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War of 1812

The War of 1812 was a 32-month military conflict in which the United States took on the greatest naval power in the world, Great Britain, in a conflict that would have an immense impact on the young country's future.The war resulted in no territorial change between the British Empire and the USA, but a resolution of many issues which remained from the 1783 Treaty of Paris.

CAUSES WHICH LED TO THE WAR (1)

The war which began in the year 1812 between Great Britain and the United States of America, although it originated in an imperial quarrel, and was carried on mainly by British money and largely by British troops, was essentially a Canadian contest. Canada was the scene of most of the battles of the war; it was for the purpose of separating Canada from the British crown that the war was undertaken; and it was owing to the loyalty, constancy and courage of the Canadian people that this object was foiled. Every Canadian can, therefore, look back with feelings of just pride to this war so honourable to his ancestors, and so worthy of being remembered for the example which it affords of the difficulty of subduing a resolute and free people with arms in their hands and with the courage to use them.

At the close of the War of the Revolution there was much bitterness felt towards Great Britain by the people who had won their independence from her by the sword. This independence had been gained by the assistance of France, and although that country was then a monarchy, beyond all comparison more illiberal than the government of Great Britain, it was perhaps but natural that the new nation should turn to France and cultivate her friendship. The tremendous revolution which broke out in that country a few years later, at first only served to cement the ties of sympathy between France and the United States; and although its subsequent excesses estranged Washington and many other eminent men, there still remained a large and extremely violent party, headed by Jefferson, which was ready to condone all the faults of the French republic, and which felt an undying enmity to Great Britain. It was at this period that parties began to form themselves, and that the terms " Federalist," and " Democrat," were heard for the first time. The Democrats, of whom Jefferson was the head, showed an extreme hostility to Great Britain, while the Federalists, although not deficient in patriotism, held much more moderate views and were disposed to cultivate her friendship.

The war which broke out in 1792 between France and Great Britain, and which continued with but a short interval for more than twenty years, drew still more sharply the lines between these two parties. The French government sent out "Citizen" Genet as minister to the United States, and he forthwith proceeded, with the the active cooperation of the anti-British party, to make that country a base for the prosecution of war against the commerce of Great Britain. Washington, who was then president, issued a proclamation of neutrality, warning citizens of the United States not to take part in the contest, but so strong was the feeling in favour of France, that the proclamation and its author were assailed in such terms as a citizen of the United States of the present day must blush to read. It was styled a "royal edict," "a daring and unwarrantable assumption of executive power," and Washington was denounced as a "Monarchist," and a friend of England. Many of these attacks on the president appeared in the National Gazette, but it was not until Freneau, its editor, was nearing the dark valley of death that it was disclosed that these violent articles against Washington were written or dictated by Thomas Jefferson, who figures as the author of the Declaration of Independence, and who, at the very time these attacks were made, was secretary of state in Washington's Cabinet.


The French minister, Genet, in defiance of Washington's proclamation, proceeded to fit out privateers in Philadelphia to prey upon British commerce, these privateers being manned by citizens of the United States. When the president released some British prizes which had been taken by them and carried into Philadelphia to be condemned, Genet stormed and raved and announced his intention of appealing from the president to the people. This was virtually a threat to excite an insurrection for the purpose of overthrowing the authority of a chief magistrate elected by the people; yet so mentally debauched had Jefferson become that his newspaper actually sustained Genet in this course. The organ of this model secretary of state expressed the hope that the friends of France would act with firmness and spirit, saying, "The people are his friends, or the friends of France, and he will have nothing to apprehend." It turned out, however, that "Citizen" Genet had something to apprehend,—the indignation of Washington, who requested the French government to recall its minister.


In the meantime the death struggle between Great Britain and France was producing a series of retaliatory measures which proved ruinous to the neutral trader. In June, 1793, an order-in-council was issued by the British government declaring that all vessels laden with breadstuff's bound to any port of France, or places occupied by French armies, should be carried to England, and their cargoes either disposed of there, or security given that they would be sold only in a country which was friendly towards Great Britain. This was followed in November of the same year by another orderin-council which directed British war vessels and privateers to detain all ships carrying the produce of any colony belonging to France, or conveying provisions or other supplies for the use of such colonies, and to bring the same with their cargoes to legal adjudication in the British courts of admiralty.

These orders-in-council fell with heavy effect on the commerce of the United States, and produced a corresponding degree of indignation. This was increased by another measure adopted about the same time by the British government— the impressment of British seamen found on board of American vessels. This measure was based on the doctrine, then recognized by all European nations, that a subject could not renounce his allegiance, and that the government under whose flag he was born had a right to his services wherever he might be found. This involved the right of search both of war vessels and commercial ships—a claim most obnoxious in every way, but more especially as the exercise of this right was liable to great abuse. It is singular that in 1861, long after the right of search had been abandoned by Great Britain, it was revived by Commodore Wilkes of the United States navy, when he boarded the British mail steamer Trent, and took from her Messrs. Mason and Slidell, the Confederate commissioners then on their way to England. It is still more singular that this act, so universally condemned in Great Britain, was almost as universally approved by public opinion in the United States; so true is it that nations are generally guided in their views of public questions by motives of expediency and self-interest. Congress, in 1812, regarded the exercise of the right of search by Great Britain as a "crying enormity," and declared war against her for that cause, yet Congress in 1861 passed a vote of thanks to Commodore Wilkes for his exercise of the right of search in an extremely aggravated form. In neither case was Congress fortunate in its expression of opinion, for in 1815 the government of the United States was forced to conclude a treaty of peace with Great Britain in which the right of search, the ostensible cause of the war, was not so much as mentioned, while in 1861, a few days after the vote of thanks was passed, the same government was obliged to give up Messrs. Mason and Slidell, on the demand of the British government, and acknowledge itself in the wrong.

For the purpose of endeavouring to effect a settlement of the difficulties which had arisen out of the enforcement of the orders-in-council and the right of search, Washington sent John Jay, chief justice of the United States, as envoy extraordinary to the court of Great Britain. The result of this mission was what is known as the Jay Treaty, which, after providing for the disposal of most of the unsettled questions between the two countries, contained a number of commercial provisions which proved of great advantage to the United States. Under it American vessels were allowed to enter British ports in Europe and the East Indies on equal terms with British vessels, while participation in the East Indian coasting trade, and trade between European and British East Indian ports was left to the contingency of British permission. American vessels not exceeding seventy tons were allowed to trade with the British West Indies on condition that they should not, during the continuance of the treaty, transport from America to Europe any of the principal colonial products. British vessels were to be admitted into American ports on the same terms as those of the most favoured nation. There were provisions for the protection of neutral property on the high seas; these provided that a vessel entering a blockaded port should not be liable to capture unless previously notified of the blockade. There were also arrangements to prevent the arming of the privateers of any nation at war with the two contracting parties, and the capture of goods in the bays and harbours of either nation. In the event of war between the two countries, the citizens or subjects of either were not to be molested, if peaceable; and fugitives from justice charged with high crimes were to be mutually given up. The commercial arrangements of the treaty were limited in their operation to two years after the termination of the war in which Great Britain was then engaged. The treaty was ratified by the Senate and signed by the president in the summer of 1795.

It might have been supposed that this treaty, which was extremely favourable to the commerce of the United States, would have been received with satisfaction by the people of that country, but it was far otherwise. The Democrats had resolved to oppose it no matter what its provisions might be, especially if it should remove all pretext for a war with Great Britain. They had already disclosed the spirit which influenced them by their violent opposition to Jay's appointment, and when the treaty was before the Senate efforts were made to intimidate the members of that body so that they might refuse to ratify it. Democratic newspapers told their readers that they should blush to think, "America should degrade herself so much as to enter into any kind of a treaty with a power now tottering on the brink of ruin." France, according to these newspapers, was the natural ally of the United States, and the nation on whom their political existence depended. "The nation on whom our political existence depends," said one of these publications, "we have treated with indifference bordering on contempt. Let us unite with France and stand or fall together." These words so truthfully stated the result of the War of 1312 that they may be regarded as almost prophetic. The United States did virtually unite with France, and together they fell.

When the treaty was ratified and signed, Mr. Jay, the senators, and the president became the objects of a storm of vituperation from the entire Democratic party. Jay was denounced as a traitor who had been purchased by British gold and was threatened with the guillotine. Hamilton and other speakers who attempted to defend the treaty at a public meeting in New York were stoned by the friends of Jefferson who sat at the same council table with him. In Virginia secession was threatened, while in Charleston the British flag was trailed in the dust and burned at the door of the British consul. The people of the South, who held their fellow-men of another colour in bondage, and dealt in them as chattels, were greatly enraged because the treaty did not provide that they should be paid for such of their negroes as were carried away during the Revolutionary War. Others felt a sense of wrong and outrage because the treaty provided for the payment of honest debts contracted before the war, such a stipulation being in their opinion wholly inconsistent with those principles of liberty which impelled the patriots of the Revolution to plunder their loyal neighbours, and confiscate their property.

The conduct of the Democratic party in 1795 sufficiently showed the violence of the animosity against Great Britain which existed in the minds of a large body of the people of the United States twelve years after the War of the Revolution had been brought to a close. But when the treaty went into operation it was found to be highly advantageous to the merchants and shipowners of the United States. The French Directory, however, was greatly enraged, and issued a secret order authorizing French ships of war to treat neutral vessels in the same manner as they had suffered themselves to be treated by the English. Under this order many American vessels were seized in the West Indies by French cruisers, and their crews treated with great indignity and cruelty. Indeed, at this period the French government showed a strong disposition to take entire charge of the politics of the United States, and Commodore Joshua Barney, an American in the naval service of France, who came to Philadelphia in 1796 with two frigates which he commanded, told the citizens of that place that if Jefferson were not elected president, war would be declared by France against the United States within three months. So true was this, that the election of John Adams, a Federalist, who was chosen instead of Jefferson, resulted in the issuing of a decree by the French Directory which was equivalent to a declaration of war. It not only authorized the capture of American vessels under certain conditions, but declared that any American found on board of a hostile ship, although placed there by impressment, should be hanged as a pirate. The American minister was ordered to leave France and three envoys extraordinary who were sent in his place to arrange all matters in dispute were treated with contempt and refused an audience. All these circumstances produced great indignation in the United States, and in the spring of 1798, although no actual declaration of war had been issued, war with France was commenced on the ocean. The fall of the Directory and the assumption of authority by Bonaparte as first consul, however, speedily put an end to hostilities.

This brief summary of the progress of events after the Revolution will serve to show more clearly the character of the questions which arose from time to time between the two nations, and which finally resulted in the War of 1812. The United States throughout the long war between Great Britain and France stood in the unfortunate position of a neutral power whose commerce was certain to suffer from the several orders-in-council and decrees which the belligerents launched against each other. The accession of Bonaparte to supreme power, although it brought the war between France and the United States to a close, instead of improving their condition as neutrals, made it much worse. In May, 1806, the British government declared the whole coast of Europe from the Elbe to Brest, the territory occupied by the French armies, to be in a state of blockade. In November of the same year Bonaparte issued the famous Berlin decree proclaiming the British Isles to be in a state of blockade, forbidding all correspondence or trade with England, and declaring all articles of English produce or manufacture contrabrand, and the property of all British subjects to be lawful prize of war. As the French fleets had been wholly destroyed, and the French government had scarcely a vessel at sea, this was simply a "paper blockade." The same term has been applied by American writers to the British blockade of the eight hundred miles of coast from Brest to the Elbe, on the alleged ground that Great Britain had not sufficient ships to enforce it. Yet in 1806 the British navy numbered more than eight hundred vessels, manned by one hundred and forty thousand men. Some of the objectors to this so called "paper blockade" lived to see President Lincoln proclaim three thousand miles of the coast of the southern states to be blockaded, although the Federal navy of that period numbered only ninety vessels, of which less than half were in commission.


The British answer to the Berlin decree was an order-incouncil of November, 1807, by which all neutral trade with France or her allies was prohibited unless through Great Britain. In December of the same year Bonaparte issued his Milan decree which was a sort of supplement to that of Berlin. It declared every vessel which submitted to be searched by British cruisers, or paid any tax, duty or license money to the British government, or was found on the high seas or elsewhere bound to or from any British port, to be denationalized and forfeited. Spain and Holland, at the dictation of France, immediately issued similar decrees, and thus was established the famous continental system of Napoleon which crushed the neutral trader. It was a system which grew out of Bonaparte's determination to destroy Great Britain and break up the British empire, a resolve which was warmly approved by a large number of the people of the United States. In their insane hatred of England they were ready to aid in the destruction of the only constitutional government then existing in Europe, and in the establishment of the grinding military despotism of Bonaparte over the greater portion of the civilized world.

While the British orders-in-council and Bonaparte's decrees were agitating commercial circles in the United States, the impressment of British seamen found on board of American vessels had become a source of great ill-feeling towards England. In 1800 the British minister had proposed a reciprocal surrender of all deserters, but this was declined by the United States because the proposal was so worded as to sanction impressment on private vessels. They contended that the neutral flag was the safeguard of those sailing under it, a doctrine, the application of which was greatly in favour of the United States, as it enabled them to recruit their navy with deserters from British ships. As a measure of retaliation, in March, 1806, the United States Congress passed a Non-Importation Act, prohibiting the importation of nearly every article of British manufacture. The Act was to be in abeyance until the following November, and in the meantime negotiations were again opened for a treaty which should put an end to the difficulties between the two nations. William Pinkney of Maryland was sent as envoy extraordinary to London to join with Monroe, the resident minister, in this work. Negotiations commenced in August, and after some delay a treaty was arranged in most respects more favourable than the Jay Treaty. The British government declined to relinquish the right of impressment by formal treaty, but the British commissioners put into writing a statement that it was the intention of the government not to allow impressments from American vessels on the high seas except under extraordinary circumstances, such as having on board known deserters from the British navy. The new treaty placed the trade between the United States and the European possessions of Great Britain on a footing of perfect reciprocity. It was also stipulated that no American vessels could be visited or seized by British cruisers within five miles of the coast of the United States. But the time spent in the negotiation of this treaty was wasted, for Jefferson, who was then president, had resolved upon a step which would effectually prevent it from going into operation. Instead of laying it before the Senate for ratification or rejection, as it was his duty to do, he usurped the authority which the constitution had vested in that body, and entirely suppressed this important treaty, which would undoubtedly have been the means of insuring a lasting peace between the two countries. This action proved that Jefferson and his advisers did not desire any accommodation of existing grievances, but only war.

At this juncture a very unfortunate affair took place which produced much ill-feeling. While a British squadron was near Cape Henry, Virginia, three of the crew of the frigate Mclampus deserted. These men were enlisted on board the United States frigate Chesapeake, and a demand made by the British minister for their restoration was refused. The Chesapeake some time afterwards put to sea and was by the orders of Vice-Admiral Berkeley, overhauled by the British 50-gun ship Leopard. Captain Humphreys, of that ship, demanded the delivery of the deserters on board the Chesapeake, and on this being refused poured several broadsides into the latter, killing three men and wounding eighteen, and compelling the American vessel to strike her flag.

This act was immediately disavowed by the British government and the admiral recalled. In the United States the affair produced the liveliest indignation, which was not mitigated in the least by the earnest efforts of Great Britain to settle the matter amicably. A proclamation was issued by the president forbidding all persons to have any intercourse with or to sell any supplies to British war vessels in the waters of the United States, and warlike preparations were made on an extensive scale. Messrs. Monroe and Pinkney were sent to England in the armed schooner Revenge to make a number of demands on the British government, including the abandonment of the right of search. Great Britain was quite ready to make reparation in the Chesapeake affair, but declined to treat on the other matters, Mr. Canning telling the envoys plainly, that, while he was ready to listen to any suggestions with a view to the removal of existing difficulties, he would not negotiate anew on the basis of a treaty concluded and signed and already rejected by one of the parties.


The envoys returned home, and then was passed the famous Embargo Act which prohibited all vessels in the ports of the United States, except foreign ships in ballast, or with cargoes taken on board before the notification of the Act, from sailing for any foreign port. Coastwise vessels were required to give heavy bonds to land their cargoes in the United States. This Act, which is the most remarkable example on record of a nation destroying its own foreign trade in the hope of thereby injuring another nation with which it had large dealings, utterly failed to effect the object for which it was passed. It became law in December, 1807, and, after being made more stringent by several amending and enforcing Acts, was finally repealed in March, 1809, it having been found only injurious to the nation that enacted it. In a single year under its operation the imports of the United States fell from $138,500,000 to $56,990,000 and the exports from $108,343,000 to $22,430,000. In lieu of the Embargo Act a NonIntercourse Act was passed by which the commerce of the United States was opened to all the world except England and France. As the latter country had little or no commerce with the United States, it was quite evident, that, as before, England was the only nation aimed at by this measure. The relations between Great Britain and the United States continued to grow more strained, and they were not improved when, in 1809, the latter government requested the recall of Mr. Jackson, the British minister at Washington. The English government did not take the trouble to send another minister to replace him until 1811.

In the meantime the government of the United States, which had every year been growing more friendly to France, was endeavouring to make terms with that country for a relaxation of the continental system. As a result of this, in August, 1810, the French minister of foreign affairs, in a. despatch to the American minister at Paris, stated that the Berlin and Milan decrees were revoked, and that their operation would cease from the first of November following, "It be ing understood that in consequence of this declaration, the English shall revoke their orders-in-council, and renounce the new principles of blockade which they have wished to establish, or that the United States, conformably to their law, will cause their rights to be respected by the English." The meaning of the last clause of this communication might be somewhat obscure were it not from our knowledge of the fact that Minister Armstrong had been instructed to offer, in addition to the repeal of the Embargo Act, a declaration of war against Great Britain should that government refuse to recall the orders-in-council after the emperor had withdrawn his Berlin and Milan decrees. This offer was made in April, 1808, but Bonaparte did not value an American alliance so highly as the men who offered it. His business was war, and he did not believe that an American alliance could, be of much service to him. This is why two years were suffered to elapse before any notice was taken of the American minister's offer. Although the French response was merely a contingent reThis brief summary of the progress of events after the Revolution will serve to show more clearly the character of the questions which arose from time to time between the two nations, and which finally resulted in the War of 1812. The United States throughout the long war between Great Britain and France stood in the unfortunate position of a neutral power whose commerce was certain to suffer from the several orders-in-council and decrees which the belligerents launched against each other. The accession of Bonaparte to supreme power, although it brought the war between France and the United States to a close, instead of improving their condition as neutrals, made it much worse. In May, 1806, the British government declared the whole coast of Europe from the Elbe to Brest, the territory occupied by the French armies, to be in a state of blockade. In November of the same year Bonaparte issued the famous Berlin decree proclaiming the British Isles to be in a state of blockade, forbidding all correspondence or trade with England, and declaring all articles of English produce or manufacture contraband, and the property of all British subjects to be lawful prize of war. As the French fleets had been wholly destroyed, and the French government had scarcely a vessel at sea, this was simply a "paper blockade." The same term has been applied by American writers to the British blockade of the eight hundred miles of coast from Brest to the Elbe, on the alleged ground that Great Britain had not sufficient ships to enforce it. Yet in 1806 the British navy numbered more than eight hundred vessels, manned by one hundred and forty thousand men. Some of the objectors to this so called "paper blockade" lived to see President Lincoln proclaim three thousand miles of the coast of the southern states to be blockaded, although the Federal navy of that period numbered only ninety vessels, of which less than half were in commission.

The British answer to the Berlin decree was an order-in council of November, 1807, by which all neutral trade with France or her allies was prohibited unless through Great Britain. In December of the same year Bonaparte issued his Milan decree which was a sort of supplement to that of Berlin. It declared every vessel which submitted to be searched by British cruisers, or paid any tax, duty or license money to the British government, or was found on the high seas or elsewhere bound to or from any British port, to be denationalized and forfeited. Spain and Holland, at the dictation of France, immediately issued similar decrees, and thus was established the famous continental system of Napoleon which crushed the neutral trader. It was a system which grew out of Bonaparte's determination to destroy Great Britain and break up the British empire, a resolve which was warmly approved by a large number of the people of the United States. In their insane hatred of England they were ready to aid in the destruction of the only constitutional government then existing in Europe, and in the establishment of the grinding military despotism of Bonaparte OA'er the greater portion of the civilized world.

While the British orders-in-council and Bonaparte's decrees were agitating commercial circles in the United States, the impressment of British seamen found on board of American vessels had become a source of great ill-feeling towards England. In 1800 the British minister had proposed a reciprocal surrender of all deserters, but this was declined by the United States because the proposal was so worded as to sanction impressment on private vessels. They contended that the neutral flag was the safeguard of those sailing under it, a doctrine, the application of which was greatly in favour of the United States, as it enabled them to recruit their navy with deserters from British ships. As a measure of retaliation, in March, 1806, the United States Congress passed a Non-Importation Act, prohibiting the importation of nearly every article of British manufacture. The Act was to be in abeyance until the following November, and in the meantime negotiations were again opened for a treaty which should put an end to the difficulties between the two nations. William Pinkney of Maryland was sent as envoy extraordinary to London to join with Monroe, the resident minister, in this work. Negotiations commenced in August, and after some delay a treaty was arranged in most respects more favourable than the Jay Treaty. The British government declined to relinquish the right of impressment by formal treaty, but the British commissioners put into writing a statement that it was the intention of the government not to allow impressments from American vessels on the high seas except under extraordinary circumstances, such as having on board known deserters from the British navy. The new treaty placed the trade between the United States and the European possessions of Great Britain on a footing of perfect reciprocity. It was also stipulated that no American vessels could be visited or seized by British cruisers within five miles of the coast of the United States. But the time spent in the negotiation of this treaty was wasted, for Jefferson, who was then president, had resolved upon a step which would effectually prevent it from going into operation. Instead of laying it before the Senate for ratification or rejection, as it was his duty to do, he usurped the authority which the constitution had vested in that body, and entirely suppressed this important treaty, which would undoubtedly have been the means of insuring a lasting peace between the two countries. This action proved that Jefferson and his advisers did not desire any accommodation of existing grievances, but only war.

At this juncture a very unfortunate affair took place which produced much ill-feeling. While a British squadron was near Cape Henry, Virginia, three of the crew of the frigate Mclampus deserted. These men were enlisted on board the United States frigate Chesapeake, and a demand made by the British minister for their restoration was refused. The Chesapeake some time afterwards put to sea and was by the orders of Vice-Adniiral Berkeley, overhauled by the British 50-gun ship Leopard. Captain Humphreys, of that ship, demanded the delivery of the deserters on board the Chesapeake, and on this being refused poured several broadsides into the latter, killing three men and wounding eighteen, and compelling the American vessel to strike her flag.

This act was immediately disavowed by the British government and the admiral recalled. In the United States the affair produced the liveliest indignation, which was not mitigated in the least by the earnest efforts of Great Britain to settle the matter amicably. A proclamation was issued by the president forbidding all persons to have any intercourse with or to sell any supplies to British war vessels in the waters of the United States, and warlike preparations were made on an extensive scale. Messrs. Monroe and Pinkney were sent to England in the armed schooner Revenge to make a number of demands on the British government, including the abandonment of the right of search. Great Britain was quite ready to make reparation in the Chesapeake affair, but declined to treat on the other matters, Mr. Canning telling the envoys plainly, that, while he was ready to listen to any suggestions with a view to the removal of existing difficulties, he would not negotiate anew on the basis of a treaty concluded and signed and already rejected by one of the parties.


The envoys returned home, and then was passed the famous Embargo Act which prohibited all vessels in the ports of the United States, except foreign ships in ballast, or with cargoes taken on board before the notification of the Act, from sailing for any foreign port. Coastwise vessels were required to give heavy bonds to land their cargoes in the United States. This Act, which is the most remarkable example on record of a nation destroying its own foreign trade in the hope of thereby injuring another nation with which it had large dealings, utterly failed to effect the object for which it was passed. It became law in December, 1807, and, after being made more stringent by several amending and enforcing Acts, was finally repealed in March, 1809, it having been found only injurious to the nation that enacted it. In a single year under its operation the imports of the United States fell from $138,500,000 to $56,990,000 and the exports from $108,343,000 to $22,430,000. In lieu of the Embargo Act a NonIntercourse Act was passed by which the commerce of the United States was opened to all the world except England and France. As the latter country had little or no commerce with the United States, it was quite evident, that, as before, England was the only nation aimed at by this measure. The relations between Great Britain and the United States continued to grow more strained, and they were not improved when, in 1809, the latter government requested the recall of Mr. Jackson, the British minister at Washington. The English government did not take the trouble to send another minister to replace him until 1811.

In the meantime the government of the United States, which had every year been growing more friendly to France, was endeavouring to make terms with that country for a relaxation of the continental system. As a result of this, in August, 1810, the French minister of foreign affairs, in a. despatch to the American minister at Paris, stated that the Berlin and Milan decrees were revoked, and that their operation would cease from the first of November following, "It be ing understood that in consequence of this declaration, the English shall revoke their orders-in-council, and renounce the new principles of blockade which they have wished to establish, or that the United States, conformably to their law, will cause their rights to be respected by the English." The meaning of the last clause of this communication might be somewhat obscure were it not from our knowledge of the fact that Minister Armstrong had been instructed to offer, in addition to the repeal of the Embargo Act, a declaration of war against Great Britain should that government refuse to recall the orders-in-council after the emperor had withdrawn his Berlin and Milan decrees. This offer was made in April, 1808, but Bonaparte did not value an American alliance so highly as the men who offered it. His business was war, and he did not believe that an American alliance could, be of much service to him. This is why two years were suffered to elapse before any notice was taken of the American minister's offer. Although the French response was merely a contingent repeal of the decrees, depending on the repeal of the orclers-incouncil, the government of the United States at once treated it as absolute, and, while strictly enforcing the Non-Importation Act against British ships, permitted French men-of-war and merchantmen to enter its harbours freely; it also required the British government to revoke the orders-in-council. That government demanded the production of the instrument by which the Berlin and Milan decrees were revoked, but it was not until May 21st, 1812, that such a document was produced and then it was found to bear date of April 28th, 1811, or nearly eight months after the time when it was first announced that the decrees were revoked. This instrument expressly declared that these French decrees were repealed in consequence of the American Congress having by an Act of March 1st, 1811, provided that British ships and merchandise should be excluded from the ports of the United States. This was a clear proof that an understanding which was hostile to British interests existed between that country and France. Still when this French document was produced, the British government, to quote the language of the manifesto issued by the Prince Regent, "desirous of reverting if possible to the ancient and accustomed principles of Maritime War, determined on revoking, conditionally, the orders-in-council." It was not until May 21st, 1812, that the British government was furnished by the American minister in London with a copy of the document, and, on the twenty-third of June, a declaration from the Prince Regent in council was published absolutely revoking all orders so far as they applied to the United States. Had the government of that country been animated by a sincere desire for peace this action would have brought the War of 1812 to a sudden end.

In May, 1811, an encounter took place on the high seas between a British war vessel and an American frigate which showed the belligerent disposition which animated the navy of the United States. The United States frigate President, 44 guns, carrying the broad pennant of Commodore Rodgers, while cruising off Cape Henry sighted the British corvette Little Belt, 20 guns, Captain A. B. Bingham, which was cruising northwards in search of the frigate Guerriere. The President discovered the British vessel about noon, and immediately gave chase, but it was dark before the American frigate drew alongside. Captain Bingham hailed the President asking, "What ship is that?" but the only reply he received was a repetition of his own question. The President then fired a broadside which the Little Belt immediately returned. An action ensued which lasted about forty-five minutes, when the big American ship sheered off. At dawn the President bore down again and Rodgers sent an officer on board the Little Belt with profuse apologies and offers of assistance which were declined. As the United States government was at that time at peace with the whole world, it is clear that Rodgers' attack on the Little Belt was merely the act of a sea bully who wished to stand well with his countrymen at a cheap rate by attacking a ship of less than one-fourth his / own strength. The Little Belt bore away for Halifax, while Rodgers returned to New York to receive the congratulations of his friends.

When Congress met in November, 1811, its tone was warlike. The president, Mr. Madison, sounded the keynote by a belligerent message, and the committee on foreign relations presented a report which was a comprehensive indictment of Great Britain for almost every kind of political crime. A tremendous amount of fervid eloquence was employed to fire the national heart to the point of going to war, Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun being among the loudest and most violent in their advocacy of extreme measures. John Randolph of Virginia, Josiah Quincy of Massachusetts and all the leaders of the Federal party were against a war with England, and opposed all proposals to that end, but they were entirely outnumbered in Congress, and measures looking towards a declaration of war were rapidly passed. Additional regulars to the number of twenty-five thousand men were ordered to be enlisted, the calling out of one hundred thousand militia was authorized, and appropriations were made for large purchases of arms and ammunition. The president was authorized to call upon the governors of the several states, requiring each state to furnish its quota of this militia force. Provision was also made for the enlistment of a large body of volunteers. These bills were passed in January, 1812, and it was expected that at least seventy thousand men would be ready to take the field in the spring and invade Canada.

The Federal government was encouraged in its truculent course by some of the state legislatures—those of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia, Kentucky and Ohio having passed resolutions in favour of war with Great Britain. The Massachusetts House of Representatives, in its reply to the annual message of the governor, denounced Great Britain as "a piratical state." Patriotism was a very plentiful commodity in the United States at that time, if the report of the committee on foreign relations is to be believed. It stated that the patriotic fire of the Revolution still lived in the American breast "with a holy and inextinguishable flame." This "holy flame" developed itself mainly in an intense desire to possess Canada, and it was stimulated by the thought that a favourable time had arrived to strike a deadly blow against Great Britain. It was known that Napoleon was preparing to invade Russia with an immense army and no one in the United States doubted his success. An alliance with so powerful a ruler appeared to these American patriots to be very desirable, and they fully believed that Canada was ready to rise and throw off its allegiance to the British crown as soon as an American army appeared on its frontier. Dr. Eustis, the United States secretary of war, in one of his speeches gave expression to this sentiment when he said: "We can take the Canadas without soldiers; we have only to send officers into the provinces and the people, disaffected towards their own government, will rally round our standard."


The Honourable Henry Clay, who had always been most violent in his animosity against Great Britain, said on the floors of Congress: "It is absurd to suppose that we will not succeed in our enterprise against the enemy's provinces. We have the Canadas as much under our command as Great Britain has the ocean, and the way to conquer her on the ocean is to drive her from the land. I am not for stopping at Quebec or anywhere else, but I would take the whole continent from them, and ask them no favours. Her fleets cannot then rendezvous at Halifax as now; and, having no place of resort in the north, cannot infest our coast as they have lately done. It is as easy to conquer them on the land as their whole navy would conquer ours on the ocean. We must take the continent from them. I wish never to see peace till we do. God has given us the power and the means; we are to blame if we do not use them."


It was with such aspirations and hopes as these that the government and people of the United States entered upon the War of 1812.


(1) James Hannay,,History of the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the United States, Morang & Company, Toronto: 1905





 

Official British Account
of the Capture of Washington D.C.

As reported in The Columbian Centinel December 7, 1814

Click Here to View Actual Article

Great Britain London Downing Street, Sept. 27

I have the honor to communicate to your Lordship, that on the night of the 24 th inst. After defeating the army of the United States that day, the troops under my command entered and took possession of the city of Washington. It was determined between Sir A. Cochrane and myself, to disembark the army at the village of Nenedict, on the right bank of the Patuxeut, with the intention of Co-operating with Rear-admiral Cockburn, in an attack upon a flotilla of the enemy?s gun boats, under of the command of Com. Barney. On the 20th instant, the ar-my command its march, having landing the previous day without opposition: on the 21st it reached Nottingham, and on the 22nd moved on to Upper Marlborough, a few miles distant from Pig Point on the Patuxent, where Admiral Cockburn fell in with and defeated the flotilla taking and destroying the whole. Having advanced to within 16 miles of Washington, and ascertaining the force of the enemy to be such as might authorize an attempt at carrying his capital, I determined to make it, and accordingly put the 1200 men appeared to oppose us but retired after firing a few shots.

On the 24 th the troops resumed their march, and reached Bladensburg, a village situated on the left bank of the eastern branch of the Pofowmac, about five miles from Washington. On the opposite side of that river the enemy was strongly posted on very commanding heights formed in two lines, his advance occupying a fortified house, which, with artillery, covered the bridge over the eastern branch, across which the British troops had pass. A broad and straight road, leading from the bridge to Washington ran through the position, which was carefully defended by artillery and riflemen. The disposition for the attack being made, it was commenced with so much impetuosity by the list brigade, consisting at the 85th light infantry and the army, under the command of Col. Thornton, that the fortifired house was shortly carried, the enemy retiring to the higher grounds. In support of the light brigade I ordered up a brigade under the command of Col. Brooke, who with the 44th regiment, attacked the enemy?s left, the 4th regiment pressing its right with such effect as to cause him to abandon his guns. His first line giving way, was driven on the second, which, yielding to the irresistible attack of the bayonet, and the well directed discharge of rockets, got into confusion and fled. The rapid flight of the enemy, and his knowledge of the country, precluded the possibility of many prisoners being taken, more particularly as the troops had, during the day, undergone considerable fatigue.

The enemy?s army amounting to 8 or 9000 men, with 3 or 400 cavalry, was under the command of Gen. Winder, being formed of troops drawn from Baltimore and Pennsylvania. His artillery, ten pieces of which fell into are hands, was commanded by Com. Barney, who was wounded and taken prisoner. The artillery I directed to be destroyed. Having halted the army for a short time, I determined to march upon Washington, and reached that city at 8 o?clock that night. Judging it of consequences to complete the destruction of the public buildings with the least possible delay, so that the army might retire without loss of time, the following buildings were set fire to and consumed- the capitol, including the Senate house and House of representation, the Arsenal, the Dock-Yard, Treasury, War office, President?s Palace, Rope-Walk, and the great bridge across the Potewmac: In the dock-yard a frigate nearly ready to be launched, and a slope of war, were consumed. The two bridges leading to Washington over the eastern branch, had the enemy been destroyed by the enemy who apprehended an attack from that quarter.

The object of the expedition being accomplished, I determined, before any greater enemy force could be assembled, to withdraw the troops, and accordingly commenced retiring on the night of the 25th. On the evening if the 29th we reached Benedict, and re-embarked the following day. In the performance of the operation I have detailed, it is with the utmost satisfaction I observe to your Lordship that cheerfulness in undergoing fatigue, and anxiety for the accomplishment of the object, were conspicuous in all ranks

An attack upon an enemy so strongly posted could not be effected without loss. I have to lament that the wounds received by Col. Thornton, and the others officers and soldiers left at Bladensburg, were such as prevented their removal As many of the wounded as could be brought off were removed, the others being left with medical care and attendants. The arrangements made by Staff Sueg?n Baxter for their accommodation have been as satisfactory as circumstances would admit of. The Agent for British prisoners of war very fortunately residing at Bladensburg, I have recommended the wounded officers and men to his particular attention, and trust to his being able to effect their exchange when sufficiently recovered. -- Robert Ross, Major General

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