Monday, October 19, 2015

The War of 1812

Hello readers. Now, I know I promised back in February (almost a year, ouch) that because I was no longer student teaching I'd be posting more often because I'd have the time to do so...but life got in the way. I'm working a few jobs, I got married over the summer, I've been recovering from surgery, and I've been teaching so I've been super-busy. However, I hope you forgive me and continue to read as we continue through America's past.

Today's post will be about the War of 1812.

The War of 1812 is the war that inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner" which would become the U.S. National Anthem. It's also the war in which the famous Battle of New Orleans took place ("In 1814 we took a little trip along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip. We took a little bacon and we took a little beans and we caught the bloody British in a town called New Orleans..."). However, despite these facts, the War of 1812 is a little-known war that U.S. curriculum often neglects to mention. The War of 1812 had many complicated causes and an inconclusive outcome, however, the war helped to further establish the credibility of the young nation and helped to solidify its place as a force to be reckoned with...and it would also usher in an Era of Good Feelings.

The 1783 signing of the Treaty of Paris at the conclusion of the American Revolution formalized Britain's recognition of the U.S. as its own entity. Shortly after the American Revolution had ended, the U.S. and Britain resumed trading, but it wasn't without cost.

In 1803, as a continuation of the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte, the French emperor, and his army ravished Europe. Slowly, they fought and took over country after country. Britain became involved in the war as well and sought to stop the French in their tracks.

In the early 19th century, the U.S. and other countries had been trading with the French, and in 1807 the British introduced a series of trade restrictions to limit or eliminate neutral trade with France. The U.S. saw this move as illegal under internal law and viewed Britain as violating its right to trade with others. At this time, the British felt threatened by the U.S. due to the American merchant marine doubling its force between 1802 and 1810, making it the largest neutral fleet. Britain was the U.S.'s primary trading partner, receiving 80% of its cotton and 50% of other exports. Britain saw how America was growing and becoming a major force of mercantile and commercial competition. This is seen as one of the causes of the war of 1812.

As Britain's navy grew during the Napoleonic Wars to include over 700 ships, their amount of sailors did not grow along with it. In times of peace the British could very easily fill its ships with volunteers, but at times of war they competed with privateers (sometimes called buccaneers and often known as pirates) and merchant shipping. In times of war to get the numbers of sailors they needed, the British would often turn to impressment, which meant they would kidnap sailors and force them to take part in their navy. Impressment was one of the causes of the War of 1812. The U.S. saw British men and women who emigrated to the U.S. and became naturalized as citizens, but the British did not recognize them as citizens of the U.S., they were still seen as British subjects. It was estimated that there were 11,000 naturalized sailors in the U.S. merchant marine and 9,000 of them were British. The British Royal Navy would intercept U.S. ships and search them for British "deserters", impressing them and forcing them to fight in their navy. Americans were outraged by this and saw the actions the British were taking as an infringement on national sovereignty and denying their right to naturalize foreigners. It's also important to note, however, that the Americans' anger in the impressment of sailors is a bit hypocritical--the U.S. would also impress British sailors to use in their own navy and merchant marine, and considering impressment was seen as common practice by the British, they would only rescue their sailors on a case-by-case basis.

Another important cause of the War of 1812 was American raids on the Natives in the Northwest Territory and parts of Canada to try to take over more land. Much like how the British colonists encroached upon the land in the Ohio River Valley prior to the breakout of the French and Indian War, post-Revolutionary Americans were happy with the outcome of the American Revolution except for the amount of land they received after the war. The British had ceded the Northwest Territory at the signing of the Treaty of Paris to the U.S., both sides ignoring the fact that the land was already inhabited by Natives such as the  Miami, Winnebago, Shawnee, Fox, Sauk, Kickapoo, Delaware and Wyandot. The Natives formed a confederation comprised of many tribes to fight against American expansion into their territory. To do this, the Natives used their own weapons as well as muskets and knives supplied by the British to raid the Americans and would cause small wars along the frontier. The Americans would urge the British to stop supplying their Native allies with weapons in hopes that the small wars along the frontier would end. The Americans would gain a major victory in the wars along the frontier by capturing Canada. Historians debate whether the Americans did this to annex Canada or to just use it as a bargaining chip in hopes the impressment of sailors would come to an end. This action of capturing Canada would also cut off food supplies for the colonies in the British West Indies and would temporarily prevent the British from arming the Natives.

According to, in the fall of 1811, Indiana’s territorial governor William Henry Harrison led U.S. troops to victory in the Battle of Tippecanoe. The defeat convinced many Indians in the Northwest Territory (including the celebrated Shawnee chief Tecumseh) that they needed British support to prevent American settlers from pushing them further out of their lands. Meanwhile, by late 1811 the so-called “War Hawks” in Congress were putting more and more pressure on Madison, and on June 18, 1812, the president signed a declaration of war against Britain. Though Congress ultimately voted for war, both House and Senate were bitterly divided on the issue. Most Western and Southern congressmen supported war, while Federalists (especially New Englanders who relied heavily on trade with Britain) accused war advocates of using the excuse of maritime rights to promote their expansionist agenda.

In order to strike at Great Britain, U.S. forces almost immediately attacked Canada, then a British colony. American officials were overly optimistic about the invasion’s success, especially given how underprepared U.S. troops were at the time. On the other side, they faced a well-managed defense coordinated by Sir Isaac Brock, the British soldier and administrator in charge in Upper Canada (modern Ontario). On August 16, 1812, the United States suffered a humiliating defeat after Brock and Tecumseh’s forces chased those led by Michigan William Hull across the Canadian border, scaring Hull into surrendering Detroit without any shots fired.

 Things looked better for the United States in the West, as Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s brilliant success in the Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813 placed the Northwest Territory firmly under American control. Harrison was subsequently able to retake Detroit with a victory in the Battle of Thames (in which Tecumseh was killed). Meanwhile, the U.S. navy had been able to score several victories over the Royal Navy in the early months of the war. With the defeat of Napoleon’s armies in April 1814, however, Britain was able to turn its full attention to the war effort in North America. As large numbers of troops arrived, British forces raided the Chesapeake Bay and moved in on the U.S. capital, capturing Washington, D.C., on August 24, 1814, and burning government buildings including the Capitol and the White House.

On September 13, 1814, Baltimore’s Fort McHenry withstood 25 hours of bombardment by the British Navy. The following morning, the fort’s soldiers hoisted an enormous American flag, a sight that inspired Francis Scott Key to write a poem he titled “The Star-Spangled Banner.” (Set to the tune of an old English drinking song, it would later be adopted as the U.S. national anthem.) British forces subsequently left the Chesapeake Bay and began gathering their efforts for a campaign against New Orleans."

 By that time, peace talks were beginning to take shape in Ghent (modern-day Belgium) and Britain moved toward an armistice (cease-fire) after their failure to assault Baltimore, Maryland. In the negotiations that led up to the singing of the Treaty of Ghent, the United States gave up its demands to end impressment and Britain promised to leave the Canadian borders unchanged and abandoned efforts to create an Indian state in the Northwest.

On December 24, 1814, the Treaty of Ghent was signed, which would later be ratified the following February. Unaware that peace had been concluded, British forces mounted a major attack on New Orleans on January 8, 1815, only to be defeated by future U.S. president Andrew Jackson’s army. News of the battle boosted sagging U.S. morale and left Americans with a sense of victory, despite the fact that the country had achieved none of its pre-war objectives.

The War of 1812 ushered in the Era of Good Feelings, brought the demise of the Federalist Party, boosted national self-confidence, and encouraged American expansionism which would continue on into the 19th century.

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