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Results of the war between Britain and the United States involved no geographical changes,[1] and no major policy changes. However, all the causes of the war had disappeared with the end of the war between Britain and France and with the destruction of the power of First Nation Indian tribes. American fears of the Indians ended, as did British plans to create a buffer Indian state.

After Napoleon's defeat in 1814, Britain was no longer at war with France and there were no restrictions on neutral trade; the British suspended their policy of impressment of American sailors, and never resumed it—but they insisted they still had the right to resume it. Americans regained their honor[2] and proclaimed victory in what they called a "second war of independence" for the decisive defeat of the British invaders at New Orleans seemed to prove that Britain could never regain control of America,[3] and the threat of secession by New England ended with the failure of the Hartford Convention.The United States failed in its possible goal of annexing British North America.

In Britain, the importance of the conflict was totally overshadowed by European wars, especially the War of the Sixth Coalition against Napoleon, who returned to Paris in March, 1815, and was finally defeated at Waterloo 100 days later. Upper Canada emerged from the war with a sense of unity and pride as part of the Empire. Canadians claimed the war as a victory for their militia and a rebuff of republicanism, as they credited their militia for the successful repulse of American attempts to invade Upper and Lower Canada.

Efforts to end the war[edit | edit source]

Efforts to end the war began in 1812 when the chief U.S. diplomat in London proposed an armistice in return for a renunciation of impressments; the British refused. Later in 1812 when the British captured Detroit and news of the repeal of the Orders reached Washington, Sir George Prevost arranged an armistice with his counterpart Henry Dearborn. However, President James Madison decided to continue the war. In 1813, Russia offered to mediate a peace, but London rejected the offer because it might compromise British interests in Europe.[4] Finally Great Britain and the United States agreed to commence peace negotiations in January 1814; the talks were delayed.

Negotiations[edit | edit source]

At last in August 1814, peace discussions began in the neutral city of Ghent. Both sides began negotiations with realistic demands. The U.S. wanted an end to all British time practices it deemed objectionable and also demanded cessions of Canadian territory and guaranteed fishing rights off Newfoundland. Britain sought a neutral Indian buffer state in the American Northwest, and wanted to keep parts of Maine that had been captured to provide a land corridor to Quebec from the maritime colonies. After months of negotiations, against the background of changing military victories, defeats and losses, the parties finally realized that their nations wanted peace and there was no real reason to continue the war. Now each side was tired of the war. Export trade was all but paralyzed and after Napoleon fell in 1812 France was no longer an enemy of Britain, so the Royal Navy no longer needed to stop American shipments to France, and it no longer needed more seamen. The British were preoccupied in rebuilding Europe after the apparent final defeat of Napoleon. The negotiators agreed to return to the status quo ante bellum in the Treaty of Ghent signed on December 24, 1814.[5] The British—but not the Americans—knew when they signed that a battle was imminent at New Orleans (it was fought on January 8, 1815).[6] This treaty did not go into effect until it was formally ratified by both sides in February, 1815.

The Treaty of Ghent failed to secure official British acknowledgment of American maritime rights, but in the century of peace among the naval powers from 1815 until World War I these rights were not seriously violated. The course of the war made irrelevant all of the issues over which the United States had fought, especially since the First Nations had been defeated and the Americans scored enough victories (especially at New Orleans) to satisfy honor[7] and the sense of becoming fully independent from Britain.[8]

Native American affairs[edit | edit source]

A key reason that American frontiersmen were so much in favor of the war in the first place was the threat by various Native American tribes, which they blamed on intervention by British agents in Canada. In addition, they wanted access to lands that the British acknowledged belonged to the U.S. but that the British were blocking by inciting and arming the Native Americans. With the death of Tecumseh in battle in 1813, the First Nation military power ended. The natives were the main losers in the war, losing British protection, and never regained their influence.[9]

In the Southeast, Andrew Jackson's destruction of Britain's allies, the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814, ended the threat of Native American hostilities in that region. It opened vast areas in Georgia and Alabama for settlement as plantations and farmlands. The U.S. occupied all of West Florida during the war and in 1819 purchased the rest of Florida from Spain, thus closing the base of weapons for hostile tribes. Creek Indians who escaped to Spanish Florida joined the Seminoles there, and put up a long resistance known as the Seminole Wars.[10]

In the treaty the British promised not to arm the Native Americans in the U.S. from Canada (nor even trade with them), and the U.S.-Canada border was largely pacified. However, some Americans assumed that the British continued to conspire with their former Native American allies in an attempt to forestall U.S. hegemony in the Great Lakes region. Such perceptions were faulty, argues Calloway (1987). After the Treaty of Ghent, the Native Americans in the Great Lakes region became an undesirable burden to British policymakers.[11]

Canada[edit | edit source]

Some in Washington had expected the largely American population of Upper Canada to throw off the "British yoke", but that did not happen. After 1815, British officials, Anglican clergy and Canadians loyal to the Empire tried to spot and root out American political ideals, such as republicanism. Thus the British and Loyalist elite were able to set the different colonies of what would later become Canada on a different course from that of their former enemy. Canada discouraged further American immigration.[12]

When the United States attacked British North America, most of the British forces were engaged in the Napoleonic Wars. Thus British North America had minimal troops to defend against the United States, who had a much larger (though poorly trained) military force. For most of the war, British North America stood alone against a much stronger American force. Reinforcements from the United Kingdom did not arrive until 1814, the final year of the war. The repelling of the American force helped to foster British loyalties in the colonies that later became Canada. The nationalistic sentiment caused a suspicion of such American ideas as republicanism, which would frustrate political reform in Upper and Lower Canada until the Rebellions of 1837. However, the War of 1812 started the process that ultimately led to Canadian Confederation in 1867. Canadian writer Pierre Berton has written that, although later events such as the rebellions and the Fenian raids of the 1860s were more important, Canada would have become part of the United States if the War of 1812 had not taken place because more and more American settlers would have arrived and Canadian nationalism would not have developed.

The War of 1812 was highly significant in Britain's North American colonies. After the war British sympathizers portrayed the war was as a successful fight for national survival against an American democratic force that threatened the peace and stability the Canadians desired. A related (and historically false) Canadian myth from the war was that Canadian militiamen had performed admirably while the British officers were largely ineffective. Jack Granatstein has termed this the "militia myth", and he feels it has had a deep effect on Canadian military thinking, which placed more stress on a citizens' militia than on a professional standing army. The United States suffered from a similar "frontiersman myth" at the start of the war, believing falsely that individual initiative and marksmanship could be effective against a well disciplined British battle line. Granatstein argues that the militia was not particularly effective in the war and that any British military success was the work of British regular forces and the result of British dominion over the sea. Isaac Brock, for example, was reluctant to trust the militia with muskets. The U.S. Army won most of its land victories late in the war, which subsequently ended all British invasions of the United States.[13]

During the war, British officers constantly worried that the Americans would block the St. Lawrence River, which forms part of the Canadian border with the United States. If the U.S. military had done so, there would have been no British supply route for Upper Canada, where most of the land battles took place, and British forces would likely have had to withdraw or surrender all western British territory within a few months. British officers' dispatches after the war exhibited astonishment that the Americans never took such a simple step, but the British were not willing to count on the enemy repeating the mistake; as a result, Britain commissioned the Rideau Canal, an expensive project connecting Kingston, on Lake Ontario, to the Ottawa River, providing an alternate supply route that bypassed the part of the St. Lawrence River along the U.S. border. The settlement at the northeastern end of the canal, where it joins the Ottawa River, later became the city of Ottawa, Canada's fourth-largest city and its capital (placed inland to protect it from U.S. invasion—known then as the 'defensible backcountry'). Because population away from the St. Lawrence shores was negligible, the British in the years following the war took great lengths to ensure that backcountry settlement was increased. They settled soldiers and initiated assisted-immigration schemes, offering free land to farmers, mostly tenants of estates in the south of Ireland. The canal project was not completed until 1832 and was never used for its intended purpose.[14]

Britain[edit | edit source]

In contrast to Canada, the War of 1812 is seldom remembered in Britain today as the conflict was quickly forgotten by the British public. Chiefly, this is because it was overshadowed by the dramatic events of the contemporary Napoleonic wars, and because Britain herself neither gained nor lost anything by the peace settlement, except for the fact that it kept control of Canada.[15] The Royal Navy was acutely conscious that the United States Navy had won most of the single-ship duels during the war. American privateers and commerce raiders had captured large numbers of British merchant ships, sending insurance rates up and embarrassing the Admiralty. Despite all this, Britain did win quite a few sea battles. More important, Britain imposed an effective blockade of American ports and captured many merchant ships. The Royal Navy had been able to deploy overwhelming strength to American waters, annihilating rather than merely denting American maritime trade. After the war the Royal Navy made some changes to its practices in construction and gunnery, but did not change its methods of manning the fleet.

The British Army regarded the 1812-15 conflict in Canada and America as a sideshow. Only one regiment, the 41st was awarded a battle honour (Detroit) from the war. The army was more interested in the lessons of the Peninsular War in Spain. The few reverses in Canada and at New Orleans could be conveniently attributed to poor leadership or insuperable physical obstacles. If generalship had been better, it was believed, then British success would have been more frequent at sea and at New Orleans. Due to the huge, overwhelming success and pre-eminence of the Duke of Wellington in Europe, the British army was to make no change to its systems of recruitment, discipline and awards of commissions for more than half a century.

The British suffered 5,000 killed or wounded soldiers and sailors in the war.

Bermuda[edit | edit source]

American War of 1812 was the encore of Bermudian privateering, which had died out after the 1790s, due partly to the build up of the naval base in Bermuda, which reduced the Admiralty's reliance on privateers in the western Atlantic, and partly to successful American legal suits, and claims for damages pressed against British privateers, a large portion of which were aimed squarely at the Bermudians. During the course of the American War of 1812, Bermudian privateers, with their fast Bermuda sloops, were to capture 298 ships (the total captures by all British naval or privateering vessels between the Great Lakes and the West Indies was 1,593 vessels).[16]

United States[edit | edit source]

The gloom in New England, which staunchly opposed the war, culminated in December 1814, as delegates from five states met secretly in the Hartford Convention. It demanded constitutional amendments to protect New England's interests against the West and the South. Secession talk was rife and the region might have threatened to secede from the Union if their demands were ignored, but the news of peace ended the movement.

The United States had faced near disaster in 1814, but the victories at the Battle of New Orleans and the Battle of Baltimore and what seemed to be a successful fight against the United Kingdom increased national patriotism and helped to unite the United States into one nation. The best-known patriotic legacy of the war was The Star Spangled Banner. The words are by Francis Scott Key, who after the bombardment of Fort McHenry set them to the music of a British song, "To Anacreon in Heaven." In 1889 the U.S. Navy began using The Star Spangled Banner at flag-raising ceremonies, a practice copied by the army. In 1931, Congress made it the U.S. national anthem.[17]

Although neither side came away from the war with a clear-cut victory, the American people saw the War of 1812 as evidence of the success of the democratic experiment. The war ushered in a period of American history that has frequently been called "the Era of Good Feelings," a time when, at least on the surface, most Americans felt unified behind a common purpose. The War of 1812 convinced the country that it could fend off any foreign threats and that its focus should be on expansion at home.

With the collapse of the Hartford Convention and news of the triumph at the Battle of New Orleans, Americans had cause for celebration. In February President James Madison sent Congress the treaty of peace. He congratulated the nation on the close of a war "waged with the success which is the natural result of the wisdom of the legislative councils, of the patriotism of the people, of the public spirit of the militia, and of the valour of the military and naval forces of the country." The spirit of nationalism and pride led to the collapse of the nay-sayer Federalist Party and the new Era of Good Feelings.[18]

One indirect result of the War of 1812 was the later election to the presidency of war heroes Andrew Jackson and of William Henry Harrison. Both of these men won military fame which had much to do with their elections. Another indirect result was the decline of Federalist power.

Impact on U.S. military[edit | edit source]

During the war a total of 2,260 American soldiers and sailors were killed. The war cost the United States about $200 million. Neither the United States nor Great Britain gained any military advantage. Indirectly the United States made some gains.[19]

A significant military development was the increased emphasis by General Winfield Scott on professionalism in the U.S. Army officer corps and in particular, the training of officers at the United States Military Academy ("West Point"). This new professionalism would become apparent during the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). After the Texas Annexation by the U.S., the term Manifest Destiny became a widely used political term for those who propagated American expansionism and military pride.[20]

In a related development, the United States officially abandoned its reliance on the militia for its defense. Moreover, Army Corps of Engineers (which at that time controlled West Point), began building fortifications around New Orleans as a response to the British attack on the city during the war. This effort then grew into numerous civil river works, especially in the 1840s and 1850s under General Pierre Beauregard. The Corps remains the authority over Mississippi (and other) river works.

The embarrassing defeat of Fort Madison in what is now Iowa and Fort McKay in Prairie du Chien led to the fortification of the Mississippi, with the expansion of Fort Belle Fontaine near St. Louis, and the construction of Fort Armstrong (1816) and Fort Edwards (1816) in Illinois, Fort Crawford (1816) in Prairie du Chien, and Fort Snelling (1819) in Minnesota. Removal of all Indians from the Mississippi Valley became a top priority for the U.S. government.[21]

Economic impact[edit | edit source]

The War of 1812 gave a dramatic boost to the manufacturing capabilities of the United States. The British blockade of the American coast created a shortage of cotton cloth in the United States, leading to the creation of a cotton-manufacturing industry, beginning at Waltham, Massachusetts by Francis Cabot Lowell. The war also spurred on construction of the Erie Canal project, which was built to promote commercial links yet was also perceived as having military uses should the need ever arise.[22] As the charter of the First Bank of the United States had been allowed to expire in 1811, the federal government was ill-prepared to finance the war and resorted to such expediencies as the suspension of specie payment and the issuance of Treasury Notes. These actions set a precedent for future Federal responses to financial crises. Also, this exposure of the nation's financial weaknesses explained in part the Congressional decision to charter the Second Bank of the United States in 1816. The readiness of Southern leaders especially John C. Calhoun to support such a measure also indicates a high degree of national feeling.[23] Perhaps the clearest sign of a new sense of national unity was the victorious Democratic-Republican Party, its long-time foes the Federalists vanished from national politics. The result was an Era of Good Feelings with the lowest level of partisanship ever seen.[24]

Canadians, however, contrasted their post-war economic stagnation to the booming American economy, which Desmond Morton believes led to the Rebellions of 1837.[25]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. With the exception of uninhabited Carleton Island in the St. Lawrence River, which was captured by the United States and never returned.
  2. Bradford Perkins, ed. The Causes of the War of 1812: National Honor or National Interest? (1962)
  3. Hickey p. 300; Barry Schwartz, "The Social Context of Commemoration: A Study in Collective Memory." Social Forces 61#2 (1982) p. 312 in JSTOR.
  4. Benn (2002)p, 81
  5. Robert V. Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union (1992) pp 94-122
  6. Pratt (1955) pp 135-7
  7. Bertram Wyatt-Brown, "Andrew Jackson's Honor," Journal of the Early Republic, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Spring, 1997), pp. 1-36 in JSTOR
  8. Watts (1989)
  9. Walter R. Borneman, 1812: The War That Forged a Nation (2005) p 269
  10. Robert Remini, Andrew Jackson and His Indian Wars (2002) pp 277-82
  11. Colin G. Calloway, Crown and Calumet: British-Indian Relations, 1783-1815 (1987)
  12. Alan Taylor, The Civil War of 1812 (2010) p. 443
  13. J. L. Granatstein, Canada's army: waging war and keeping the peace (2004) p 4
  14. J. L. Granatstein, Canada's army: waging war and keeping the peace (2004) p 15
  15. Jeremy Black, The War of 1812 in the Age of Napoleon (2009) pp 221-32
  16. Walter Brownell Hayward, Bermuda past and present (1910) pp 58-66
  17. Benn p 84
  18. George Dangerfield, The Era of Good Feelings (1952), ch 1
  19. War of 1812. (2006). Compton's by Britannica. Retrieved April 1, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online. (The Curious End of the War)
  20. Weigley (1973)
  21. Prucha, Francis P. (1969) The Sword of the Republic: The United States Army on the Frontier 1783–1846. Macmillan, New York
  22. Stanley Engerman and Robert E. Gallman, eds. The Cambridge economic history of the United States: the colonial era: Volume 1 (2000) p 372
  23. Wiltse (1944)
  24. George Dangerfield, The Awakening of American Nationalism, 1815-1828 (1966) ch 1
  25. Desmond Morton, A Military History of Canada (2007) p 71

Further reading[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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