1812- War was the Only Choice

National pride had plenty to do with… starting the War of 1812.  Britain refused to honor its commitments set down in the original treaty of 1783.   Despite reaffirming those pledges in Jay’s Treaty of 1794, Britain continued to deny America the equal station it desired.  The Royal Navy provided the greatest obstacle to American sovereignty, impeding America’s lifeblood, commerce.  The 1807 attack on the USS Chesapeake in American waters was the most egregious violation in a consistent campaign to cripple our shipping.  The trade restrictions laid down in the Orders in Council (blockade of Europe) were the final straw for many Americans.

  1. Neutrality- America wanted to be left alone,  and the British were having none of it.  The early disputes between Federalists and Jeffersonians over foreign policy matters were rendered moot by ascension of Bonaparte.  The Adams administration had deeply strained US/French relations and Jay’s Treaty had failed badly.  The Anglo/American alliance never truly formed after 1783.  The British were not going to allow the upstart republic to trade with its enemy during a time of war.  The heavy-handed provisions of the Orders in Council, the Royal Navy’s blockade of Europe, was the final straw.
  2. The Frontier- The British army was a powerful force on the American frontier, proving difficult to withdraw its presence as stipulated in the treaty of 1783.  British troops remained assisting in the Indian resistance to American settlement west of Ohio.  American military intervention proved time and again that Indian alliances were receiving British military support.  The Tecumseh War was the final straw in a long string of British interference.  The British troops were compounding an already volatile situation; in addition to violating the most basic elements of territorial sovereignty.
  3. Piracy- The tradition of the ‘press’ as a recruitment tool for the Royal Navy divided the two nations even further.  The British denied America’s right to naturalize foreigners serving in its merchant fleet.  American ships were subject to searches and all sailors could be taken against their will.  Historians estimate that over 10,000 American sailors were impressed between 1794-1814.  60% of the ‘British’ subjects taken off American ships were in fact Irish.  Despite two treaties guaranteeing safety to American seamen, the Royal Navy searched American ships at will.

Library of Congress

“Such is the spectacle of injuries and indignities which have been heaped on our country, and such the crisis which its unexampled forbearance and conciliatory efforts have not been able to avert.” – James Madison, June 1, 1812

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