The War of 1812 - America’s First Forgotten War by Ryann Nicole Brooks The War of 1812, often called the “second war of independence,” is one of the most overlooked and misunderstood events in United States history. It marked the second time the United States declared war on the British Empire, in a move that would threaten the survival of the young nation. Ultimately, it would grant the United States true recognition as an independent nation in the eyes of major European powers, and helped to bolster its reputation in international politics. It also marked the second time the United States would attempt (and fail) to conquer Canada. It was a relatively short war, lasting only two years and eight months. There was no clear winner, and not much changed as a result of the war. It represents the last great attempt to unite Native Americans against the expansive power of the United States. The War of 1812 produced some of the most recognizable symbols of American history, like “The Star Spangled Banner” and Uncle Sam. It saw the burning of the White House, and produced its share of heroes. The war stirred what many historians pinpoint as the root of American nationalism, while at the same time marked a deeply-rooted facet of sectionalism that would help lay the groundwork for the Civil War nearly fifty years before it began. Why then is the legacy of the War of 1812 so often forgotten? Part of the reason may be that, unlike other conflicts, the war has no easily definable causes. Some arguments point to almost a decade of ineffective and restrictive policies put forth by both American and British politicians. These policies include the British impressment – or seizure – of American seaman in U.S. waters. Others attribute the war to the rise of American expansionism and the desire to acquire Canada to “secure additional farm land” and “put an end to British influence over American Indians.” Some historians have argued that sectional
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differences between the main political parties in the United States pushed the country to war, while others claim that ideological factors of upholding national honor and republican values were to blame. Donald R. Hickey argues that the war was the result of a combination of factors, not least of which was a lingering resentment of the British by Crewmen of Chesapeake prepare one cannon shot during the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair in 1807. Americans, and the perceived threat of British encroachment on American independence. Indeed, relations between Great Britain and the United States following the end of the Revolutionary War resembled a rivalry more than an alliance, but that alone does not explain the war. Reginald Horsman argues that the true impetus of war was not the achievement of American independence from Great Britain, but rather the “outbreak of war between Great Britain and France in 1793,” and the short peace that followed. Independently, these issues were not enough to spark a war between the United States and Great Britain, but together they helped create an atmosphere of tension and distrust between the countries.
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The years leading up to the war were tumultuous at best, both locally and internationally. With the election of Thomas Jefferson, Republicans had gained power of the White House in 1801 after a decade of Federalist rule. Jefferson’s administration worked diligently to reverse Federalist policies dealing with everything from the economy to the size of the military. By 1803, Great Britain and France had gone to war again, marking the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars. While the United States remained a neutral power during this time, it still weathered difficulties because of it. France had re-opened trade with the United States and the French West India colonies, and Great Britain attempted to subvert this by invoking the Rule of 1756 which had stated that trade with a neutral party could be not opened in a time of war. The United States responded by inaugurating a system of “broken voyage” where shipments bound for France were first taken to the United States. The practice of “re-export trade” proved to be incredibly profitable for the United States, topping off at around $53 million by 1805. That same year British officials ruled with the Essex decision that “landing goods and paying duties in the United States was no longer proof of bona fide importation,” meaning that American merchants would have to provide proof that ships bound for France had indeed broken their voyages when landing in U.S. ports. Another problem was the impressment of American ships and seaman by the British navy. Because American ships offered higher pay and better working conditions, “probably a quarter of the 50,000 to 100,000 seaman employed on American ships” were British. To overcome shortages in their own ranks, British “press gangs” would board American ships in an effort to reclaim British subjects – and sometimes American citizens – for service on their own ships. In an effort to end impressment and reinstatement of the re-export trade, American and British diplomats put forth a renewal of the Jay Treaty of 1795, called the Monroe-Pinkney Treaty. Under the terms of the treaty the
This 1814 copy of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was the first printed edition to combine the words and sheet music. Copies such as these were sold from a catalog of Thomas Carr’s Carr Music Store in Baltimore. Currently this is one of only ten copies known to exist, and is housed in the Library of Congress.
United States would have given up the “promise of benevolent neutrality” while gaining British allowance of the re-export trade so long as American ships paid a small duty when breaking voyage in the U.S, advanced notice of British blockades, and the promise that the British would no longer involve themselves in American trade within five miles of the U.S. coast. Jefferson, however, rejected the treaty and refused to send it to the Senate for ratification in 1806, and relations between the powers rapidly deteriorated. On June 22, 1807 the U.S.S. Chesapeake, an American frigate, was approached by the H.M.S. Leopard, a British vessel. The British navy demanded that a boarding party be allowed to board the Chesapeake, which employed a large number of British citizens, to search for deserters. The Americans refused and the Leopard fired at the ship, killing three and wounding eighteen others. While Jefferson ordered “all British warships out of American waters,” he waited for Britain’s response. The British condemned the attack and offered to pay reparations, which staved off a war. Between 1807 and 1810 four pieces of legislation put forth by the United States attempted to satisfy relations with Great Britain. The Embargo Act (1807), issued by Jefferson restricted international trade by American ships without permission; the Non-Intercourse Act (1807) eased up the restrictions of the Embargo Act and instead limited the restriction to Great Britain and France; the Erskine Agreement (1809) offered to resume trade with Great Britain and cease trade with France if the British would stop impressment of American sailors (it was denied); Macon’s Bill No. 2 (1810) again forbade trade with France and Great Britain, but offered to open trade up with the first nation that lifted trade restrictions on neutral parties. France agreed, and trade resumed. By 1811, relations with Great Britain had all but failed, but this was not the only problem for the United States. 1811 also marked the “outbreak of a new Indian war on the western front.” Angered by the continued aggression of American imperialism against Native Americans, Shawnee brothers Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa (or Prophet) had started building an “Indian confederation based on the rejection of the white man’s ways” around 1805. Having steadily grown more militant and larger in size, on November 7, 1811 the confederation attacked an U.S. army camp led by William Henry Harrison, who would later become the ninth U.S. president. Despite catching the soldiers off-guard, the Battle of Tippecanoe proved to be an American victory, although the confederation did not disband until Tecumseh’s death in 1813 at the Battle of the Thames. Tensions with Great Britain had deteriorated completely by the time James Madison, who had succeeded Jefferson in the presidency in 1809, made the declaration of war on June 18, 1812. It was a move that deeply divided the country, exposing sectionalism between the Republicans and the Federalists. Republicans had grown overwhelmingly supportive of going to war, while the Federalists were vehemently against it. Two days after the declaration the Federal Republican, a Federalist
newspaper in Baltimore, Maryland that had a reputation for being inflammatory, came out against the war and became the target of violent opposition. Over the course of the summer anti-Federalist mobs destroyed ships suspected of carrying provisions to the British, attacked British-sympathizers and broke into the jail holding Federalist prisoners. Republicans blamed the violence in Baltimore on the Federalists, and pointed to incidents in New England where antiwar Federalists had incited similar riots, but the damage was done. “Revulsion against the violence … contributed to Federalist election victories in Maryland, New York, and New England” and the Federal Republican became “one of the most widely read newspapers in the country.” Drawing shows the ruins of the U.S. Capitol following British attempts to burn the While the United States attempted to subvert building; includes fire damage to the Senate and House wings, damaged colonnade in rebellion within its borders, the war began the House of Representatives shored up with firewood to prevent its collapse, and the shell of the rotunda with the facade and roof missing. 1 drawing on paper : ink and against the British on the North Atlantic. In July, watercolor. Historical context: George Munger’s drawing, one of the most significant under the command of General William Hull, and compelling images of the early republic, reminds us how short-lived the history of U.S. forces invaded Canada with the promise the United States might have been. In the evening hours of August 24, 1814, during the second year of the War of 1812, British expeditionary forces under the command to emancipate Canadians “from tyranny and of Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cockburn and Major General Robert Ross set fire to oppression” under British rule. the unfinished Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. All the public buildings in the The attack was badly organized, and in August developing city, except the Patent Office Building, were put to the torch in retaliation for what the British perceived as excessive destruction by American forces the year Hull retreated to Detroit and surrendered to before in York, capital of upper Canada. At the time of the British invasion, the the British. Over the course of the two years, unfinished Capitol building comprised two wings connected by a wooden causeway. the United States engaged Britain by ship and This exceptional drawing, having descended in the Munger family, was purchased by the Library of Congress at the same time the White House purchased the companion on land, suffering heavy losses in Detroit and view of ‘The President’s House.’ Frenchtown, and opposition to the war did not fade away. In December 1814, a group of the British in New Orleans. On January 8, 1815, Jackson and Federalists met at the Hartford Convention and discussed the his army defeated British forces in the city. The British had been possibility of secession in response to the disaffection of New attempting to gain control over territory the United States had England states in regards to the militia. Moderate Federalists acquired from France in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, which won out, however, and the convention turned into more of a party caucus than anything, but the threat of secession shows just included what is now the state of Kansas. The British lost over 2,000 men at the battle, compared to seventy on the U.S. side. how divided the U.S. was during the war. Jackson’s success launched him into the limelight as a national By 1815, the United States and Great Britain were divided hero, and helped win him the presidency in 1828. Reports of on successes in the war, and negotiations for peace were in the the peace treaty had been steadily spreading through the nation works in late 1814. Signed on December 24, 1814, the Treaty in the meantime. Madison submitted the treaty to the Senate on of Ghent restored the status quo ante bellum – or the state that February 15, 1815, and the treaty was unanimously accepted the existed before the war. Both sides next day, ratified by Madison shortly after. agreed to evacuate enemy territories After two years and eight months, the war ended in a draw. and return property and prisoners Roughly 2,260 Americans were killed, and 4,505 wounded, within 120 days. Both the U.S. and Britain agreed to make peace with the and the war had cost the United States approximately $158 million. The War of 1812 had started partly a result of decades Native Americans, and do their best of unresolved tension with Great Britain, and the end of the to abolish the slave trade. But the war marked no major changes for either country. But although speed of communication meant that the war seemed inconsequential, this was not the case. The war immediate peace could not yet be helped launch four presidencies, and dramatically influenced the achieved and the most famous battle American economy. Although the Treaty of Ghent specified that of the war had yet to be fought. all land acquisitions be returned to the pre-war status quo, the In November 1814, Major General Andrew Jackson had invaded United States had permanently acquired part of Florida in 1813 and neutralized Florida with an army from Spain, a neutral power. The U.S. had broken the power of the Native Americans in the Northwest and Southwest, and of roughly 4,100 men and met with 19th Century personification of little opposition before racing to meet Great Britain had failed to negotiate a permanent reservation for Uncle Sam – U.S.
them, which would become an issue in the coming years. The war also marked a divide in the United States that would come into play again in the years leading up to the Civil War. But ultimately, the war confirmed that the U.S. was a major political power. Why then has the war been forgotten over the course of the past 200 years? Perhaps the confusion surrounding
the start of the war, and the absence of victory played a part in that, but one thing is clear. The War of 1812 had far-reaching consequences that affected the future of the United States in many ways and deserves to be studied further.
Perkins, Bradford, The Causes of the War of 1812: National Honor or National Distrust (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962).
Hickey, Donald R., The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict, Bicentennial Edition (Chicago: University of Illinois, 2012). Horsman, Reginald, The Causes of the War of 1812 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1962. Horwitz, Tony, “The War of 1812: Remember the Raisin!” Smithsonian Magazine, June 2012. Accessed online: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/historyarchaeology/The-War-of-1812-Remember-the-Raisin. html?c=y&page=1 Langguth, A.J., Union 1812: The Americans Who Fought the Second World War of Independence (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006).
Taylor, Alan, The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies (New York: Random House, 2010).
Author Bio Ryann Brooks is currently a graduate student in History at Emporia State University where she is working on her thesis about Progressive era women in Emporia, Kansas, and holds a BA in History from ESU. She is a graduate teaching assistant for the Department of Social Sciences and volunteers at the Lyon County Historical Archives Center in her free time.
Online Resources War of 1812 Fun Facts The Washington Post included fun facts about the War of 1812 in the Kids Post section. Students will find several interesting bits of information about the war. http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/kidspost/war-of1812-fun-facts/2012/06/07/gJQACvgcNV_story.html War of 1812 Fun Facts Fact Monster hosts a webpage with many details of the war. There are ten facts ranging from the number of US troops in battle, to the Treaty of Ghent. http://www.factmonster.com/ipka/A0769973.html Morning Routine of Soldier This website goes through the routine of the typical British Soldier in the War of 1812. The question “What did a soldier do during the day?” is answered clearly for students to understand. http://www.warof1812.ca/morningroutine.htm
Causes of War of 1812 Four main causes of the war are listed and explained here. There are also advantages and disadvantages that the United States held during the war and those are listed as well. http://www.essortment.com/war-1812-21611.html Various Pictures/Text/Audio of 1812 This history site has several images, text, and audio pertaining to the War of 1812. There are pictures of weapons, documents, maps, and photographs. http://images.ourontario.ca/1812/results?q=1812 War of 1812 Aftermath This webpage re-lives the history and aftermath of the War of 1812. It discusses the voting on the Treaty of Ghent, negotiations, and boundary problems. http://library.thinkquest.org/22916/exafter.html
Who/What/When/Where of Battles A list of war heroes, battle locations, and items from the War of 1812. This site breaks down the who/what/when/where of the war. http://www.socialstudiesforkids.com/wwww/us/uslistwarof1812. htm
After this Star-Spangled Banner project, students will know the origins and outcome of the War of 1812. This project requires reading, chronological thinking, and map-making. It covers content areas such as language arts, and social studies. http://americanhistory.si.edu/starspangledbanner/pdf/SSB_ History_Overview.pdf
Weapons Several different rifles, muskets, and swords were used throughout the War of 1812. Pictures, background, and specifications of the weapons are explained thoroughly. http://www.warof1812.ca/weapons.html
What was Francis Scott Key Writing About? Grade 4/5 At the end of this lesson over the Star-Spangled Banner, students will understand the lyrics of the National Anthem. Students will determine whether the Star Spangled Banner is an acceptable National Anthem to this day. http://www.nps.gov/fomc/forteachers/upload/FSK-WritingAbout.pdf
War of 1812 Timeline This social studies site for kids breaks the War of 1812 down into several different parts. Each part is separated from the others, and you click next page to continue on with the breakdown. http://www.socialstudiesforkids.com/articles/ushistory/ thewarof18121.htm War of 1812 Breakdown The Washington Post breaks down the War of 1812. Questions such as “why go to war?” and “where was the battlefield?” are answered here. http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/kidspost/the-war-of1812-for-kids/2012/06/07/gJQAHWKcNV_story.html
Online Resources for Teachers Downloadable Lesson Plans for Teachers Grade 7 Ten lesson plans based off of the War of 1812. These lesson plans are used to use resources to gather information, process, and communicate about the information obtained. Students will record main ideas, key phrases, and observations. In the end, students should gain a better understanding of the political and social climate of the war. http://www.1812history.com/teachers.html Baltimore and the War of 1812 Activities Grade 4-12 Three activities are set up on worksheets for teachers to hand out to students. This Maryland Exploration helps teach students how characteristics such as being big and powerful or small and agile affected the War of 1812. It covers independence and expansion, the Embargo Act, the declaration of war, American Exports, and much more. http://www.pride2.org/NewPrideSite/MD/Lesson10/ Lesson10_1.html History of the War and Star Spangled Banner Grades K-12
War of 1812 Unit Lesson Plans Grade 2 This unit for second graders contains a set of thirteen lessons for students to learn about the country’s history. Students will understand time and chronology, develop historical empathy, and gain understanding on how an event in history can have many different causes and effects. http://www.coreknowledge.org/mimik/mimik_uploads/lesson_ plans/570/The%20War%20of%201812%202.pdf War of 1812 Quiz Grades 6-12 The War of 1812 Website has a general knowledge quiz over questions involving presidents, dates, and more. The quiz is 20 questions long, and you can obtain your score instantly by pushing a button that says “Get Score”. The answers are also corrected if a student answers wrong. http://www.warof1812.ca/quiz1.htm War of 1812 Animated Picture Grades 6-12 This .gif shows a step by step battle in the War of 1812. The different pictures are spaced out enough for a teacher to address each of the points on the picture. http://www.warof1812.ca/image/crysler_farm.gif War of 1812 Online Game Grades 4-12 This game, called “A Sailor’s Life for Me!” makes you feel as if you are one of the boys joining the Navy. You start out by packing your bag, taking only necessities. You move along to middle watch, morning watch, forenoon watch, afternoon watch, first dog watch, last dog watch, and first watch. The game is great because it puts you in the shoes of a Navy boy and lets you make decisions on how you would do things if you were in their situation. http://www.asailorslifeforme.org/ironsides.php
Books Francis Scott Key’s Star Spangled Banner (Step into Reading Book Series: A Step 3 Book) By Monica Kulling, Richard Walz (Illustrator) Random House Children’s Books, 2012 ISBN: 9780375867255 Ages 5-8 years Once on This Island By Gloria Whelan HarperCollins Publishers, 1996 ISBN: 9780064406192 Ages 8-12 years The War of 1812 By Lucia Raatma Capstone Press, 2005 ISBN: 9780756508487 Ages 8-11 years The Town That Fooled the British By Lisa Paap Sleeping Bear Press, 2011 ISBN: 9781585364848 Ages 6-10 years Little House by Boston Bay (Little House Series: The Charlotte Years) By Melissa Wiley HarperCollins Publishers, 2007 ISBN: 9780061148286 Ages 8-12 years
Famous People of the War of 1812 By Robin Johnson Crabtree Publishing Company, 2011 ISBN: 9780778779643 Ages 10-13 years Major Battles of the War of 1812 By Gordon Clarke Crabtree Publishing Company, 2011 ISBN: 9780778779650 Ages 10-13 years War of 1812 By Miriam Greenblatt Facts on File, Incorporated, 2010 ISBN: 9780816081943 Ages 12-17 years The Battle of New Orleans: The Drummer’s Story By Freddi Evans, Emile Henriquez (Illustrator) Pelican Publishing Company, Incorporated, 2005 ISBN: 9781589803008 Ages 5-8 years Son of The Hounds By Robert Sutherland Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Limited, 2004 ISBN: 9781550419061 Age 10 years