America went to war with Britain and Canada over three main issues: 1. freedom of the seas for trade; 2. gaining new land like Canada; 3. dealing with Indian issues.
Since the French Revolution, British and French navies seized American ships and sailors who had been caught up in trading either in the West Indies or in Europe. In order to keep America out of these situations, President Jefferson approved of the Embargo Act of 1807 which ended all American trade with the world. Even the dust-up with the American (Chesapeake) and British ship (Leopard) in 1807 ten miles off the coast of Virginia raised Americans’ blood pressure. When we began trading with the rest of the world (Non-Intercourse Act and Macon’s Bill No. 2), more impressment and interference made American shipping a difficult business.
The War Hawks saw Canada as a great prize to be taken if the Americans attacked. They thought that with Britain distracted by Napoleon’s war, the Canadians would be an easy target for a coordinated American invasion. American forces invaded not once but twice, in 1812 and in 1813, and the only successful win was the Battle of the Thames where Shawnee chief Tecumseh was killed. In 1814, the Canadian capitol, York (modern day Toronto) was burned by American forces, but Canada proved to be extremely difficult to capture – we invaded Canada with only 5,000 soldiers/ militia while in Europe, Napoleon invaded Russia with half a million soldiers and still lost! In addition, the southern and western War Hawks wanted to capture Canada to stop the New Englanders from illegally trading with Canada (seen as a traitorous act b/c we were at Britain / Canada).
Lastly, Americans on the frontier (Northwest territory, Southern territories like Alabama and Mississippi and Spanish Florida) had been fighting the Indians and white Americans continued to encroach on their territory. For instance, Indiana territorial governor William Henry Harrison negotiated the transfer of 3 million acres in Indiana with the Treaty of Fort Wayne signed with the Pottawattomie, Lanape, and Miami tribes in 1809. This treaty had angered Tecumseh and his brother, the Prophet (Tenskwatawa) who wanted Indians to not sign treaties with America, and return to their old ways by getting rid of alcohol, finished clothes, farming, and Christianity. Harrison’s forces kill the Prophet at Tippecanoe in 1811, and Tecumseh continues to fight until 1813 when he was killed at the Battle of the Thames. Andrew Jackson also defeated Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814 in Alabama before heading to New Orleans to defeat the British. Jackson would later campaign into Florida a couple of years after the War of 1812 and seize the territory by defeating the Seminoles and taking the Spanish capitol, Pensacola.
The Treaty of Ghent was essentially an armistice, or an end to the fighting. The British didn’t get their Indian buffer zone in the Great Lakes area nor did they get Maine and Minnesota like they had originally proposed. The British had stopped impressment of American soldiers after the Napoleonic Wars were over in 1814. And Canada remained safe from American invasion, so the borders all remained where they were before the war. The treaty released all prisoners and seized ships, and Britain and America gave back territory that they had held at the end of the war (including Fort Mackinac).
So, looking at the three goals that America had going into the war, the only one that we had achieved was dealing with Indian issues. The British and the French stopped impressment of American sailors without us having to resort to much naval warfare. We failed in our attempt at taking Canada from the Brits, so why is this war considered an American victory? Or should it be considered a tie, much like the Korean War where after three years of bloody fighting (1950-53), an armistice was also signed and little if any land changed hands.
Canadians don’t think of this as an American victory; they see it as a joint British / Canadian victory.
What’s your opinion on the War of 1812? Is it a victory (a second war for American Independence like the book mentioned) or is it a defeat like the Canadians believe? Or should it be regarded as a tie between Britain and America (which, considering the relative military might of both countries, may be considered a win for America)? Explain your answer in at least 250 words.
Due Monday, October 21 by class time.