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2006-05-30 14:18

  WAR OF 1812, conflict between the U.S. and Great Britain from 1812 to 1815. Fought over the maritime rights of neutrals, it ended inconclusively.


  Over the course of the French revolutionary and the Napoleonic wars between France and Great Britain (1793每1815), both belligerents violated the maritime rights of neutral powers. The U.S., endeavoring to market its own produce, was especially affected. To preserve Britain*s naval strength, Royal Navy officers impressed thousands of seamen from U.S. vessels, including naturalized Americans of British origin, claiming that they were either deserters or British subjects. The U.S. defended its right to naturalize foreigners and challenged the British practice of impressment on the high seas. Relations between the two nations reached a breaking point in 1807 when the British frigate Leopard fired on the USS Chesapeake in American territorial waters and removed, and later executed, four crewmen.

  Britain issued executive orders in council to blockade the coastlines of the Napoleonic empire and seized vessels bound for Europe that did not first call at a British port. Napoleon retaliated with a system of blockades under the Berlin and Milan decrees, confiscating vessels and cargoes in European ports if they had first stopped in Britain. The belligerents seized nearly 1500 American vessels between 1803 and 1812, thus posing the problem of whether the U.S. should go to war to defend its neutral rights.

  Americans at first preferred to respond with economic coercion rather than war. At the urging of President Thomas Jefferson, Congress passed the EMBARGO ACT, (q.v.) of 1807, prohibiting virtually all U.S. ships from putting to sea. Subsequent enforcement measures in 1808每9 also banned overland trade with British and Spanish possessions in Canada and Florida. Because the legislation seriously harmed the U.S. economy and failed to alter belligerent policies, it was replaced in 1809 by the Non-Intercourse Act, which forbade trade with France and Britain. In 1810 Macon*s Bill No. 2 reopened American trade with all nations, but stipulated that if one belligerent repealed its antineutral measures, the U.S. would then impose an embargo against the other.

  In August Napoleon announced the repeal of the Berlin and Milan decrees on the understanding that the U.S. would also force Britain to respect its neutral rights. Although Napoleon continued to seize American vessels in French ports, President James Madison accepted his statements as proof that French antineutral decrees had been lifted. He reimposed the ban on trade with Britain in November 1810 and demanded that the British ministry repeal the orders in council as a condition for resumption of Anglo-American trade. Britain refused to comply, and Madison summoned Congress into session in November 1811 to prepare for war. After months of debate, Congress declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812.

  Armed Conflict.

  U.S. forces were ordered to invade Canada at points between Detroit and Montr谷al, but poor planning, organization, and leadership undermined this strategy. British general Isaac Brock, together with the northwestern Indians led by the Shawnee chief Tecumseh, captured Detroit, while on the Niagara peninsula two American armies were defeated. In 1813 American forces reoccupied Detroit after Oliver Hazard Perry captured the British fleet on Lake Erie, thus enabling William Henry Harrison to defeat the combined British and Indian forces at the battle of the Thames in October. In the east, an American army had taken York (now Toronto) in May, but the failure of subsequent campaigns against Kingston and Montr谷al prevented the U.S. from further extending its power into Canada. In the fall of 1813 the war spread to the southwest frontier in a conflict with the Creek Indians, who were eventually defeated by forces under Andrew Jackson at the battle of Horseshoe Bend (March 1814)。 Furthermore, despite victories of single American warships in the Atlantic, such as that of the Constitution over the Guerri豕re in 1812, the Royal Navy by 1813 had blockaded much of the eastern coast and thus ruined U.S. trade with foreign nations.

  By 1814 American forces had improved in quality and leadership. In July armies under Jacob Brown and Winfield Scott fought British troops on even terms at Chippewa and Lundy*s Lane, near Niagara. Napoleon*s defeat in Europe, however, freed Britain to send more troops to North America. By late summer the U.S. had to face invasions from combined army and naval forces at Lake Champlain and in Chesapeake Bay. A U.S. naval victory on Lake Champlain in September 1814 compelled one invading army to retreat to Canada, but not before other British troops had burned Washington, D.C., in August and also occupied northeastern Maine. British forces, however, failed to take Baltimore, Md. During the bombardment of the city (September 13每14), American poet Francis Scott Key wrote ※The Star-Spangled Banner;§ his verses later became the U.S. national anthem.


  Great Britain and the U.S. agreed to commence peace negotiations in January 1814, but the talks were delayed until July. Both nations began negotiations with unrealistic demands. The U.S. wanted an end to all objectionable British maritime practices and also demanded cessions of Canadian territory. Britain sought a neutral Indian buffer state in the American Northwest and wanted to revise both the American-Canadian boundary and the 1783 Treaty of Paris that had established U.S. independence. They finally agreed to return to the antebellum status quo in a treaty signed at Ghent, Belgium, on Dec. 24, 1814. This treaty was ratified by Britain four days later and by the U.S. Senate on Feb. 16, 1815. Between these dates a final battle was fought on January 8, when a British army landed at the mouth of the Mississippi River and was defeated near New Orleans by forces under Andrew Jackson.

  The Treaty of Ghent failed to secure U.S. maritime rights, but in the century of peace in Europe from 1815 until World War I they were not seriously threatened. Britain never again pursued its disputes with the U.S. to the point of risking war. The U.S. did not conquer Canada, but Indian opposition to American expansion in the Northwest and Southwest was broken. The U.S. and Canada emerged from the war with a sense of national purpose and awareness.

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