Essay: The War of 1812
Tags: British History, James Madison
To many, the War of 1812 is considered the second war for independence. To me, it is the one of the most unusual wars of all time.
During a time period between 1803-1812 British sailors had been tormenting American ships on the high seas. British captains would eventually take over and capture over 10,000 American citizens to man British ships. In June of 1807, three miles off the coast of Virginia, an American ship named the Chesapeake was commanded by a British ship named the Leopard to be boarded. When the Chesapeake refused to cooperate, the Leopard fired, killing three and wounding eighteen. This humiliated the United States and its people. The anti-British frame of mind was in full swing on the eve of the upcoming election.
In 1812, James Madison was elected President of the United States. Aggressive southern frontiersman known as the Warhawks dominated Congress. The group included Kentuckian Henry Clay as Speaker of the house and South Carolinian John C. Calhoun. These men and others rejected Thomas Jefferson’s strategy of peaceful coercion. These speakers could ignite a crowd and stir up aggressiveness towards the British. They would talk of the humiliation and how America shouldn’t have to put up with it. They were pressuring Madison to do something. Congress wanted Madison to invade Canada and attack the Indians who had been tormenting homes on the frontier. Madison finally succumbed to their wishes and declared war on the British June 1, 1812. The timing of his actions seemed odd as over the last few months actions against each country seemed to have been at ease. There had been no new attacks on the high seas and at the time Madison called for war, British Government was suspending the Orders in Council. This was an appeasing gesture that in all likelihood would have preserved the peace.
Madison never really wanted the annexation of Canada; he was merely pushed into the decision. There were three attempts to invade Canada and they all failed. Toronto, the capital of Canada was assaulted and burned to the ground in the Battle of York April 27, 1813. Two more attempts were made and the struggling United States Army was pushed back. British naval ships blockaded all major ports and no ships were allowed to leave or enter.
As successful as the British troops were on land, the high seas belonged to the Americans. Captain Isaac Hull’s ship, the Constitution won a major battle against the HMS Guerriere and American privateers crushed or captured a number of British merchant ships. On September 13,1813, Oliver Hazard Perry commanded a decisive American naval victory at the Battle of Lake Erie. In October of that same year, Indian Chief Tecumseh was killed at the Battle of Thames, a United States victory. In March of 1814, Andrew Jackson scored a victory at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend over the Creek Indians. By this time the British were already tired of the war and it was costing them too much money.
As the threat of Napoleon decreased in Europe, the British navy increased in size and power in North America. The naval blockades in American ports became much stronger than they were ever before. Sir George Prevost, commander of the British forces hastily entered upper New York State; an American fleet headed by Captain Thomas Macdonough was waiting to turn him back. The Battle of Plattsburgh was an American victory and it secured a northern border between the two countries.
Before the Battle of Plattsburgh, British forces had already planned a three-part invasion into the United States. They were amazed to see that the Chesapeake region, which they had tormented throughout the war, was totally defenseless. The British invaded and burned down the Capital and other Government buildings. In no way were these actions essential to a British victory. They were simply retaliation for Americans burning down the Canadian capital of Ontario. The British were not impressed with the defenseless capital and wanted more. On September 13,1814, British Naval ships began bombarding Baltimore and Fort McHenry. For twenty-four hours Fort McHenry became a theater of war. When the British finally gave up the maneuver, Francis Scott Key wrote a song devoted to the perseverance of Fort McHenry called The Star Spangled Banner. Today it is our National Anthem.
While a Peace treaty was being put together in Europe, British troops were about to invade New Orleans in one of the most bitter endings to one of the strangest wars of all time. The War of 1812 was over and British troops were going into Battle one last time. Andrew Jackson was the leader of the American forces in New Orleans and his troops were well defended. Seven hundred British troops were killed and over thirteen hundred were wounded. The entire British force was routed. The Americans only suffered light casualties. Andrew Jackson became a national hero and gave the United States a much-needed sense of pride.
I think the War of 1812 was the turning point in American independence. It marked the end of the United States dependence on Great Britain and the Americans totally accepted it. The War also contributed to the strengthening of Canada. In the end the United States finally became its own nation.