The United States declared its independence from Great Britain in 1776 and won its independence in 1783. The United States Constitution comes into play and George Washington becomes the first United States President in 1789. In 1793 war breaks out between Britain and France. Thomas Jefferson oversees the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803. The United States was worried about the war between France and Great Britain. Britain and France were at war with each other, as was much of the rest of Europe. Both sides thought that American ships were supplying the other with food, weapons, and other supplies. American ships were routinely stopped by both France and Britain. Each demanded to search the cargo holds. A lot of times these situations ended in violence. In 1807 Britain imposed the Orders in Council that restricted American shipping and Congress passed the Embargo Act cutting off trade with Britain. It was hoped that it would punish the two nations, who were at war with each other, but it backfired and hurt the United States.
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The War of 1812 has also sometimes been called, “The Forgotten War” along with the Second Revolutionary War. President Harry Truman called it “the silliest damn war we ever had”. (Nardo, 2000) It was a war between America and Great Britain. It was caused in part by disagreements over shipping and trade on the high seas and the kidnapping of American sailors who were forced to serve in the British navy. Support in the United States was divided with the West and South looking for a fight, but people of the New England strongly opposed to war. As the war continued, opposition became much stronger. The War Hawks in Congress pushed fighting and President James Madison was steered toward asking Congress for a declaration of war. The United States declared war on Great Britain during its war with France on June 18, 1812.
In 1794 the United States Constitution provided for the introduction of a navy. Congress passed a bill giving permission to build six navy ships. One of these was the U.S.S. Constitution. Constructed over a period of three years at the cost of $318,719 it was the second largest warship. (Howes, 2002) The U.S.S. Constitution never lost a battle. During the War of 1812, the Constitution sunk a large number of ships belonging to the British navy. The Constitution commanded by Captain Isaac Hull, got its nickname, “Old Ironsides.” when a British seaman saw one of his cannon balls hit the wooden hull of the U.S.S. Constitution, bounce off, and fall into the sea. In amazement, the seaman said, “Huzzah, her sides are made of iron!” (Howes, 2002) “Old Ironsides” captured 24 enemy vessels.
The first major battle of the War of 1812 ended in disaster for the United States when General William Hull who was leading an American army of 2200 men, surrendered to British forces at Detroit without firing a shot. One American soldier, Private Nathaniel Adams, later wrote to his brother, “we could have whipped the hell out of the rascals but General Hull has proved himself a traitor and a coward”. (Nardo, 2000) Two years later General Hull was sentenced to death for cowardice, but the 61-year-old Revolutionary War veteran was later pardoned by President James Madison.
The next battle called for troops to cross the Niagara River into Canada. An American army of 6,000 men commanded by General Stephen Van Rensselaer invaded Canada crossing the Niagara River at Queenston. The Canadian Army commanded by British General Isaac Brock attacked the Americans while they were in the process of crossing the river. Van Rensselaer unwisely divided his forces and Brock’s army cut most of a group of 800 Americans to pieces while the rest of the army stood idly by only a few miles away. General Brock took a shot in the chest and was killed in the battle. (Nardo, 2000)
In October of 1812, Captain Stephen Decatur, commanding the USS United States, captured the Macedonian, a British warship, near the Madeira Islands off the coast of North Africa. And in December of that same year James Madison is elected to a second term as president of the United States. He receives 128 votes in the Electoral College. Opponents of a second war with Great Britain had revived the Federalist organization, and Federalists from eleven states met in New York and agreed to support De Witt Clinton, not on account of his war views, which were not in accord with their own, but as a protest against the policy of Madison. De Witt Clinton, representing the Federalist Party, receives 89 votes. Elbridge Gerry is elected vice-president and dies two years later while still in office. (Renwick, 1845)
Those events led to the Battle of Lake Erie where Captain Oliver Hazard Perry leads a fleet of eleven ships against a British fleet of six vessels on Lake Erie. Eight minutes after Perry broke the British line the ships one by one ran up their white flags. Perry had snatched victory from what had seemed a certain defeat. It was the first time that an entire British fleet had been captured. And with Lake Erie now controlled by the Americans, the British were no longer able to get supplies. Perry announces the American victory in a memorable dispatch on the back of an old envelope to headquarters: “We have met the enemy and they are ours”. (Greenblatt, 1994)
The way was open at last for Harrison to invade Upper Canada and to recapture Detroit and in September of 1813, General William Henry Harrison led a force of 4,500 Americans across the recently secured Lake Erie in pursuit of British troops forced to abandon Detroit. On October 5th, Harrison defeated the enemy at Moravian Town to defeat the British and their Indian allies in the Battle of the Thames. Tecumseh, the Shawnee leader of the Pan-Indian confederation earlier defeated at Tippecanoe, is killed in the battle, leading many of Britain’s Indian allies to abandon the alliance. (Freehoff, 1996)
In the same month in Europe, Napoleon’s French army is crushed at the Battle of Leipzig. Napoleon, forced to retreat from Russia in 1812 after seeing 400,000 of his men killed and 100,000 captured in an ill-fated invasion, sends a new but untrained army into battle against a coalition of European nations at Leipzig, suffering another defeat that forces his retreat back into France.
Soon after their victory at Leipzig the allies offered Napoleon peace under which France boundaries would be the Rhine and the Alps. Napoleon ignored the offer and the allies began a coordinated campaign that made its way through France. Napoleon was defeated in a series of battles each bringing the allies closer to Paris. On March 31, 1814 a victorious allied army entered Paris, and French foreign minister Talleyrand influenced the Senate to declare that Napoleon had forfeited the throne. On April 11th he abdicated the throne to the allies who gave him the island of Elba as his own sovereign principality with an annual income of 2,000,000 francs. (Cronin, 1994)
Direct talks between the United States and Great Britain, proposed by the British foreign minister, Lord Castlereagh, began in Ghent. The American delegation consisted of Albert Gallatin, James Bayard, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and Jonathan Russell.
As the British army of approximately 4,000 approached, the majority of Washington residents fled the city. (Coles, 1965) On August 24th American defenders, with President James Madison in attendance, were quickly routed by the invaders in a battle at Bladensburg a few miles from the city. A messenger was dispatched to the White House to warn First Lady Dolly Madison of the arrival of the British. She and her staff fled by carriage across the Potomac but not without taking with her the full-length portrait of George Washington painted by Gilbert Stuart. It had been necessary for her servant to chop the frame apart with a hatchet in order to remove the canvas. (Greenblatt, 1994) That evening, the vanguard of the British army reached Capitol Hill and began its systematic destruction of all public buildings in the city. British forces captured Washington, D.C. The White House, the Capitol, and executive department offices are burned. Secretary of War John Armstrong was blamed for the poor planning and intelligence that left America’s capital poorly defended and was forced to resign.
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After capturing and burning Washington so easily, the British didn’t think they would have any trouble taking Baltimore. They figured they would sail their ships right into the harbor and destroy Fort McHenry with cannon fire making way for a land assault on the city. But the British attack on the capital had given the Americans time to prepare for them with more than 16,000 troops and thousands of civilians. When General Ross tried to attack by land he was killed and his troops driven back.
A Washington lawyer named Francis Scott Key witnessed the action from a boat about 8 miles away catching glimpses of the “bright stripes and bright stars” of the fort’s flag lit up by the “rockets’ red glare.” (Nardo, 2000) The sight inspired him to write “The Star-Spangled Banner” to the tune of an old British drinking song. The song became the national anthem of the United Stated in 1931.
During the Battle of Plattsburg on Lake Champlain in September of 1814, American forces turned back a British army of 11,000 men under the command of Sir George Prevost at Lake Champlain, New York. The Americans, who were outnumbered three to one established superior positions on the lake and shoreline, forcing Prevost to withdraw from the field. In the wake of his defeat, Prevost abandoned his invasion and retreated to Canada. The American victory saved New York from possible invasion and helped lead to the conclusion of peace negotiations between Britain and the United States in Ghent, Belgium.
The Hartford Convention convenes as Federalist delegates from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island meet to discuss their opposition to the war. There is speculation that the convention will recommend New England’s secession from the United States and the negotiation of a separate peace with Britain. Instead, the delegates propose constitutional amendments requiring a two-thirds vote for declarations of war and laws restricting commerce, forbidding successive presidents from the same state, eliminating the three-fifths clause, and restricting future presidents to one term in office. These proposals will reach Washington just weeks before the end of the war.
The War of 1812 ended when the Treaty of Ghent was signed at the end of 1814, guaranteeing that the United States and Britain would end their battle. Neither side was able to claim complete victory and they continued fighting for several more weeks. The Treaty of Ghent had come too late to prevent the slaughter in New Orleans.
Two weeks after negotiators in Europe reached an agreement on a peace treaty to end the War of 1812, but a month before news of the treaty reaches North America, the United States won its greatest military victory of the conflict. The Battle of New Orleans was a prolonged battle and was the final major battle of the War of 1812. American forces, commanded by General Andrew Jackson, defeated an invading British Army intent on seizing New Orleans and the vast territory America had acquired with the Louisiana Purchase. The battle is often regarded as the greatest American land victory of the war. Speedy communication would have eliminated this battle. The War of 1812 could be called the “war of poor communication”. (Coles, 1965) It had no impact on the final settlement.
The war to me didn’t seem to accomplish much of anything. It seemed to be a whole bunch of failures in my opinion. I don’t think they were prepared at all and things quickly went from bad to worse. I do believe that the war brought a “patriotic” feeling to the American’s and they gained some confidence and maybe even some respect from other nations that helped commerce to expand to other nations. It didn’t really solve any of the problems that they went to war over but it did cause expansion and nationalism.
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