The Wars of 1812

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The Wars of 1812
The War of 1812 is often remembered for some iconic moments:
- the heroism and success of the United States Navy
- the writing of The Star Spangled Banner
- the burning of Washington, D.C. by the British
- Andrew Jackson winning the Battle of New Orleans
Moreover, it carried more than just iconic significance, for the wars:
- broke the power of all Native Americans east of the Mississippi
- convinced most American leaders of the need for a strong navy
- stamped out the final embers of Federalist Party resistance
- established the crucial peace with Britain on the Canadian border
- positioned the U.S. as truly sovereign in the eyes of world powers
- introduced all Americans to the figure of Andrew Jackson
But, the ‘War of 1812’ was really the ‘Wars of 1812’:
• a war between American settlers and western Natives
• a war between the United States and Great Britain
• a war between Great Britain and Napoleonic France
• a “war” between western Americans and those ‘back east’
• a “war” between Democratic-Republicans and the last Federalists
FIRST, this was a war against Great Britain
Since the close of the Revolution,
American shipping had been prey to
both British and French interference,
but it was the British that were most
hostile and damaging with their policy
of impressment - forcing sailors of
American ships into service on British
naval vessels.
Anger of the practice had smoldered
for more than a decade; Jefferson’s
Embargo Act had been ineffective in
ending the practice. President
Madison came under increasing
pressure to use force to defend the
nation’s honor and trade.
HOWEVER, fighting in the War of 1812 began as part of a
different war - one with Natives in the West
In 1810, a Shawnee leader named
Tecumseh organized an alliance of
tribes of the Ohio Valley in an effort
to halt the advance of white
American settlement. Whites had
engaged in negotiations for the
Native lands using deceitful means.
The Natives had assistance from the
British in the form of arms and
encouragement. Great Britain
sought to control not only Canada,
but also the upper Mississippi Valley;
Britain had not entirely given up
on the idea of reclaiming her
former colonies.
This ‘war’ reached an early pinnacle
with the Battle of Tippecanoe in
November, 1811, when militia forces
led by Indiana governor,
William Henry Harrison defeated a
Native force led by Tecumseh’s
brother, the “Prophet”. This
campaign, unfortunately involved a
series of attacks on women and
children in Native settlements.
THE REALITY of fighting on the
western frontier gave credence to
the claims of the WARHAWKS young Congressmen from
frontier areas led by Henry Clay
from Kentucky and John C.
Calhoun from South Carolina.
After Tippecanoe, Clay made a
rousing speech in the House of
Representatives, helping to tip
the scales in favor of a
declaration of war against Great
Britain.
What were the circumstances for America as viewed by the War Hawks?
DESTRUCTION of Native
American power east of the
Mississippi River continued
with the Creek War (181314).
Andrew Jackson, in
command of militia forces
from Tennessee and across
the south, fought a brutal
campaign against the
powerful Creek Nation and
its Native allies. A
massacre of over 500
whites and peaceful Indians
at Fort Mims fueled resolve
to destroy the Creek.
1814 Battle of Horseshoe
Bend brought the defeat of the
Native alliance, opening the
deep south to future cotton
cultivation.
MEANWHILE, the young U.S. Navy was working a miracle at sea.
U.S.S. Constitution
USS Wasp vs HMS Frolic
U.S.S. United States
Forced by its small numbers to adopt the tactics of small squadrons and solo patrols,
U.S. captains and crews met surprising success against the larger, more experienced
Royal Navy, winning engagements throughout the Atlantic and creating a legend that
lives on in the U.S. Navy. Adding to the effectiveness were scores of privateers.
Isaac Hull
William Bainbridge
Thomas MacDonough
James Lawrence
Stephen Decatur
USS Constitution vs
HMS Guerriere
USS United States vs.
HMS Macedonian
AND THAT WAS FORTUNATE,
because U.S. efforts on land were
fairly pathetic.
An effort to invade Canada via
western Lake Erie, in the summer
of 1812 turned into a bloody,
muddy mess.
The western door to the U.S. was
left open by the disaster; a British
counter-offensive in the summer
of 1813 was only just turned back
by desperate efforts of western
militia under the leadership of
Winfield Scott and William Henry
Harrison.
The Battle of the Thames
brought an end to that British
offensive; Tecumseh was killed at
this battle in southern Ontario.
FAILURE, in battle was made worse by political disputes and near treason.
President Madison had been forced into the war by Congress, but most states east of the Appalachians
dragged their feet in supplying troops and materiel for the war effort. (New York, Ohio and Indiana
Territory did most of the paying, fighting and dying in this war).
Federalist political leaders in New England stoked opposition to the war. New England suffered loss of
trade due to the war on the Atlantic; people were angry and broke. The Federalists saw an opportunity to
break Republican power and organized the Hartford Convention in 1814 where separation from the U.S.
and peace with Britain were openly discussed. In the end, New Englanders stayed put, making mild
complaint about the loss of the region’s status in Congress (population was growing quickly in the West).
COMPLETE DISASTER WAS AVERTED only by the efforts of Commandant Oliver Hazzard Perry
commanding naval forces on Lake Erie. There U.S. forces soundly defeated a British squadron, literally saving
the United States.
Equally significant was Macdonough's victory on Lake Champlain,
blocking a British drive from Montreal to New York City.
BRITAIN MADE A FINAL EFFORT to win the war in 1814, attempting a three pronged
offensive through Chesapeake Bay, Lake Champlain and the Gulf of Mexico.
The Chesapeake campaign was mildly successful
with President Madison forced to flee Washington
while the Brits burned much of it to the ground.
This offensive was stopped, however, at
Baltimore, in the Battle of Fort McHenry. It was
this battle that Francis Scott Key watched from the
deck of a British ship and was inspired to write
The Star Spangled Banner.
More significantly, the British lost General
Robert Ross to a sniper’s bullet.
A VERY DANGEROUS
attack up the
Mississippi Valley,
involving a large British
naval and land force,
was stopped by militia
under the command of
Andrew Jackson, and
By poor British leadership, in January 1815
at the Battle of
New Orleans.
Ironically, the War of 1812 was already officially over. In December 1814, following a U.S.
victory in the Battle of Lake Champlain, Britain and the U.S. entered into negotiations for peace.
John Quincy Adams led an American delegation that negotiated the Treaty of Ghent that ended
the war and, finally secured American shipping on the high seas.
In 1817, the Rush-Bagot Agreement demilitarized the U.S.-Canadian border for all time ending
nearly all disputes between the U.S. and Great Britain.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE WAR of 1812 were many:
- American sovereignty was firmly established
- Native Americans east of the Mississippi were doomed
- Federalists were doomed; from 1816 to 1828 a single party, the
National Republicans controlled the Federal government
- the United States and Great Britain were on their way to fast friendship
- a land boom in the west led to the PANIC OF 1819; land prices escalated
through wild speculation until the bottom dropped out of the market
driving thousands into bankruptcy.
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