1812- War was the Only Choice

National pride had plenty to do with… starting the War of 1812.  Britain refused to honor its commitments set down in the original treaty of 1783.   Despite reaffirming those pledges in Jay’s Treaty of 1794, Britain continued to deny America the equal station it desired.  The Royal Navy provided the greatest obstacle to American sovereignty, impeding America’s lifeblood, commerce.  The 1807 attack on the USS Chesapeake in American waters was the most egregious violation in a consistent campaign to cripple our shipping.  The trade restrictions laid down in the Orders in Council (blockade of Europe) were the final straw for many Americans.

  1. Neutrality- America wanted to be left alone,  and the British were having none of it.  The early disputes between Federalists and Jeffersonians over foreign policy matters were rendered moot by ascension of Bonaparte.  The Adams administration had deeply strained US/French relations and Jay’s Treaty had failed badly.  The Anglo/American alliance never truly formed after 1783.  The British were not going to allow the upstart republic to trade with its enemy during a time of war.  The heavy-handed provisions of the Orders in Council, the Royal Navy’s blockade of Europe, was the final straw.
  2. The Frontier- The British army was a powerful force on the American frontier, proving difficult to withdraw its presence as stipulated in the treaty of 1783.  British troops remained assisting in the Indian resistance to American settlement west of Ohio.  American military intervention proved time and again that Indian alliances were receiving British military support.  The Tecumseh War was the final straw in a long string of British interference.  The British troops were compounding an already volatile situation; in addition to violating the most basic elements of territorial sovereignty.
  3. Piracy- The tradition of the ‘press’ as a recruitment tool for the Royal Navy divided the two nations even further.  The British denied America’s right to naturalize foreigners serving in its merchant fleet.  American ships were subject to searches and all sailors could be taken against their will.  Historians estimate that over 10,000 American sailors were impressed between 1794-1814.  60% of the ‘British’ subjects taken off American ships were in fact Irish.  Despite two treaties guaranteeing safety to American seamen, the Royal Navy searched American ships at will.

Library of Congress

“Such is the spectacle of injuries and indignities which have been heaped on our country, and such the crisis which its unexampled forbearance and conciliatory efforts have not been able to avert.” – James Madison, June 1, 1812

2 thoughts on “1812- War was the Only Choice

  1. Reblogged this on History and Hobby and commented:
    The War of 1812 comes across these days as basically a footnote in US History. At the time, Britain was engaged in a life or death struggle with Napoleon and so acted like the high-handed Empire they were. The impressment issue was huge. On the other hand, many in Congress had designs on Canada which was a bad plan. Napoleon’s first exile was in April, 1814 that that released a significant portion of the British army for service elsewhere. That in turn led to the Battle of New Orleans, of Andrew Jackson fame. The battle actually took place after a peace treaty had been sign between Britain and the US. Napoleon’s second exile took place after the Battle of Waterloo in June, 1815, thus finally ending the Napoleonic Wars. All, that to say, the period and relations with Britain were complex and some historians say the War of !812 was the war that should never have been. Such is history. Great blog.


  2. I agree with all of your reasoning here. The country was on its way to war even before Madison became president. If you look at war as a means to an end, then the War of 1812 was a success. The war solved all three issues that you listed above. People today see it as being a “lost war” because the United States didn’t have a smashing victory with the other side submitting to an unconditional surrender. Such a situation wasn’t possible, however. Britain was a superpower at the time, and the United States was not. Britain during the War of 1812 was the most dangerous enemy the United States fought when you consider the balance of power as well. Even though Germany was powerful during the world wars, there is no way that they could have invaded the United States. Hitler couldn’t even go forth with Operation Sealion when all he had to do was cross the English Channel.


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