Thursday, June 18, 2015

American History 101: Today in American History The War of 1812 06/18/1812

The War of 1812 is the oft forgotten war between the United States and Great Britain that spanned 1812 through 1815.  On June 1, 1812, President James Madison sent a message to Congress with a list of grievances against Great Britain.  While Madison did not ask for a declaration of war, Congress did so anyway.  Congress took four days and voted 79 to 49 in favor of war.  This marked the first time the United States of America declared war on another nation, and this was the closest Congressional vote on the subject in history.

Many historians have referred to the War of 1812 as the Second War for Independence.  But it was so much more than that.  If it were simply that, we'd be British citizens again.  The United States did not win the War of 1812 by any reasonable measure.  In the end, the Treaty of Ghent returned all captured lands (mostly lands captured by Great Britain) and did not address any of the issues that pushed the United States into war with Great Britain.  After Ghent was signed, the United States celebrated because it was the first time it had gone toe-to-toe in a major conflict with another country and it did not lose out of hand.  In spite of the White House being burned to the ground, and Washington being captured -- in the end, it was a draw and America embraced not losing.

There were a couple of major issues that caused the United States to declare war with Great Britain at a time in which the United States had very little military might.  One of the biggest issues was British impressment of American sailors on the sea.  The American naval force was small and weak at this point in history.  And Great Britain claimed that British sailors were defecting to American vessels and they wanted their sailors back.  In response to this issue, Great Britain would simply seize American ships and take claim the sailors as part of the Royal British Navy.  Great Britain was right -- there were British sailors on American ships.  The United States held the belief that anyone had the right to become and American citizen.  Great Britain did not recognize naturalized Americans as American citizens.  And the British took sailors indiscriminately.  The British took everyone with no regard to their citizenship.  They took American and British sailors, and impressed them into service in the British navy without any right to do so.  The United States made multiple and continuing efforts to curb this behavior, but was really powerless to do so.

The next major issue was the British interference with American expansionism.  America wanted to expand westward.  The Louisiana Purchase of land from France in 1803 gave Americans a new road west.  The largest single expansion in American history excited and charged the country in a major way, and Americans were westward ho.  The problem was that, in spite of France giving the land to the United States, the Native Americans stood in the way.  And before Andrew Jackson (who was a celebrated hero of the War of 1812 before he became President) signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830 that lead to the Trail of Tears, Americans were clashing with Native Americans at every turn as they pushed west.  The United States began forcibly pushing Indians off their land, but met with resistance.  And that Indian resistance was fueled with British support.  The British were thought to have actively supported Indian raids with the Winnebago, Shawnee, Fox, Sauk, Kickapoo and Delaware tribes against the United States.  When you add that to the British and their insistence that there be an Indian Neutral Zone that would cover what is modern day Ohio and Indiana, tensions were running high.

The United States had repeatedly told Great Britain to stay out of its affairs, but the British barely recognized America as a sovereign nation in spite of its great trade relationship until about 1806 when President Jefferson signed the Embargo Act which cut all trade ties with Britain.  This essentially crippled the American economy and created a lot of strain an American trade abroad.  Great Britain had been at war with France on a continuing basis for some time, and in 1807 Great Britain introduced a series of trade embargoes, blockades and restrictions that were meant to choke trade going to and from France.  When you combined Jefferson's Embargo Act with the British trade blockade, the United States exports dropped over 200% over a three year period.  By 1812, the United States had to do something -- so they declared war to help save their own economy.  

In 1812, Madison was gambling that Great Britain would not be able to fight a war on two fronts -- and they'd have no interest in doing so.  Madison was wrong.  Madison worked on the assumption that the state militias would come together and seize the Canadian territories that he coveted.  However, in 1812 the army consisted of fewer than 12,00 men.  Congress authorized the expansion to 35,000, however few signed up.  The United States Navy was outnumbered by the Royal British Navy by 50 to 1.  The first year of the war went very poorly for the United States.  However, by the middle of 1813 the United States military began to grow and push back on the invading British forces.  And with the abdication of Napoleon in 1814, the British could finally send a veteran force to North America.  Unfortunately, the United States was no longer a small force of push overs.  But just as the American military began to show signs of life, a serious blunder occurred.  The American Navy had grown substantially, and began to engage the larger, more powerful British Navy in epic battles on the water.  The United States felt that it could break through the strong British blockage of the east coast, and moved to do so off the Chesapeake Bay in August of 1814.  The offensive mounted by the Americans was quashed, and the resulting British offensive on the Chesapeake led to the British attacking and seizing Washington.  During the sieged on Washington, the British burned down the White House, the capitol building and the naval yard.  It was during this battle that the poem that inspired the Star Spangled Banner was penned

But the United States Navy fought the British Navy to a draw in the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico, and continued to push back on the British ground forces until Great Britain tired of the war.  The Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814 but word of its signing was slow to make its way to America and fighting continued throughout early 1815.  With the return of the lands and the British retreating from the continent, the biggest losers in the war were the Native Americans.  They suffered the largest lose of life as a percentage of population.  And they were left without anyone to defend and assist them in North America now that France and Great Britain had been run out of town.  After the crushing defeats at Thames and Horseshoe Bend, they were left at the mercy of the Americans who had shown their colors already regarding the Indians.  Many historians agree that the War of 1812 precipitated and hastened things like the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the large scale removal of Indians from all lands in North America.  The War of 1812 also held significance for Bermuda and British ruled Canada, in that Great Britain moved in and built a large presence in these areas because of the conflict.

Bruce holds a degree in Computer Science from Temple University, a Graduate Certificate in Biblical History from Liberty University and is working a Master Degree in American History at American Public University.  He has worked in educational and technology for over 18 years, specializes in building infrastructures for schools that work to support the mission of technology in education in the classroom.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  

Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel -- with a new book, Learn the Basics: Digital Forensics, due soon. 

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