Impress a History Teacher with These 10 Causes and Events of the War of 1812

Impress a History Teacher with These 10 Causes and Events of the War of 1812

Larry Holzwarth - June 6, 2018

The War of 1812 was the first declared war in American history. Its causes were many, including British arming of the Indians in the Northwest Territory, which it had ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Paris which ended the American Revolutionary War. In 1812 Britain’s war against Napoleon was at its peak, and British ships were blockading trade with the European continent, excluding American ships from entering the ports of nations dominated by the French emperor. The United States argued that the British blockade was illegal. The British had also for years stopped American ships and seized sailors that they claimed were British citizens.

War Hawks emerged in Congress, demanding the removal of the British from all of North America. Since British Canada provided much of the timber used to build British warships England had no intention of abandoning it to the Americans. New England merchants and politicians largely opposed the idea of war with the British over Canada, since it would impede the brisk trade between the growing American merchant fleet and the British, including food and grain being sent to feed the British Army under Wellington in Spain. That trade continued even as the United States fought the war, via the British Naval port at Halifax.

Impress a History Teacher with These 10 Causes and Events of the War of 1812
American grain fed the British Army fighting Napoleon in Spain at the beginning of the War of 1812. Wikimedia

Here are some of the causes and events of the War of 1812, a conflict which established the United States as the dominant nation on the North American continent.

Impress a History Teacher with These 10 Causes and Events of the War of 1812
USS President fires into HMS Little Belt, a confrontation which each side blamed on the other for firing first. Wikimedia

Trade and shipping issues.

Between 1783 and the early 1800s the American merchant fleet grew exponentially. During the Napoleonic Wars the British Privy Council enacted what were called the Orders in Council, imposing restrictions on trade between neutral nations and the European continent. Neutral ships were ordered to enter British ports to have their cargoes inspected prior to entering European waters. Any ship which did not comply was subject to seizure by blockading British ships. To make matters worse, Napoleon responded with the Milan Decree, which labeled any ship entering a British port a British ship, subject to seizure by French authorities when it entered a French port.

The Orders in Council were actually a series of decrees over several years, which grew increasingly draconian regarding the cargoes which were considered to be war materials with each succeeding order. The United States protested them as illegal. At the same time the closure of the European ports and markets increased American trade with Great Britain, with more and more goods from America arriving in American, rather than British ships. The British maritime and mercantile interests grew resentful of the growth of America’s growing merchant fleet.

The Royal Navy also restricted the British merchant fleet by stripping ships of the men to crew them. In order to avoid the press gangs which seized British mariners and landsmen and force them into warships, many English sailors signed on to American merchant crews. British law did not allow them to renounce British citizenship, even after acquiring American citizenship. This extended to those born in any British possession, including Canada. The Royal Navy reserved to itself the right to stop any neutral ship on the high seas and inspect its crew, taking anyone it decided was a British citizen. The United States protested this activity as illegal as well.

British arrogance towards the United States regarding trade and the seizing of Americans created a groundswell of anger in the United States, which increased as encounters at sea were extended to American warships. In 1804 the British began patrolling outside New York Harbor, stopping all ships they sighted just outside the then claimed three mile territorial limit and inspecting their cargoes and seizing sailors. In 1807 HMS Leopard, searching for British deserters, fired into USS Chesapeake after it failed to comply with British demands to stop and be boarded, killing three and wounding 18. The British then seized four “deserters”, three of which were Americans.

In 1811, British seizure of an American citizen after stopping an American ship on the high seas led to USS President pursuing what its commander, Commodore John Rodgers, thought was the offending British ship, HMS Guerriere. It turned out to be the British sloop of war HMS Little Belt. President and Little Belt fought a night engagement in which both sides claimed the other side fired first, and which left Little Belt badly damaged. The following year, increased resistance by British merchants and industry led to the Orders in Council being revoked by Lord Liverpool. On June 23, 1812 the orders were revoked. The United States had declared war five days earlier.

Impress a History Teacher with These 10 Causes and Events of the War of 1812
British support of the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh’s attacks on the western frontier began before the War of 1812. Toronto Public Library

The Western Indians and British Support

During the negotiation of the Treaty of Paris the British attempted to create an Indian State to serve as a buffer between the United States and British Canada. They also hoped the existence of such a state would limit the growth of the new nation (they made similar demands when negotiating the treaty which ended the War of 1812). As the Shawnee leader Tecumseh attempted to unite the western tribes against the settlements in the Northwest Territory the British provided them with support from its outposts in Canada. The British also had mercantile interests with the Indians, since they occupied lands rich in furs.

As Indian raids increased along the frontier, evidence of the British support grew. Weapons left on battlefields were recovered and identified as British. Whether the British in Canada paid for American scalps has long been debated, but the number of scalps taken continued to grow. Besides supporting Tecumseh’s confederation in the Northwest, the British provided support for the Creek Indians in the South, through agents in Spanish Florida. The Indian attacks on the frontier outraged Americans and the political faction known as the War Hawks developed during the first decade of the nineteenth century, supporting the American conquest of Canada.

The War Hawks favored the annexation of Canada both to offset the increase of what would be southern states as a result of the Louisiana Purchase and to end the threat of the Indian tribes created by British support. British Canada was thinly populated. British defense posts were not heavily manned, other than at Halifax, which was the headquarters of the British Navy in North American waters. Southern congressmen largely opposed the annexation of all of Canada because of the largely Catholic, French speaking population of what was then called Lower Canada. Many business interests supported annexation because of the shipping possibilities present by the Great Lakes.

The Americans would launch invasions into Canada during the ensuing War of 1812, but the conquest of Canada was not a motivation for the war. It was instead an opportunity presented by the war. Once war was declared, the only British troops in North America were in Canada. The northern front of the War of 1812 would be largely focused on Detroit in the west and on upstate New York. The British desperately needed the alliance with the American Indians to keep American troops from ranging too far to the north. Most of the British Army was in Spain fighting the French when the War of 1812 began, and large British Armies weren’t available for North American service until the last year of the war.

The attacks on the American frontier increased steadily in 1810 and 1811, and the calls for war against the British in Canada gathered strength, supported by the maritime interests. Only in New England was there strong opposition to going to war with England. New England merchants supported the British armies engaged against Napoleon in the Peninsula War with food and other products, and would continue to do so after the war began. Opposition to the War of 1812 ran high in New England, where it was disparagingly called Mr. Madison’s War, although there was some regional pride in the success of the ships built there.

Impress a History Teacher with These 10 Causes and Events of the War of 1812
America’s early victories in the war came in ship to ship actions against the British Navy, boosting American morale. US Navy

Early days of the war.

The United States declared war before it was prepared make war, other than at sea. The United States Army had less than 12,000 men, and though it was immediately authorized to expand to 35,000, finding the men was not easy. The food was poor, the pay was poor, and there were few experienced officers. The state militias would again be used to supplement the army, but they were unreliable at best. Few Americans had seen combat on land, other than along the frontier. America’s harbors were well protected from attack from the sea by a system of forts which guarded the nation’s ports. One of them, Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor, would be famous by the war’s end.

The United States Navy on the other hand, though miniscule in comparison to the British fleet, was professional and had proven itself in conflicts with the French and the Barbary pirates. The well defended harbors allowed American shipyards to continue to build ships throughout the war, as privateers and as warships. The American Navy grew as the war went on, but it never reached the point where it could challenge the British for control of the American coastline. It did however wrest control of the Great Lakes from the British, and it prevailed in several ship-to-ship actions at sea. It was the Navy which gave America its first victories in the war.

On August 29, 1812, USS Constitution entered the port of Boston bearing the colors of HMS Guerriere, a frigate which the Americans had defeated in a 35 minute action ten days earlier. Guerriere had been captured from the French by the British Navy six years earlier. The news was astounding. British captains had long spoken with contempt for the American frigates, believing that any British 36 gun frigate could defeat any of the three big American frigates of 44 guns. Faced with the realization that their belief was incorrect, the British Navy began a list of excuses explaining the defeat, which continues to the present day.

On December 4, 1812, USS United States arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, bringing with it the captured British 38 gun frigate Macedonian. Macedonian was only three years old and had been built in England, two of the excuses for the loss of Guerriere had been age and the fact the ship had been French built. Neither excuse was available for Macedonian, which had surrendered to Stephen Decatur. Decatur presented the colors of the captured British ship to President Madison when he arrived in Washington. That two of the vaunted British frigates had been taken was another boost of morale for the United States.

It wasn’t only the big frigates of the United States Navy which scored victories over the British fleet. Several of the smaller sloops of war fought ship to ship actions against British ships of equal strength and succeeded in capturing or destroying the enemy. The victories against the British ships were a salve for the wounds being felt from military failures in the north and west by the end of 1812. In terms of strategic value, the removal of 1 ship from the British navy and its addition to the American navy did little. Constitution would sink another British frigate – HMS Java – in 1812, but word didn’t reach the United States until 1813.

Impress a History Teacher with These 10 Causes and Events of the War of 1812
British General Isaac Brock was killed at the Battle of Queenston Heights after repelling two American invasions of Canada. Wikimedia

Invading Canada

William Hull was the territorial governor of Michigan just prior to the War of 1812, when James Madison appointed him Brigadier General of the Army of the Northwest. The Army of the Northwest was to be three regiments of Ohio militia, supplemented by 300 regulars from the 4th Infantry Regiment. Hull arrived in Ohio in May 1812, and marched his mostly unruly and ill-disciplined militia to the north. By July Hull was ready to open the first invasion of Canada from Fort Detroit, manned by Michigan militia. The Americans crossed into Canada on July 12, but when Hull learned of the British capture of Fort Mackinac on Mackinaw Island, he withdrew to Detroit.

In Fort Detroit Hull commanded about 2,100 men, three quarters of them militia, and 30 cannon. British commander General Isaac Brock commanded less than 800 regulars and Canadian militia, though he was supported by about six hundred Indians from Tecumseh’s confederation. When Brock besieged Detroit he had these Indians create as much noise as possible around the American fortifications, leading Hull and his men, particularly the inexperienced and undisciplined militia, to believe they were facing a much larger force. Brock also had his men light many more campfires than were needed to reinforce the ruse.

On August 15, 1812, the British and Indians were preparing an attackwhen Hull, thoroughly convinced that he was besieged by overwhelming numbers, raised a white flag of parley. He requested three days to prepare to surrender, Brock gave him three hours. The terms of the surrender were generous. The Ohio militia were paroled and sent back to Ohio. The Michigan militia simply melted away in mass desertions. The regulars were sent to British prisons in Quebec. The news of the surrender of Hull’s Army of the Northwest and Fort Detroit was a shock across the United States, where many believed that the conquest of Canada was a forgone conclusion.

Brock moved with dispatch to the east of Lake Erie, prepared to face another American invasion being prepared by General Stephen Van Rensselaer. As he prepared to face the Americans again undermanned, Brock was assisted by an armistice which was announced when the news of the revocation of the Orders in Council arrived. It was hoped that further hostilities could be averted. When the armistice period ended with no news from Washington, Van Rensselaer attacked at the battle of Queenston Heights in October, where he was soundly defeated. Brock was killed in the battle.

The death of Isaac Brock was a worse blow to the British side than the defeats at Detroit and Queenston Heights had been for the Americans. The first months of the war had revealed the need to provide better leadership for the regulars, and less reliance on the state militias. In comparison Canadian militia serving alongside the British usually fought well. General William Henry Harrison assumed command of the Army of the Northwest. America still needed better leadership along the Niagara frontier, where command was held by the Revolutionary War hero Henry Dearborn, who was far beyond his soldiering days.

Impress a History Teacher with These 10 Causes and Events of the War of 1812
During the Battle of Lake Erie Oliver Hazard Perry abandoned his shattered flagship and resumed command from USS Niagara. Library of Congress

The Battle of Lake Erie.

Before Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry could fight for control of Lake Erie he had to build his fleet. Construction of two brigs (two masted vessels) was already underway at Presque Isle when Perry arrived on the scene, in March 1813, relieving Lt. Jesse Elliot. Perry immediately found his biggest difficulties weren’t completing the ships, but manning and arming them. Cannon were brought to the shipyard from as far away as Chesapeake Bay. Perry found other small gunboats on the lake and added them to his fleet after the British abandoned Fort Erie in the spring. As the American squadron took shape the British was doing the same.

Commanded by Robert Barclay, the British squadron was likewise short of men. Barclay took troops from the Canadian militia and whatever experienced boat handlers he could find, and set out in two ships to ascertain whether Perry’s busy shipyard could be attacked. He found it too well defended to attack from water or shore. Guns intended for the British flagship HMS Detroit had been captured during a raid on York (now Toronto) and were in American hands. Probably the best built ship on Lake Erie, Detroit was armed with a hodgepodge of available guns. Some of them lacked firing locks and had to be fired by fuse or by filling the vents with gunpowder.

In July Perry’s ships were complete and he received a detachment of seamen from Boston, including 50 hands who had served in the Constitution when it defeated Guerriere and Java the preceding year. After completing the backbreaking job of getting Perry’s ships over the sandbar which protected the entrance of the harbor, the fleet began operations on Lake Erie in August, 1813. Barclay, low on supplies, could do little and after Perry cruised from Sandusky, where he received further volunteers for his ships from the Army of the Northwest, in the form of gunners, he sailed to Amherstberg and then to establish an anchorage at Put-in-Bay, effectively blockading Barclay.

Barclay’s supplies continued to dwindle and the presence of the large number of Tecumseh’s warriors and their families on the Thames River put further pressure on the British. Barclay had no choice but to give battle to the Americans at Put-in-Bay. Reinforced by some sailors and officers from a British merchantman at Quebec, Barclay sailed to the American anchorage. The Americans sighted the British in the morning of September 9, 1813, and with Perry in the lead in the new brig USS Lawrence sailed to meet them. Perry was flying a blue flag which read “Don’t Give Up The Ship”, the dying words of his friend James Lawrence, who was killed in battle during the capture of USS Chesapeake.

The Battle of Lake Erie was a complete victory for the Americans and led to the later capture of Amherstberg and the attack on Tecumseh’s forces at the Battle of the Thames. Perry established the precedent of a US commander of a naval force transferring his flag in the heat of battle when his flagship could no longer serve. America retained control of Lake Erie for the rest of the war. All six of the Royal Navy vessels involved in the battle were captured. It was the first decisive action of the United States Navy which affected the land campaigns carried out in the war, indeed in any war. The victory also ensured that Pittsburgh and the Ohio Valley were secure from British attack.

Impress a History Teacher with These 10 Causes and Events of the War of 1812
Captain David Porter sailed USS Essex on an epic voyage which included his godson, David Farragut. US Navy

The Cruise of the Essex

Although the United States and the French Empire were both at war with England, they were not allies, and did not engage in any joint operations. At sea American and French warships and privateers competed for prizes taken from the British. Captain David Porter, commanding officer of the frigate USS Essex recognized the potential for a large number of prizes among the ships of the British Pacific whaling fleet, as well as the opportunity to inflict significant damage to the British economy by disrupting the flow of whale oil to England. Porter also realized that he would be able to replenish his own ship’s stores from the whalers.

In 1813 Porter sailed into the Pacific, the first warship of the United States Navy to do so, and throughout 1813 played havoc with the British whalers, taking more than a dozen vessels, keeping and arming one as a consort, which Porter named Essex Junior. By the autumn of 1813 Porter had a fleet of eleven vessels under the control of Essex, which by then was in desperate need of a refit. Porter sailed Essex and his prizes to the Marquesas Islands, and careened Essex at Nuku Hiva, where the ship was refitted by its crew and the prisoners. The Americans also took part in a local island war, which ensured their welcome among their victorious hosts.

Following the refit Porter returned to his raiding in the Pacific. By then the alarmed British whale oil merchants and ship owners in London had felt the damage being done by a single American frigate in the Pacific, and the Admiralty in London dispatched HMS Phoebe, a frigate of 36 guns, and the sloop Cherub, of 18 guns, to the Pacific to deal with the Essex. Learning from the authorities in Valparaiso of the presence of the British, Porter determined to meet them. In January 1814 Porter returned to Valparaiso, a neutral port, to water his ships. There he was joined by the British squadron, who by international law could not attack the ships in a neutral port.

On March 28 Essex attempted to leave Valparaiso, while Phoebe cruised just outside Chilean territorial waters. When Essex lost its main topmast is a sudden squall, Porter returned to the protection of the neutral port. Phoebe, under Captain James Hillyar attacked anyway. Phoebe and Cherub engaged Essex from long range, giving them an advantage since Essex was armed with short range carronades. By the time Porter struck his colors in surrender more than half of the crew of the Essex were killed or wounded, most of his guns disabled, and the ship unmanageable due to damage to its rigging.

After the war British historians minimized the damage inflicted upon the British economy by Essex, belying the fact that the Admiralty had dispatched Phoebe and Cherub to deal with the American, and several other British warships were on the way to the Pacific when Hillyar engaged Porter at Valparaiso. The cruise of the Essex was one of the most successful commerce raiding cruises in history. Porter and surviving crew were sent home in Essex Junior, having given their parole. As they approached the United States Essex Junior was seized by the British, in violation of the parole. An enraged Porter escaped in a small boat and rowed ashore.

Impress a History Teacher with These 10 Causes and Events of the War of 1812
The Battle of Horseshoe Bend was a crushing defeat for the Creek Indians in 1814. New York Public Library

Crushing the American Indians

After the Battle of Lake Erie gave America control of the lake, the Army of the Northwest moved against the Tecumseh confederation. British General Henry Proctor was forced to withdraw from Detroit and the Americans under William Henry Harrison pursued him. When Proctor arrived at Amherstberg he found the fort there indefensible, in part because its cannon had been removed to arm the British ships captured in Put-in-Bay. Proctor continued to withdraw up the Thames River, accompanied by Tecumseh and between 500 to 1,000 American Indians. They retreated to Moraviantown, the site of a Lenape town.

Just below Moraviantown the Americans caught up with the British and Indians and at the Battle of the Thames on October 5, 1813, dealt them a crushing defeat, sending some of the British into headlong retreat, and capturing about 600 of the rest, who surrendered. The Americans then destroyed the Indians, who fought back as the British surrendered or fled. Tecumseh was killed. Following his death the remaining Indians withdrew. The Americans then burned the village of Moraviantown. The Battle of the Thames ended the Tecumseh confederation and the United States had retaken control of the frontier.

Tecumseh’s confederation had sparked a civil war among factions of the Creek Indians along the Mississippi. Most of the Creek Indians wanted to remain at peace with the United States, but a war party known as the Red Sticks began waging war against their fellow Creek and the United States, leading to the Fort Mims massacre of American militia and their families. Andrew Jackson assembled an army of militia from several states and territories and began a punishing campaign against the Red Sticks, and by the early spring of 1814 he was supported by US regular troops under his command.

In March of 1814 Jackson and his troops caught about 1,000 Red Sticks at their fortified village at what is known as Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa River. About 800 of the Creeks were killed in the battle, after which Jackson moved his army to a fortified post on the Alabama River which he called Fort Jackson. There Jackson dictated the treaty through which the Creek Indians ceded most of western Georgia and nearly the whole of what is now the state of Alabama. Some of the land the Creeks ceded to the United States was actually claimed and occupied by the Cherokee, allies of the United States at the time.

Jackson then moved against the surviving Red Sticks, most of whom fled to the Seminole lands in Florida. One of them was named Osceola. The cession of the Creek lands was the only territory gained by any side which was retained after the War of 1812. Jackson and Harrison both built reputations during the campaigns of the War of 1812 which made them national heroes and eventually helped both of them win the Presidency. With the defeat of Tecumseh’s confederation and the Red Sticks all of the eastern American Indian tribes were subdued, other than renegade groups and the Seminole.

Impress a History Teacher with These 10 Causes and Events of the War of 1812
The burning and pillaging of Washington DC by the British in 1814 was widely condemned in Europe. Library of Congress

The Burning of Washington

In 1814 the defeat of Napoleon freed British troops for deployment to the United States. Napoleon’s abdication removed the trade and maritime issues which had been so much cause for the war with America, and British merchants were demanding restoration of the American trade. Public opinion called for chastisement of the impudent Americans. The British both opened peace talks with the Americans and prepared a punitive expedition to the United States. Despite the early American victories at sea the British Navy ruled supreme in North American waters and with Napoleon defeated could concentrate even more ships to blockade American ports.

A joint naval and military expedition was dispatched to the Chesapeake Bay, with its primary goal the destruction of the Port of Baltimore. Led by Admiral George Cockburn and General Robert Ross, the expedition sailed up Chesapeake Bay, landed troops in Maryland which easily routed the militia and regulars opposing them at Bladensburg, and captured the capital of Washington. Public buildings and newspaper offices were burned by the British troops, including the Capitol, Treasury, and Executive Mansion. The Americans burned the Washington Navy Yard to deny its cache of supplies to the British.

After burning Washington the expedition continued to Baltimore where a joint land and sea attack was launched in September, 1814. There the militia and regulars held against the British troops ashore, and General Ross was killed by a sharpshooter. The naval attack was stymied by Fort McHenry which underwent a bombardment of more than 24 hours. Supported by emplaced cannon ashore, the island fortress was unassailable by British troops and Marines, and after failing to reduce the fort the British fleet picked up the troops ashore and sailed away. The British failed to force their way into Baltimore, despite naval superiority and veteran troops.

The burning of Washington was met with outrage throughout Europe, and even in England newspapers and politicians condemned the act as barbarous. Cockburn had directed the burning of the capital as a retaliation for the American burning of York in Canada, but the diplomats at the Congress of Vienna, redrawing the map of Europe after the end of the French Empire, were critical of the British for the act, which occurred as peace talks were being conducted between the British and the Americans. Following the destruction of Washington and the defeat at Baltimore the British withdrew to Bermuda.

The British also sent aid to the remaining Red Sticks, which brought the wrath of Andrew Jackson down upon them in at Pensacola in Spanish Florida. British efforts to take the port of Mobile were repulsed by Jackson’s troops. After defeating the British and Red Sticks in Florida and Alabama, Jackson moved his army to New Orleans, rightly expecting another British thrust at the Mississippi. As 1814 drew to a close and the peace negotiations continued, the British prepared an assault on the American south, despite comments by the Duke of Wellington that further operations in American were of no value.

Impress a History Teacher with These 10 Causes and Events of the War of 1812
A fanciful depiction of Jackson atop his parapet as his troops repulse the British attack at New Orleans. Library of Congress

New Orleans

In late December 1814 the British landed a force of 8,000 veteran troops along the banks of the Mississippi River, intent on taking the city and port of New Orleans. An advance guard of British troops on the eastern side of the river were attacked by units of Jackson’s army on the night of December 23, after which Jackson located his army along the Rodriguez Canal, fortifying the position. When the British army commander, General Edward Pakenham, arrived on the battlefield on Christmas Day he was enraged at the position his army had been led into, and ordered a probing attack on the American defenses.

It is a myth that the Battle of New Orleans was a single day encounter in which the British Army marched into the massed rifle and musket fire of the entrenched Americans. The British made several attempts to flank Jackson’s position, on both land and water. On New Year’s Day Pakenham ordered an artillery bombardment of the American line, with the heaviest concentration of fire on the left of Jackson’s position as a prelude to an infantry assault. British guns pounded the Americans all until they ran out of ammunition before the infantry could be brought up for an assault.

A week later, after several additional skirmishes and raids conducted by both sides, Pakenham ordered the main assault against Jackson’s position, in two columns supported by artillery and Congreve rockets. A flank attack across the Mississippi against one of Jackson’s artillery batteries was to precede the advance of the main columns. The flank attack failed to reach its objectives due to British inexperience with Mississippi mud and currents, but the main assault went on as scheduled. The British attack began in the early morning darkness of January 8, 1815. As the British troops moved forward they met withering fire from Jackson’s positions.

Both Pakenham and his second in commanded were mortally wounded during the assault. Casualties among the British officers were high and many units, in the absence of orders whether to advance or withdraw, were shot to pieces as they stood on the field. The British absorbed more than 2,100 killed and wounded in the battle, and another 500 taken prisoner. Edward Pakenham, brother in law to the Duke of Wellington and a decorated veteran of the Peninsula War, died on the battlefield. After the British withdrew outside the range of Jackson’s guns, they remained in place for several days before withdrawing.

The Battle of New Orleans was not the last battle of the War of 1812, as is commonly believed. Another British force seized Fort Bowyer near Mobile and a besieging British force failed to take Fort St. Philip after a ten day siege. But New Orleans was the United States greatest land victory of the war. Jackson’s army suffered 333 killed, wounded, or missing during the campaign against New Orleans, compared to the more than 2,400 British casualties. New Orleans gave the Americans reason to consider themselves the victors of the War of 1812, having prevailed in its biggest engagement.

Impress a History Teacher with These 10 Causes and Events of the War of 1812
James Madison was President throughout the War of 1812, which led to those opposing it calling it Mr. Madison’s War. Wikimedia

Aftermath of the War of 1812.

The Treaty of Ghent which concluded the hostilities of the War of 1812 did not address most of the issues which led to the war; British impressment of sailors, the Orders in Council, and the suppression of free trade. The British commissioners attempted yet again to establish an independent Indian state in the treaty, which was roundly rejected by the Americans. The treaty ended the war with the territorial boundaries of the United States and Canada status quo ante bellum, meaning nothing changed. No territory exchanged hands between Great Britain and the United States.

The United States did acquire territory as a result of the war. The Creek and Cherokee lands ceded in the Treaty of Fort Jackson to the United States added to federal lands. The destruction of the Tecumseh confederation ended the threat of Indian raids in the Northwest, and lands which had been too dangerous to settle in before the war were opened for settlement. After the war of 1812 the western expansion began in earnest. The United States began its movement towards the concept of manifest destiny, and towards a greater influence in world affairs.

The United States Navy gained an illustrious reputation during the war and its officers became heroes, celebrated in verse, song, statues, and commemorative plates and dishes. The war settled the argument over the need for a strong navy and the navy grew steadily following the war. American warships suppressed piracy, the slave trade, and opened the Pacific to trade and American commerce with Asia, often working alongside its former foes in the Royal Navy. Matthew Galbraith Perry, brother of the victor at the Battle of Lake Erie, opened Japan to trade with the United States. David Farragut, who fought alongside Porter at Valparaiso, led Union fleets in the Civil War.

The early failures of the American troops due to the poor leadership of their officers led to changes at the United States Military Academy, whose graduates had for the most part performed far better than the politically appointed senior officers. These changes to curriculum and doctrine would impact later wars, in Mexico and in the United States. The United States, suspicious of trained standing armies before the war, had relied instead on the militias of the several states. After the War of 1812 the United States retained a professional army, although much smaller than during the war for a time.

Both sides have argued for victory since the war, and both sides have cause to, though in reality neither side won or lost anything but lives and treasure. The Duke of Wellington commented that nothing in the prosecution of the war gave the British cause for declaring victory. The Americans were left with a destroyed capital city and heavy war debts. A brisk trade quickly emerged between the two nations, with British mills soon absorbing up to 80% of American cotton. The trade led to the industrialization of the American north and the expansion of the cotton states in the lands formerly occupied by the Creeks, the true losers of the War of 1812.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Republic in Peril”, by Roger Hamilton-Brown, 1971

“Tecumseh: A Life”, by John Sugden, 1998

“Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the US Navy”, by Ian W. Toll, 2006

“The Invasion of Canada 1813-1814”, by Pierre Berton, 1980

“The Naval War of 1812”, by Theodore Roosevelt, 1882, available at Project Gutenberg

“Journal of a Cruise Made to the Pacific Ocean”, by Captain David Porter, 1815, online

“A Slow Laborious Slaughter: The Battle of Horseshoe Bend”, by James W. Holland, Tennessee Historical Quarterly, March 1999

“The Day They Burned The Capitol”, by Willis Thornton, American Heritage, December 1954

“Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times”, by H. W. Brands, 2005