty of
GHENT, TREATY OF
Signed on 24 December 1814 and also known as the Peace of Christmas Eve, the Treaty of Ghent brought the War of 1812 to an end. This war was a by-product of the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815). The United States had declared war on 18 June 1812 to force the British to give up certain maritime practices that grew out of the European war, particularly restrictions on American trade with the Continent, imposed by Orders-in-Council, and impressment, which was the forcible removal of seamen from American merchant ships. Although the British suspended the Orders-in-Council on 23 June 1812, they refused to give up impressment, and American attempts to force them to do so by conquering Canada failed. Hence, on 8 August 1814 representatives of the two powers met in Ghent, in modern-day Belgium, to discuss terms for peace.
The American delegation, which was headed by John Quincy Adams and included Henry Clay and Albert Gallatin, was exceptionally strong, while the British relied on men of more modest accomplishments, most notably Henry Goulburn, an undersecretary in the colonial office. On more than one occasion, the American envoys outmaneuvered their British counterparts.
By the time the negotiations got under way, the United States had dropped its demand for an end to impressment, but the war in Europe now appeared to be over, which enabled the British to concentrate on the American war and thus put them in the driver's seat at Ghent. As a price for peace, the British insisted on significant American concessions: the creation of an Indian barrier state in the Old Northwest; the surrender of territory in northern Maine and Minnesota; the American demilitarization of the Great Lakes; and an end to American fishing privileges in Canadian waters.
Stunned by the scope of these demands, the American delegation refused to make any concessions and contemplated departing for home. The British, however, retreated to a proposal for making peace on the basis of uti possidetis, which meant that each side would keep any conquered territory. If this proposal were acceded to, each power would retain several forts on the other side of the frontier and the British would acquire eastern Maine. When the American envoys rejected this proposal, the British reluctantly agreed to return all conquered territory and establish peace on the basis of the status quo ante bellum (the state that existed before the war).
The treaty did not actually end hostilities. Fearing that the United States might demand changes before approving the agreement, the British insisted that the fighting should end only after both nations had ratified it. The crown ratified almost immediately, on 27 December 1814, but it took six weeks for the treaty to reach the United States. In the meantime, Britain suffered a major defeat—the worst of the war—at the Battle of New Orleans. It was not until 16 February 1815 that President James Madison, with the unanimous consent of the Senate, ratified it on behalf of the United States. Both sides immediately ordered an end to hostilities, although fighting continued for several months in remote parts of North America and in distant seas.
Engelman, Fred L. The Peace of Christmas Eve. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1962.
Hickey, Donald R. The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989.
Perkins, Bradford. Castlereagh and Adams: England and the United States, 1812–1823. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964.
Donald R. Hickey
Ghent, Treaty of
GHENT, TREATY OF
GHENT, TREATY OF. The Treaty of Ghent, ratified by the United States on 17 February 1815, marked the official end of the War of 1812 between the United States and Britain. The war was precipitated by a number of issues that were raised during the American Revolution but left unresolved at that conflict's end. Many of them, such as the precise boundary between British Canada and the United States, the failure of the British to remove all its troops from U. S. soil, and the status of Britain's former
Native American allies, lingered and contributed to renewed hostilities between the Americans and the British in 1812. However, on 26 June 1812, shortly after the hostilities commenced, the American government made preliminary overtures for peace. On 21 September, the Russian chancellor offered to serve as a mediator between the two warring parties. The United States presented a peace proposal through the Russians, but the British government in March 1813 quickly rejected it. However, within a few months of that failure, the British, at that point deeply committed to fighting Napoleon's army on the European continent, offered through their foreign secretary, Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, to enter into direct negotiations with the United States. This offer was accepted on 15 January 1814, and negotiations began in earnest between the two parties in Ghent, Belgium.
Issues regarding the impressment of American seamen, the status of the British-allied Indian groups, and the U. S. northern boundary with British Canada proved difficult to resolve. In the midst of these negotiations, on 27 September 1814, news reached London that the British had captured and burned Washington, D. C. Buoyed by this news, the British proposed that each party should retain its existing holdings. However, that British demand was totally abandoned when news of an American victory on Lake Champlain near British Canada reached London on 24 October. A temporary deadlock ensued.
But larger forces were at work for peace. The continental situation grew increasingly complex and dangerous as the British waged their battle against Napoleon's army. Additionally, fighting a war in two separate hemispheres strained British finances, while the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, warned that unless the British could secure the Great Lakes, a decisive victory over the Americans was implausible. Under the weight of these considerations, the British agreed to restore the status quo that had existed between the parties prior to these recent hostilities.
Additional concessions from the United States and Great Britain were also forthcoming. The United States abandoned not only its demands regarding impressment but also demands for indemnification for commercial losses incurred as a result of the war between France and Britain. For its part, Britain agreed to respect American rights in the Newfoundland fisheries and to abandon its demand for a permanent boundary between the United States and the Indian nations. However, the Americans did agree to an immediate cessation of hostilities against these nations after war's end and the restoration of all the possessions and privileges they had enjoyed prior to the war. Both parties also agreed to employ their best efforts to abolish the slave trade. The remaining major issue, the U. S. –British Canadian boundary, remained unresolved, and the parties agreed to turn the issue over to a boundary commission that resolved the dispute in 1822.
Adams, Henry. History of the United States. 4 vols. New York: Boni, 1930.
Johnson, Paul. A History of the American People. New York: Harper Collins, 1998.
Ghent, treaty of