The War of 1812

Origins of the War of 1812

The War of 1812 arose from unfinished business of the Revolutionary War and pressures stemming from Britain’s war with France.

Learning Objectives

Identify the central causes of the War of 1812

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The origins of the War of 1812, often called the “Second War of American Independence,” are found in the unresolved issues between the United States and Great Britain. Many Americans were angered by British violations of American rights at sea brought on by the Napoleonic Wars, as evidenced by the Leopard- Chesapeake Affair.
  • Tensions increased between the United States and Great Britain as the British provided weapons to American Indians resisting U.S. expansion into their territories.
  • The failure of Jefferson’s Embargo Act of 1807 led to increasing economic pressure from the American public to go to war with Britain.
  • The “war hawk” faction exerted great influence over the House of Representatives and helped to pass a declaration of war in 1812.

Key Terms

  • War Hawks: A term used in politics for those demanding war.
  • Leopard-Chesapeake Affair: A naval engagement that occurred off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia, in 1807 between a British warship and an American frigate.
  • impressment: The act of seizing for public use or service.

The War of 1812 (1812–1815) was fought between the United States and the British Empire as well as Britain’s American Indian allies. It was chiefly fought on the Atlantic Ocean and on the land, coasts, and waterways of North America. The conflict stemmed from the unfinished business of the American Revolution and the pressures resulting from Great Britain’s struggle with France.

British Impressment and the Embargo Act of 1807

The origins of the War of 1812, often called the “Second War of American Independence,” are found in the unresolved issues between the United States and Great Britain. One major cause was the British practice of impressment, whereby American sailors were taken at sea and forced to fight on British warships; this issue was left unresolved by Jay’s Treaty in 1794. France and England, engaged in the Napoleonic Wars (which raged between 1803 and 1815), both openly seized American ships at sea. England was the major offender: The Royal Navy, following a time-honored practice, “impressed” American sailors by forcing them into British service.

The issue came to a head in 1807 when the HMS Leopard, a British warship, fired on a U.S. naval ship, the Chesapeake, off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia. The British then boarded the ship and took four sailors. After the Leopard-Chesapeake affair, Jefferson chose what he thought was the best of his limited options and responded to the crisis through economic means. He initiated a sweeping ban on trade, known as the Embargo Act of 1807. This law prohibited American ships from leaving their ports until Britain and France agreed to stop seizing them at sea. The embargo, however, caused far more damage to America’s economy than to Britain’s. The embargo was difficult to enforce and smuggling became common. Jefferson’s embargo was particularly unpopular in New England, where merchants preferred the indignities of impressment to the halting of overseas commerce, and tension among American citizens grew.

At the very end of his second term, Jefferson signed the Non-Intercourse Act of 1809, which lifted all embargoes on American shipping except for those vessels bound for British or French ports. As this proved to be unenforceable, Macon’s Bill Number 2 replaced the Non-Intercourse Act in 1810. This lifted all embargoes but stated that if either France or Great Britain were to cease their interference with American shipping, the United States would reinstate an embargo on the other nation. Napoleon, seeing an opportunity to make trouble for Great Britain, promised to leave American ships alone, and the United States reinstated the embargo with Great Britain, moving closer to a declaration of war.

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The USS Chesapeake painted by F. Muller: The Leopard-Chesapeake Affair of 1807 heightened British-American tensions when the HMS Leopard fired on and boarded the American warship, USS Chesapeake.

American Expansionism

Another underlying cause of the War of 1812 was British support for American Indian resistance to U.S. western expansion. For many years, European-American settlers in the western territories had besieged the American Indians living there. Under President Jefferson, two American Indian policies existed: one that forced American Indians to adopt American ways of agricultural life, and another that sought to aggressively drive them into debt in order to force them to sell their lands.

The Algonquian and Iroquoian nations of the Great Lakes and the Ohio Country organized in opposition to U.S. invasion and were supplied with weapons by British traders in Canada. Although the British had technically ceded the area to the United States in the Treaty of Paris in 1783 (a treaty that ignored any rights of the American Indians already living there), it was in the best interest of the British to prevent further American growth.

The map shows that, in addition to D.C., there were 18 states: Massachusetts, which included present day Massachusetts and southern Maine; New Hampshire; Vermont; Rhode Island; Connecticut; New York; New Jersey; Pennsylvania; Delaware, Maryland; Virginia, which included present day Virginia and West Virginia; Ohio; Kentucky; Tennessee; North Carolina; South Carolina; Georgia; and Louisiana, which included most of present day Louisiana. It shows that there were five territories: Michigan, which covered the Lower Peninsula of present day Michigan; Indiana, which covered present day Indiana and a portion of the Upper Peninsula of present day Michigan; Illinois, which covered present day Illinois, Wisconsin, and portions of present day Minnesota and Michigan; Mississippi, which covered portions of present day Mississippi and Alabama; and Louisiana, which covered a wide stretch of the Midwest. It shows that East Florida and West Florida were controlled by Spain; Rupert’s Land, which covered portions of modern day Minnesota and North Dakota and very small parts of Montana and North Dakota, was controlled by the United Kingdom; the Viceroyalty of New Spain, which covered nearly all of the southwestern United States, was controlled by Spain; and that the northwestern United States was unclaimed territory. Finally, it shows three disputed areas: present day northern Maine, which was disputed between Massachusetts and the colony of New Brunswick (UK); present day southeastern Louisiana and the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama, which was disputed between the Louisiana Territory and the Mississippi Territory; and the northeastern tip of present day Minnesota, which was disputed between the Illinois Territory and Rupert’s Land (UK).

Disputed territories in the War of 1812: This map illustrates the states and territories of the United States from May 1812 to June 1812. On May 12, 1812, the federal government assigned its annexed land of West Florida to the Mississippi Territory. On June 4, 1812, to minimize confusion, the Louisiana Territory was renamed “Missouri Territory.”

Economic Motivations and Tension at Home

The failure of Jefferson’s embargo led to increasing pressure from Americans to go to war with England. Farmers from the West and the South were suffering from an economic depression that made them demand war. Though Jefferson wanted to avoid what he called “entangling alliances,” staying neutral proved impossible.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, a group of young Democratic-Republicans known as the “war hawks” came to the forefront in 1811. The group, led by Henry Clay from Kentucky and John C. Calhoun from South Carolina, would not tolerate British insults to American honor and advocated going to war against Great Britain. Opposition to the war came from Federalists, especially those in the Northeast, who knew war would disrupt the maritime trade on which they depended.

On June 1, 1812, President James Madison gave a speech to the U.S. Congress, recounting American grievances against Great Britain but not specifically calling for a declaration of war. After Madison’s speech, Congress authorized the president to declare war against Britain by a narrow vote. The conflict formally began on June 18, 1812, when Madison signed the measure into law.

The War in the North

The War of 1812’s primary theater on land was along the northern border of the United States.

Learning Objectives

Name the key battles in the northern campaigns of the War of 1812

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • British control of the Great Lakes in the first years of the war allowed for great British victories in Michigan and the Niagara Peninsula.
  • The American unpreparedness for war resulted in early defeats by British and allied American Indian forces.
  • American troops surrendered Detroit in August of 1812, costing the United States the village of Detroit and control over most of the Michigan territory.
  • While the British succeeded at first in controlling the Great Lakes and winning on the land, by 1813, the initiative passed to the Americans, with their great victory at the Battle of Lake Erie.
  • A turning point for the United States came when Tecumseh, the leader of a tribal confederation of American Indian forces allied with the British, was killed in the Battle of the Thames and his coalition disintegrated.

Key Terms

  • St. Lawrence River: A large waterway flowing approximately from southwest to northeast in the middle latitudes of North America, connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean.
  • The Great Lakes: A collection of large fresh-water bodies in northeastern North America.

The seizure of American ships and sailors, combined with the British support of American Indian resistance, led to strident calls for war against Great Britain. In a narrow vote, Congress authorized the president to declare war against Britain in June 1812, beginning the War of 1812.

Although the outbreak of the war had been preceded by years of angry diplomatic dispute, neither side was ready for war when it came. Britain was heavily engaged in the Napoleonic Wars, most of the British Army was deployed in the Peninsular War (in Spain), and the Royal Navy was compelled to blockade most of the coast of Europe. The number of British regular troops present in Canada (and supported by Canadian militia ) in July 1812 was officially stated to be 6,034. Throughout the war, the British secretary of state for war and the colonies was the Earl of Bathurst. For the first two years of the war, he could spare few troops to reinforce North America and urged the commander in chief in North America, Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost, to maintain a defensive strategy. The naturally cautious Prevost followed these instructions, concentrating on defending Lower Canada at the expense of Upper Canada, which was more vulnerable to American attacks, and allowing few offensive actions. Throughout the war, Britain was able to successfully defend Canada.

Early Defeats

The War of 1812’s primary theater on land was along the northern border of the United States. The war went very badly for the United States at first. The British scored an important early success when their detachment at St. Joseph Island, on Lake Huron, learned of the declaration of war before the nearby American garrison at the important trading post at Mackinac Island in Michigan. A scratch force landed on the island on July 17, 1812, and mounted a gun overlooking Fort Mackinac. After the British fired one shot, the Americans, taken by surprise, surrendered. This early victory encouraged American Indian resistance, and large numbers moved to help the British at Amherstburg (near the western end of Lake Erie).

Detroit

On July 12, 1812, General William Hull led an invading American force of about 1,000 untrained, poorly-equipped militia across the Detroit River and occupied the Canadian town of Sandwich, now a neighborhood of Windsor, Ontario. Once on Canadian soil, Hull issued a proclamation ordering all British subjects to surrender. He also threatened to kill any British prisoner caught fighting alongside an American Indian. The proclamation helped stiffen resistance to the American attacks. Hull’s army was too weak in artillery, however, and by August, Hull and his troops retreated to Detroit.

The senior British officer in Upper Canada, Major General Isaac Brock, felt that he should take bold measures to calm the settler population in Canada and to convince the American Indians who were needed to defend the region that Britain was strong. He moved rapidly to Amherstburg with reinforcements, and, along with Shawnee leader Tecumseh, immediately attacked Detroit. Hull and his troops surrendered Detroit without a fight on August 16. The surrender not only cost the United States the village of Detroit, but also control over most of the Michigan territory.

Knowing of British-supported attacks from American Indians in other locations, Hull ordered the evacuation of the inhabitants of Fort Dearborn (Chicago) to Fort Wayne. During evacuation, the inhabitants (soldiers and civilians) were attacked by Potowatomis on August 15 in what is known as the “Battle of Fort Dearborn.” The fort was subsequently burned.

Battle of Queenston Heights

Several months later, the United States launched a second invasion of Canada against the Niagara Peninsula. On October 13, U.S. forces were again defeated at the Battle of Queenston Heights. Brock was killed during the battle, however, and British leadership suffered after his death.

Battle of Ogdensburg

By the end of the year, the British controlled half the Northwest. The British were potentially most vulnerable over the stretch of the St. Lawrence River where it formed the frontier between Upper Canada and the United States. During the early days of the war, there was illicit commerce across the river. Over the winter of 1812 and 1813, the Americans launched a series of raids from Ogdensburg on the American side of the river, which hampered British supply traffic up the river. On February 21, Sir George Prevost passed through Prescott on the opposite bank of the river with reinforcements for Upper Canada. When he left the next day, the reinforcements and local militia attacked. At the Battle of Ogdensburg, the Americans were forced to retire.

Military and civilian leadership remained a critical American weakness until 1814. The early disasters were brought about chiefly by American unpreparedness, and a lack of leadership drove U.S. Secretary of War William Eustis from office. His successor, John Armstrong, Jr., attempted a coordinated strategy late in 1813 with 10,000 men, aimed at capturing Montreal; however, he was thwarted by logistical difficulties, uncooperative and quarrelsome commanders, and ill-trained troops. After losing several battles to inferior forces, the Americans retreated in disarray in October 1813.

Battle of Lake Erie

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Olivar Perry and the Battle of Lake Erie: Oliver Hazard Perry’s message to William Henry Harrison after the Battle of Lake Erie began with what would become one of the most famous sentences in American military history: “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” This 1865 painting by William H. Powell shows Perry transferring to a different ship during the battle.

By the middle of 1814, U.S. generals, including Major Generals Jacob Brown and Winfield Scott, had drastically improved the fighting abilities and discipline of the army, and U.S. forces scored several victories. A decisive use of naval power came on the Great Lakes and depended on a contest of building ships. The United States started a program of building warships at Sackets Harbor on Lake Ontario, where 3,000 men were recruited, many from New York City, to build eleven warships early in the war. In 1813, American Captain Oliver Hazard Perry and his naval force won control of Lake Erie in the Battle of Lake Erie, cutting off British and American Indian forces in the west from their supply base.

Battle of the Thames

The British also were decisively defeated by General William Henry Harrison ‘s forces on their retreat toward Niagara at the Battle of the Thames in October 1813. Tecumseh was counted among the dead, and American Indian resistance began to ebb as his confederacy disintegrated. Control of Lake Ontario changed hands several times, with both sides unable and unwilling to take advantage of the temporary superiority.

The War in the Chesapeake

The strategic location of the Chesapeake Bay near the U.S. capital made it a prime target for the British.

Learning Objectives

Describe the burning of Washington, D.C. and the subsequent battles of Baltimore and Fort McHenry

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The British, in retaliation for the burning of York in Upper Canada, went on an extended raid of the Chesapeake region.
  • The British went up the Chesapeake to attack Washington, D.C., famously burning the White House in 1814. This successful British raid dented American morale and prestige.
  • Having destroyed Washington’s public buildings, including the president’s mansion and the Treasury, the British Army next moved to capture Baltimore, a busy port and a key base for American privateers.
  • The attack on Baltimore and the Battle of Fort McHenry inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Key Terms

  • Fort McHenry: A star-shaped building in Baltimore, Maryland, best known for its role in the War of 1812, when it successfully defended Baltimore Harbor from an attack by the British Navy in Chesapeake Bay September 13–14, 1814.
  • Francis Scott Key: An American lawyer, author, and amateur poet from Georgetown who wrote the lyrics to the U.S. national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The Chesapeake Bay

The strategic location of the Chesapeake Bay near America’s capital made it a prime target for the British during the War of 1812. Starting in March of 1813, a squadron under British Rear Admiral George Cockburn started a blockade and raided towns along the bay from Norfolk to Havre de Grace.

On July 4, 1813, Joshua Barney, a Revolutionary War naval hero, convinced the Navy Department to build the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla, a squadron of twenty barges to defend the Chesapeake Bay. Launched in April of 1814, the squadron was quickly cornered in the Patuxent River; while successful in harassing the Royal Navy, the squadron was powerless to stop the British campaign that ultimately led to the burning of Washington.

The Burning of Washington, D.C.

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Burning of Washington D.C.: This drawing shows the capture and burning of Washington, D.C. by the British in 1814. 1876 publication.

The expedition against Washington, led by Cockburn and General Robert Ross, was carried out between August 19 and 29, 1814, as the result of the hardened British policy of 1814. British and American commissioners had convened for peace negotiations at Ghent in June of that year; however, Admiral Warren had been replaced as commander in chief by Admiral Alexander Cochrane, with reinforcements and orders to coerce the Americans into a favorable peace.

Governor-in-Chief of British North America Sir George Prevost had written to the admirals in Bermuda, calling for retaliation for destructive American raids into Canada, most notably the Americans’ burning of York in 1813. A force of 2,500 soldiers under General Ross had recently arrived in Bermuda aboard the HMS Royal Oak, three frigates, three sloops, and ten other vessels. Released from the Peninsular War in Europe by British victory, the British intended to use these ships for diversionary raids along the coasts of Maryland and Virginia. In response to Prevost’s request, the British decided to employ this force, together with the naval and military units already on the station, to strike at Washington, D.C.

On August 24, U.S. Secretary of War John Armstrong insisted that the British would attack Baltimore rather than Washington, even when the British Army was obviously on its way to the capital. The inexperienced U.S. militia, which had congregated in Maryland to protect the capital, was routed in the Battle of Bladensburg, opening the route to Washington. After the U.S. government officials fled from Washington, First Lady Dolley Madison remained behind to organize the slaves and staff to save valuables from the British. Although she was able to save valuables from the presidential mansion, both she and President James Madison were forced to flee to Virginia.

Upon arriving, the British commanders ate the supper that had been prepared for the president before they burned the presidential mansion. A furious storm swept into Washington, D.C. later that same evening, sending tornadoes into the city that caused even more damage but finally extinguished the fires with torrential rains. The naval yards were set afire at the direction of U.S. officials to prevent the capture of naval ships and supplies. The British left Washington, D.C. as soon as the storm subsided. The successful British raid on Washington, D.C., dented American morale and prestige.

The Battle of Baltimore

Having destroyed Washington’s public buildings, including the president’s mansion and the Treasury, the British Army next moved to capture Baltimore, a busy port and a key base for American privateers. The subsequent Battle of Baltimore began with the British landing at North Point, where they were met by American militia. An exchange of fire began, with casualties on both sides. General Ross was killed by an American sniper as he attempted to rally his troops. The sniper himself was killed moments later, and the British withdrew. The British also attempted to attack Baltimore by sea on September 13 but were unable to reduce Fort McHenry at the entrance to Baltimore Harbor, due to recent fortifications.

The Battle of Fort McHenry

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The bombardment of Fort McHenry: A contemporary rendering of the engagement that provided the inspiration for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The Battle of Fort McHenry was no battle at all. British guns and rockets bombarded the fort and then moved out of range of the American cannons, which returned no fire. Admiral Cochrane’s plan was to coordinate with a land force, but from that distance, coordination proved impossible. The British called off the attack and left.

All the lights were extinguished in Baltimore the night of the attack, and the fort was bombarded for 25 hours. The only light was given off by the exploding shells over Fort McHenry, illuminating the flag that was still flying over the fort. The defense of the fort inspired the American lawyer Francis Scott Key to write a poem that would eventually provide the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The War in the South

In the South, the War of 1812 manifested itself as the Creek Wars and culminated in the Battle of New Orleans.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the intersection of Native American civil wars and the War of 1812

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Creek War (1813–1814), also known as the “Red Stick War,” began as a civil war within the Creek nation. A faction of younger men from the Upper Creek villages, known as “Red Sticks,” sought aggressively to resist U.S. invasion into their territories.
  • In the South, the leader of the Tennessee militia, frontier attorney Andrew Jackson, fought a one-sided war against the Creek Indians, who were supported by the British. The Creek were defeated at Horseshoe Bend.
  • Although Jackson’s mission was to defeat the Creek and expand U.S. territory, his larger objective was to move south, build roads, and stage an attack on Pensacola.
  • After their defeat, the Creek Nation was forced to cede 23 million acres of land—half of Alabama and part of southern Georgia—to the U.S. government.
  • After his victory against the Creek, Jackson went on to lead a force to repel an attempted British invasion of New Orleans in January of 1815.
  • Though the battle technically occurred after a peace treaty had already been signed in Europe, the success of the Battle of New Orleans stimulated an already growing American nationalism and opened the way to nationwide political office for Jackson.

Key Terms

  • Andrew Jackson: The seventh president of the United States, who held office from 1829 to 1837.
  • Battle of New Orleans: An armed event that took place on January 8, 1815, which was the final major conflict of the War of 1812.
  • Creek War: A conflict that began as a civil war within the Creek nation and later became part of the War of 1812.

The Creek War and the War of 1812

The War of 1812 included attacks against American Indians by the United States on the nation’s western and southern borders. The American Indian tribes south of the Appalachians played an important role in the War of 1812, and American Indian resistance to European-American expansion intensified into the Creek War. European-American historians often discuss the Creek War as part of the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain, as tribal tensions were exacerbated during this war.

Origins of the Creek War

The Creek War (1813–1814), also known as the “Red Stick War,” began as a civil war within the Creek (Muscogee) nation. A faction of younger men from the Upper Creek villages, known as “Red Sticks,” sought aggressively to return their society to a traditional way of life, culturally and religiously. Red Stick leaders such as William Weatherford (Red Eagle), Peter McQueen, and Menawa were all allies of the British. They clashed violently with other Creek chiefs over European-American territorial encroachment.

Before the Creek Civil War, in February of 1813, Tecumseh, leader of the Shawnees, came to the Southeast to encourage the Creek to join his movement to throw the European-Americans out of American Indian territories. After the Revolutionary War, Tecumseh had united tribes in the Northwest (including Ohio and related territories) to fight against U.S. settlers. Many of the Upper Creek were influenced by the prophecies of Tecumseh’s brother, Tenskwatawa, which, echoing those of their own spiritual leaders, predicted the extermination of the European Americans.

The Red Sticks aggressively resisted the civilization programs administered by the U.S. Indian Agent, Benjamin Hawkins, who had stronger alliances among the Lower Creek. Lower Creek towns had been under more pressure from European-American settlers in present-day Georgia and had been persuaded to cede land for hunting grounds in 1790, 1802, and 1805. However, European settlers had ruined the hunting, and as the wild game disappeared, the Creek began to adopt American farming practices.

In February of 1813, a small war party of Red Sticks, returning from Detroit and led by Little Warrior, killed two families of settlers along the Ohio River. Benjamin Hawkins learned of this, and demanded that the Creek turn over Little Warrior and his six companions to the U.S. government. Instead of complying, old Creek chiefs, led by Big Warrior, decided to execute the war party themselves. This decision ignited civil war in the Creek Nation. In the months that followed, warriors of Tecumseh’s party began to attack the property of their enemies, burning plantations and destroying livestock.

United States Involvement

U.S. forces became involved in the conflict by attacking a Creek party in present-day southern Alabama at the Battle of Burnt Corn. After Burnt Corn, U.S. Secretary of War John Armstrong notified General Thomas Pinckney that the United States was prepared to take action against the Creek Nation. Further, if Spain were found to be supporting the Creeks, a strike against Pensacola (in Spanish Florida) would occur.

Although Jackson’s mission was to defeat the Creek and expand U.S. territory, his larger objective was to move south, build roads, and stage an attack on Pensacola. He faced two problems, however: logistics and short enlistments. When Jackson began his advance, the Tennessee River was low, making it difficult to move supplies, and there was little forage for his horses. Jackson spent the next month building roads and training his force. In mid March, he moved against the Red Stick force concentrated on the Tallapoosa at Tohopeka (Horseshoe Bend).

Horseshoe Bend and the Treaty of Fort Jackson

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Creek land cessions: This map illustrates the land the Creek ceded after the Creek Wars, consisting of half of Alabama and part of southern Georgia.

The war ended after Jackson commanded a force of combined state militias, Lower Creek, and Cherokee to defeat the Red Sticks at Horseshoe Bend. The Battle of Horseshoe Bend, which occurred on March 27, was a decisive victory for Jackson, effectively ending the Red Stick resistance. On August 9, 1814, Andrew Jackson forced headmen of both the Upper and Lower Towns of Creek to sign the Treaty of Fort Jackson. Despite protests from the Creek chiefs who had fought alongside Jackson, the Creek Nation was forced to cede 23 million acres of land—half of Alabama and part of southern Georgia—to the United States government. Jackson recognized no difference between his Lower Creek allies and the Red Sticks who fought against him, forcing both to cede their land.

The Battle of New Orleans

With the Red Sticks subdued, Jackson turned his focus on the Gulf Coast region in the War of 1812. On his own initiative, he invaded Spanish Florida and drove a British force out of Pensacola. The Battle of New Orleans took place on January 8, 1815; it was the final major battle of the War of 1812 and is widely regarded as the greatest American land victory of the war. American forces, commanded by Major General Andrew Jackson, defeated an invading British Army intent on seizing New Orleans and the vast territory the United States had acquired with the Louisiana Purchase.

Due to slow communication, word of the Treaty of Ghent, which had been signed on December 24, 1814, and called for the end of the war, had not yet reached New Orleans. Andrew Jackson had distinguished himself in the war by defeating the Creek before invading Florida in May of that year. After taking Pensacola, he moved his force of Tennessee fighters to New Orleans to defend the strategic port against British attack.

On January 8, 1815 (despite the official end of the war), a force of battle-tested British veterans of the Napoleonic Wars attempted to take the port. Jackson’s forces devastated the British, killing more than 2,000. New Orleans and the vast Mississippi River Valley had been successfully defended, ensuring the future of American settlement and commerce. The Battle of New Orleans immediately catapulted Jackson to national prominence as a war hero, and in the 1820s, he emerged as the head of the new Democratic Party. United States nationalism soared after the victory at the Battle of New Orleans. In 1818, Jackson again invaded Florida, where some of the Red Stick leaders had fled, in an event known as the “First Seminole War.”

The Treaty of Ghent

British and American diplomats signed the Treaty of Ghent in December of 1814, ending the War of 1812 and restoring relations between the two nations.

Learning Objectives

Describe the main components of the Treaty of Ghent, the treaty that ended the War of 1812

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Treaty of Ghent ended the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain. Signed on December 24, 1814, the treaty was ratified by the British on December 30 and by the United States on February 17.
  • Because of the era’s slow communications, it took weeks for news of the peace treaty to reach the United States, and the Battle of New Orleans was fought after it was signed.
  • The terms of the Treaty of Ghent called for all occupied territory to be returned, the prewar boundary between Canada and the United States to be restored, and the Americans to gain fishing rights in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.
  • The war between Britain and the United States resulted in no geographical changes and no major policy changes. However, all of the factors that had contributed to the war disappeared with the end of the war between Britain and France and the destruction of the power of American Indian tribes.
  • After Napoleon’s defeat in 1814, Britain was no longer at war with France and there were no restrictions on neutral trade; the British thereby suspended their policy of impressment of American sailors.

Key Terms

  • Treaty of Ghent: The peace agreement that ended the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain.
  • status quo ante bellum: A Latin phrase meaning, literally, “the state in which things were before the war.”

The Treaty of Ghent was the peace treaty that ended the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain. Signed on December 24, 1814, the treaty was ratified by the British on December 30 and arrived in Washington on February 17, where it was quickly ratified and went into effect, thus finally ending the war. The treaty largely restored relations between the two nations to status quo ante bellum (as they were before the war), with no loss of territory on either side. The terms called for all occupied territory to be returned, the prewar boundary between Canada and the United States to be restored, and the Americans to gain fishing rights in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

Because of the era’s slow communications, it took weeks for news of the peace treaty to reach the United States, and the Battle of New Orleans was fought after it was signed. News of the treaty finally reached the United States after the American victory in New Orleans and the British victory in the Second Battle of Fort Bowyer, but before the British assault on Mobile, Alabama. The treaty did not go into full effect until it was ratified by both sides on February 17. Skirmishes continued to occur between U.S. troops and British-allied American Indians along the Mississippi River frontier for months after the treaty, including the Battle of the Sink Hole in May 1815.

Terms of the Treaty

The treaty released all prisoners and restored all war lands and boats. The treaty made no major changes to the pre-war situation, and most land that had been taken during the war was returned. Approximately 10 million acres of territory near Lakes Superior and Michigan, in Maine, and on the Pacific coast were returned to the United States, and American-held areas of Upper Canada (present-day Ontario) were returned to British control. Britain also promised to return the freed black slaves they had encouraged to escape to British territory. In practice, however, Britain later paid the United States $350,000 for the slaves rather than having them returned. After the disintegration of the American Indian confederacy under Tecumseh, the British proposal to create an American Indian buffer zone in Ohio and Michigan collapsed.

Losses and Compensation

British losses in the war were about 1,600 killed in action and 3,679 wounded; 3,321 British died from disease. American losses were 2,260 killed in action and 4,505 wounded. While the number of Americans who died from disease is not known, it is estimated that about 15,000 died from all causes directly related to the war. These figures do not include deaths among Canadian militia forces or losses among American Indian tribes. There have been no estimates of the cost of the American war to Britain, but it did add some £25 million to the national debt. In the United States, the cost was $105 million, and the national debt rose from $45 million in 1812 to $127 million by the end of 1815.

In addition, at least 3,000 American slaves escaped to British territories because of Britain’s offer of freedom—the same offer Britain had made during the American Revolution. Many other slaves simply escaped in the chaos of war and achieved freedom on their own. The British settled some of the newly freed slaves in Nova Scotia, and 400 freedmen were settled in New Brunswick. The United States protested that Britain’s failure to return the slaves violated the Treaty of Ghent. After arbitration by the Tsar of Russia, the British paid $1,204,960 in damages to Washington, which reimbursed the slaveowners.

Long-Term Consequences

The war between Britain and the United States resulted in no geographical changes and no major policy changes. However, all of the factors that had contributed to the war had disappeared with the end of the war between Britain and France and with the destruction of the power of American Indian tribes. The United States’ fears of the American Indians ended, as did British plans to create a buffer American Indian state. After Napoleon’s defeat in 1814, Britain was no longer at war with France, and there were no restrictions on neutral trade; the British suspended their policy of impressment of American sailors, and never resumed it—but they insisted they still had the right to. Americans regained their sense of honor and proclaimed victory in what they called a “second war of independence,” and the decisive defeat of the British in New Orleans seemed to prove that Britain could never regain control of America. Finally, the threat of secession by New England ended with the failure of the Hartford Convention.

The War of 1812 was highly significant in Britain’s North American colonies. In British colonies in Canada, the war was portrayed as a successful fight for national survival against an American democratic force that threatened the peace and stability the Canadians desired. In England, in contrast, the War of 1812 was largely overshadowed both by the dramatic events of the contemporary Napoleonic Wars, and because Britain neither gained nor lost anything by the peace settlement, except for the fact that it kept control of Canada.

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“The Signing of the Treaty of Ghent, Christmas Eve, 1814”: This painting by Amédée Forestier depicts the signing of the Treaty of Ghent.