War of 1812
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United States Wages War
The American Revolution did not mark the end of tensions and hostilities between Britain and the newly independent United States. Neither country was pleased with the agreements made at the conclusion of the American Revolution. Americans were angry with the British for failing to withdraw their British soldiers from American territory and their unwillingness to sign trade agreements favorable to the United States.
The division of land and the loss of the Ohio River Valley left Canada and Britain without access to the valuable fur trade. The Ohio River Valley was full of Amerindians that supported the British during the American Revolution
This American resentment grew even more during the French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1802) and the Napoleonic Wars (1803-15). Britain attempted to blockade the entire continent of Europe. France boycotted all British goods in any French territory; France later ordered their ports to any neutral ships that have visited a British port prior to arriving in a French port. Britain then ordered that all neutral ships must dock at a British port in order to acquire a license before traveling to Europe. Americans considered both countries’ actions a violation of their Neutral Rights; however, Britain had the more powerful navy and, therefore, dominated the seas. This created a deeper feeling of bitterness toward Britain.
Neutral Rights violations did not stop with British and French maritime policies. Many sailors in the British Royal Navy had deserted and immigrated to the United States; they served as sailors on American merchant ships. The Neutral Rights clearly states points regarding naval boarding and seizure:
• Belligerents have the right to search for war material on neutral shipping during time of war, but cannot deny the right of trade among neutrals.
• Belligerent armies are not to enter or engage in hostilities in a neutral nation and are subject to internment if they do so.
Rumors of British Royal Navy ships searching, seizing and impressing British and American citizens from merchant ships ran wild throughout the United States. Impressment refers to the forcing of people into military service. In June 1807, all rumors were proved true; an American ship, the Chesapeake, was fired upon by a British vessel, the Leopard, after refusing to stop. This incident occurred well within U.S. territory.
In 1810, the Non-Intercourse Act expired and Congress created a law that permitted trade with either France or England, whichever nation first promised to stop harassing American shipping.
Napoleon quickly declared that France would agree to these terms. Madison warned England that he would reinstate the embargo act, forbidding the U.S. to trade with England, unless the search-and-seizure policy ceased. Napoleon failed to comply and England continued seizing American shipping. These were considered great insults to the United States.
Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison strived to resolve these issues without resorting to war; however, roughly 20 Democratic-Republicans, known as the War Hawks, had other plans. The War Hawks were outraged over the British impressments and the Orders in Council. They were certain that the only honorable response to these British actions was a declaration of war. By the time the new congress had met in 1811, members of the War Hawks had taken over key positions, which helped influence the direction of congressional debates. The War Hawked helped pass laws that increased military spending as well as financial legislation that prepared the U.S. financially for war. The majority of Congress opposed war but were confident that Britain would yield if they believed the U.S. was seriously considering war. Britain could not afford to war with the United States while still involved in the Napoleonic Wars.
The War Hawks were western and southern lawyers as well as expansionists; they welcomed a war with England. They wanted to end British impressments and legitimize the attacks on the Indians, whom they believed were being supported by the British. The expansionists were looking to occupy Florida and Canada. Henry Clay was elected Speaker of the House. John C. Calhoun gained a seat on the Foreign Relations Committee. Congress declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812. Ironically, England had revoked its orders to search-and-seizure of American vessels on June 16, 1812, merely two days prior to the declaration of war.
America soon discovered how inadequately prepared they were for war with embarrassing uncoordinated loses after attacking Canada. Detroit was surrendered in August of 1812, Battle of Queenston Heights was lost in October and American forces withdrew from Lake Champlain, in November, without engaging the enemy. The British and allied Indian forces were unexpectedly powerful.
In 1813, America’s attempts to attack Canada were unsuccessful. U.S. forces regained control of Detroit when Oliver Hazard Perry’s fleet destroyed the British fleet on Lake Erie. The British allied Shawnee chief Tecumseh was killed shortly after, while the U.S. forces were attacking the retreating British army in the Battle of the Thames.
After having defeated Napoleon in 1814, the British were able to supply and send into the conflict experienced troops and a large number of ships. American defeat looked certain by mid-summer, 1814. On August 24, 1814, the United States was at an all time low when British ships sailed into the Chesapeake Bay and troops marched into Washington. The British burnt most public buildings and President Madison’s house. The Capitol was also burnt to the ground. Instead of holding the city, the British marched into Baltimore and attacked. They encountered fierce resistance from the Maryland Militia; and Fort McHenry fired continuously in support until midnight. That was the night Francis Scott Key was inspired to compose “The Star-Spangled Banner.” In September, British troops marched from Canada into New York State; however, after Capt. Thomas Macdonough defeated a British fleet on Lake Champlain, the fearful British retreated into Canada. This was a decisive military victory for the U.S. England now realized the expense and difficulty that invading the U.S. by land would bring.
Prior to December 1814, New England had been secretively trading with Great Britain; however, they had now become overtly hostile and in opposition to the war. The issue of succession was even discussed and rejected at the Hartford Convention; Federalist extremists also proposed amending the Constitution to abolish the three-fifths clause. They demanded that passing embargoes, admitting states, or declaring war should require a two-thirds vote instead of a simple majority. Also suggested was the president should be limited to one term and presidents from the same state could not serve successive terms. The main goal was to restrict federal power and remove the unfair advantage the southern states had under the Constitution. After the Convention, the Federalist Party began to look very unpatriotic; something the Federalist Party never recovered from. The War of 1812 was over before the Hartford delegates could make their recommendations.
England sent troops by ship and met General Andrew Jackson in New Orleans. Jackson’s forces conflicted between 2,000 and 3,000 casualties, while only sustaining fewer than 80. Ironically, the Treaty of Ghent was signed two weeks prior to the Battle of New Orleans.
It was not until February 18, 1815 that the Treaty of Ghent was finalized and proclaimed. When the Treaty of Ghent was written, there was no discussion of the issues of impressments, which were irrelevant since the Napoleonic Wars were over, or the Orders in Council. It was as if the war had never been fought. In effect, the only thing the Treaty of Ghent accomplished was to remove the First-Nation Indian State that acted as a barricade between the United States and Canada. Britain gained the rest assurance that hostilities between the U.S. and Canada would no longer exist.
The War of 1812 ended with no one declaring victory—status quo ante bellum.