Blog #6 – Was the War of 1812 the 2nd American Revolution?
The War of 1812 is called America’s 2nd War for Independence by our textbook, “but a footnote to the mighty European conflagration…with huge consequences for the United States” (Kennedy 222). The reasons are numerous:
1. America, as a young nation, gained a newfound respect from the European belligerents through the “hot breath of their [ships’] broadsides” and the defeat of the British army at the Battle of New Orleans (Andrew Jackson video). This was a diplomatic and military victory for our country (222). After the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, Europe receded into a “peace of exhaustion…[with a] return to conservatism, illliberalism, and reaction” (222).
2. “Sectionalism…was dealt a black eye” and exhibited the “folly of sectional disunity” in which the biggest casualty was the Federalist Party b/c of its association with New England’s support for the British. In a way, the war helped unify the country by getting rid of one party and ushering in the Era of Good Feelings.
3. American manufacturing exploded b/c of the embargo, and in a sense, this war gave America a stronger sense of economic and diplomatic independence and less dependent upon European manufactured goods.
4. Kennedy, et. al. felt that the development of American nationalism was the “most impressive by-product” of the war. This nationalism showed itself in a national literature like Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper. A tide of national pride also helped with the renewal of the Central Bank of the U.S. in 1816 and more capital was invested in the burgeoning economy.
These are all good and valid reasons why they call the War of 1812 another American war for independence. But, these reasons are all short term gains for the United States and neglect much more severe long term effects that have more dramatic consequences for the country.
1. By the time of the Civil War, the American military was still a small force but was much better educated because of the West Point Academy where most of the CW officers were trained. That a ragtag band of Americans won at New Orleans in 1815 is testament to not only the great leadership of Andrew Jackson but of poor leadership of the British generals as well. These West Point grads were seasoned on the battlefields of Mexico and out West fighting the Indians as America grasped to the Pacific Ocean for land.
2. Sectionalism never died, it predominantly moved South. I think that this is the most ridiculous of their arguments – that sectionalism faded away. Yes, the Federalist Party died, but the Whig Party emerged within 15-20 years after disagreements over federal spending projects.
– Sectionalism soon flared up in 1819 and 1820 when it was time to figure out what to do w/ Missouri and the rest of the Louisiana territories when determining their slave status. It would rear its ugly head almost every time slavery came up – the tariff issue in 1832-33, the Mexican War, the Wilmot Proviso, Compromise of 1850, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Kansas-Nebraska Act, Dred Scott decision, Lecompton constitution, Lincoln-Douglas debates, Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, and then the 1860 Election w/ 4 candidates.
3. Though American manufacturing grew stronger during the war, the British dumped their excess cheap goods on the American market in a crude version of economic warfare. The economic battle eventually led to the tariff fight of 1828-1833 and America’s first brush w/ nullification and secession.
4. Nationalism is an important aspect of a country’s development like a nation’s literature or its economy. However, the Central Bank was dismantled by Andrew Jackson in the 1830s soon to be followed by the Panic of 1837. The loss of this bank may have hindered the development of American capitalism before and after the Civil War and could have prevented or forestalled the Depressions of 1877 and 1897.
5. Overall, America’s main goal of this war at the very beginning was to capitalize on Britain’s attention being directed at France and therefore we had hoped to seize Canada as part of our next great American land grab. Since that goal was thwarted by 1815, American attention turned southward towards Mexico, Cuba and other territories. Remember, the Mexican War didn’t start because innocent American soldiers were fired upon while they were walking along the Rio Grande River. They were acting on direct orders of the president to invade the disputed border area of Texas when they were fired upon. The War of 1812 set a dangerous precedent in American foreign policy with our country acting as the imperialist. We have invaded smaller, weaker nations to exploit their economic, geographic or physical resources since the Mexican War, and it could have started in 1812 if the Canadians hadn’t stopped us.
6. Lastly, the War of 1812 left the Native Americans to fend for themselves with the American government and the ever-expanding U.S. ppopulation. Our need for land rubbed against Indian sovereignty, and as historian Robert Remini explained in his book, Andrew Jackson and His Indian Wars, the removal of the Native Americans from the East Coast was also a homeland security issue. 3 times in the past 75 years had various native tribes risen up amongst us and sided with American foes when those European forces invaded our shores (F & I War, Revolution, and 1812). To prevent this internal security threat from happening again, reason said that they needed to be moved far away from the coast where they wouldn’t be much of a threat (and as an added bonus, more valuable land was freed up for settlement in the process).
What do you think?
Was this War of 1812 a 2nd war of American independence? Or was the war the beginning of American expansionism / opportunism that flew in the face of Washington’s advise to stay out of foreign entanglements? Or is there another interpretation for the war of 1812 that could combine both? Explain.