War of 1812

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War of 1812,

armed conflict between the United States and Great Britain, 1812–15. It followed a period of great stress between the two nations as a result of the treatment of neutral countries by both France and England during the French RevolutionaryFrench Revolutionary Wars,
wars occurring in the era of the French Revolution and the beginning of the Napoleonic era, the decade of 1792–1802. The wars began as an effort to defend the Revolution and developed into wars of conquest under the empire.
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 and Napoleonic WarsNapoleonic Wars,
1803–15, the wars waged by or against France under Napoleon I. For a discussion of them see under Napoleon I.
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, in which the latter two were antagonists (1793–1801, 1803–14).

Causes of the War

American shippers took advantage of the hostilities in Europe to absorb the carrying trade between Europe and the French and Spanish islands in the West Indies. By breaking the passage with a stop in a U.S. port, they evaded seizure under the British rule of 1756, which forbade to neutrals in wartime any trade that was not allowed in peacetime. In 1805, however, in the Essex Case, a British court ruled that U.S. ships breaking passage at an American port did not circumvent the prohibitions set out in the rule of 1756. As a result the seizure of American ships by Great Britain increased.

The following year Great Britain instituted a partial blockade of the European coast. The French emperor, Napoleon I, retaliated with a blockade of the British Isles. Napoleon's Continental System, which was intended to exclude British goods or goods cleared through Britain from countries under French control, and the British orders in council (1807), which forbade trade with France except after touching at English ports, threatened the American merchant fleet with confiscation by one side or the other. Although the French subjected American ships to considerable arbitrary treatment, the difficulties with England were more apparent. The impressmentimpressment,
forcible enrollment of recruits for military duty. Before the establishment of conscription, many countries supplemented their militia and mercenary troops by impressment.
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 of sailors alleged to be British from U.S. vessels was a particularly great source of anti-British feeling, a famous incident of impressment being the ChesapeakeChesapeake,
U.S. frigate, famous for her role in the Chesapeake affair (June 22, 1807) and for her battle with the H.M.S. Shannon (June 1, 1813). The Chesapeake left Norfolk, Va., for the Mediterranean under the command of James Barron in June, 1807.
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 affair of 1807.

Despite the infringement of U.S. rights, President JeffersonJefferson, Thomas,
1743–1826, 3d President of the United States (1801–9), author of the Declaration of Independence, and apostle of agrarian democracy. Early Life

Jefferson was born on Apr. 13, 1743, at "Shadwell," in Goochland (now in Albemarle) co.
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 hoped to achieve a peaceful settlement with the British. Toward this end he supported a total embargo on trade in the hope that economic pressure would force the belligerents to negotiate with the United States. The Nonimportation Act of 1806 was followed by the Embargo Act of 1807Embargo Act of 1807,
passed Dec. 22, 1807, by the U.S. Congress in answer to the British orders in council restricting neutral shipping and to Napoleon's restrictive Continental System. The U.S.
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. Difficulty of enforcement and economic conditions that rendered England and the Continent more or less independent of America made the embargo ineffective, and in 1809 it gave way to a Nonintercourse Act. This in turn was superseded by Macon's Bill No. 2, which repealed the trade restrictions against Britain and France with the proviso that if one country withdrew its offensive decrees or orders, nonintercourse would be reimposed with the other.

In 1809, after the passage of the Nonintercourse Act, a satisfactory agreement had been reached with the British minister in Washington, David Erskine, who promised repeal of the orders in council. The pact was disavowed by Foreign Secretary George Canning, however, and Erskine was replaced by F. J. Jackson, who soon proved himself persona non grata to the U.S. government. Subsequently, by a dubious commitment, Napoleon tricked James MadisonMadison, James,
1751–1836, 4th President of the United States (1809–17), b. Port Conway, Va. Early Career

A member of the Virginia planter class, he attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), graduating in 1771.
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, who had succeeded Jefferson as President, into reimposing (1811) nonintercourse on England. Negotiations with Britain for repeal of the orders in council continued without result; just before the declaration of war, yet too late to prevent it, the orders in council were repealed.

In reality, it was not so much the infringement of neutral rights that occasioned the actual outbreak of hostilities as the desire of the frontiersmen for free land, which could only be obtained at the expense of the Native Americans and the British. Moreover, the West suspected the British, with some justification, of attempting to prevent American expansion and of encouraging and arming the Native Americans. Matters came to a head after the battle of Tippecanoe (1811); the radical Western group believed that the British had supported the Native American confederacy, and they dreamed of expelling the British from Canada. Their militancy was supported by Southerners who wished to obtain West Florida from the Spanish (allies of Great Britain). Among the prominent "war hawks" in the 12th Congress were Henry ClayClay, Henry,
1777–1852, American statesman, b. Hanover co., Va. Early Career

His father died when he was four years old, and Clay's formal schooling was limited to three years.
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, John C. CalhounCalhoun, John Caldwell
, 1782–1850, American statesman and political philosopher, b. near Abbeville, S.C., grad. Yale, 1804. He was an intellectual giant of political life in his day. Early Career

Calhoun studied law under Tapping Reeve at Litchfield, Conn.
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, Langdon ChevesCheves, Langdon
, 1776–1857, American statesman, b. Abbeville District (now Abbeville co.), S.C. Admitted to the bar in 1797, he became one of the leading lawyers of Charleston. In the U.S.
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, Felix GrundyGrundy, Felix,
1777–1840, American political leader, b. Berkeley co., Va. After a successful career in Kentucky, he moved to Nashville, Tenn., where he became a noted criminal lawyer.
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, Peter Porter, and others, who managed to override the opposition of John RandolphRandolph, John,
1773–1833, American legislator, known as John Randolph of Roanoke, b. Prince George co., Va. He briefly studied law under his cousin Edmund Randolph. He served in the U.S.
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 and of the moderates.

Course of the War

War was declared June 18, 1812. It was not until hostilities had begun that Madison discovered how woefully inadequate American preparations for war were. The rash hopes of the "war hawks," who expected to take Canada at a blow, were soon dashed. The American force under Gen. William HullHull, William,
1753–1825, American general, b. Derby, Conn. He served brilliantly in the American Revolution and became in 1805 governor of the newly created Michigan Territory. As the War of 1812 began he asked Congress for a larger U.S.
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, far from gaining glory, disgracefully surrendered (Aug., 1812) at Detroit to a smaller Canadian force under Isaac Brock. On the Niagara River, an American expedition was repulsed after a successful attack on Queenston Heights, because the militia under Stephen Van Rensselaer would not cross the New York state boundary.

On the sea, however, the tiny American navy initially gave a good account of itself. The victory of the Constitution, under Isaac Hull, over the Guerrière and the capture of the Macedonian by the United States (Stephen DecaturDecatur, Stephen
, 1779–1820, American naval officer, b. Sinepuxent, near Berlin, Md.; son of a naval officer, Stephen Decatur. After joining the U.S. navy in 1798, he rose to fame in the Tripolitan War.
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 commanding) were two outstanding achievements of 1812. The smaller vessels also did well, and American privateers carried the war to the very shores of England. In 1813 the British reasserted their supremacy on the sea; the Chesapeake, under Capt. James LawrenceLawrence, James,
1781–1813, American naval hero, b. Burlington, N.J. He entered the navy in 1798 and saw his first important service in the Tripolitan War. In the War of 1812, as commander of the Hornet, he defeated and sank (1813) the British Peacock.
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 ("Don't give up the ship!"), accepted a challenge from the Shannon and met with speedy defeat. Most of the American ships were either captured or bottled up in harbor for the duration of the war.

It was on inland waters, however, that the American navy achieved its most notable triumphs—victories that had an important bearing on the course of the war. In Jan., 1813, at the Raisin River, S of Detroit, American troops suffered another defeat. But with the victory of Capt. Oliver PerryPerry, Oliver Hazard,
1785–1819, American naval officer, b. South Kingstown, R.I.; brother of Matthew Calbraith Perry. Appointed a midshipman in 1799, he served in the Tripolitan War, was promoted to lieutenant (1807), and from 1807 to 1809 was engaged in building gunboats.
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 on Lake Erie in Sept., 1813, American forces, under Gen. William Henry HarrisonHarrison, William Henry,
1773–1841, 9th President of the United States (Mar. 4–Apr. 4, 1841), b. "Berkeley," Charles City co., Va.; son of Benjamin Harrison (1726?–1791) and grandfather of Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901).
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, were able to advance against the British, who burned Detroit and retreated into Canada. Harrison pursued and defeated them in a battle at the Thames River (see Thames, battle of theThames, battle of the,
engagement fought on the Thames River near Chatham, Ont. (Oct. 5, 1813), in the War of 1812. Gen. William H. Harrison led an American force of about 3,000 against a British army of approximately 400 regulars commanded by Gen. Henry A.
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), in which TecumsehTecumseh
, 1768?–1813, chief of the Shawnee, b. probably in Clark co., Ohio. Among his people he became distinguished for his prowess in battle, but he opposed the practice of torturing prisoners.
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, the Native American chief, was killed. Yet the feeble efforts of James WilkinsonWilkinson, James,
1757–1825, American general and one of the most corrupt and devious officers in the nation's early army, b. Calvert co., Md. Abandoning his medical studies in 1776 to join the army commanded by George Washington, he served as a captain in Benedict
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 along the St. Lawrence River did nothing to improve the situation on the New York border.

The first months of 1814 held gloomy prospects for the Americans. The finances of the government had been somewhat restored in 1813, but there was no guarantee of future supplies. New England, never sympathetic with the war, now became openly hostile, and the question of secession was taken up by the Hartford ConventionHartford Convention,
Dec. 15, 1814–Jan. 4, 1815, meeting to consider the problems of New England in the War of 1812; held at Hartford, Conn. Prior to the war, New England Federalists (see Federalist party) had opposed the Embargo Act of 1807 and other government measures;
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. Moreover, with Napoleon checked in Europe, Britain could devote more time and effort to the war in America.

In July, 1814, the American forces along the Niagara River, now under Gen. Jacob BrownBrown, Jacob Jennings,
1775–1828, American general, b. Bucks co., Pa. In the War of 1812 he defeated (May, 1813) a British attempt to take Sackets Harbor, N.Y., and the next year became commander of the Niagara frontier.
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, maintained their own in engagements at Chippawa and Lundy's LaneLundy's Lane,
locality in S Ontario just W of the Niagara Falls, scene of a stubborn engagement of the War of 1812, fought July 25, 1814. The American forces commanded by Gen. Winfield Scott and led by Gen. Jacob J.
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. Shortly afterward, Sir George PrevostPrevost, Sir George
, 1767–1816, British soldier and governor in chief of Canada (1811–15). He held several administrative posts in the West Indies before becoming (1808) lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia.
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 led a large army into New York down the west side of Lake Champlain and seriously threatened the Hudson valley. But when his accompanying fleet was defeated near Plattsburgh (Sept., 1814) by Capt. Thomas MacdonoughMacdonough, Thomas
, 1783–1825, American naval officer, b. New Castle co., Del. In the Tripolitan War he took part in the burning of the captured Philadelphia and the attack on the Tripolitan gunboats.
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, he was forced to retreat to Canada. In August, a British expedition to Chesapeake Bay won an easy victory at BladensburgBladensburg
, town (1990 pop. 8,064), Prince Georges co., S central Md., a residential suburb of Washington, D.C.; chartered 1742, inc. 1854. The defeat (Aug. 24, 1814) at Bladensburg of American troops under Gen. W. H. Winder permitted the British under Gen.
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 and took Washington, burning the Capitol and the White House. The victorious British, however, were halted at Fort McHenryFort McHenry,
former U.S. military post in Baltimore harbor; built 1794–1805. In the War of 1812 it was bombarded (Sept. 13–14, 1814) by a British fleet under Sir Alexander Cochrane, but the fort, commanded by Maj. George Armistead, resisted the attack.
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 before Baltimore.

Negotiations for Peace

The Fort McHenry setback and the American victory at Plattsburgh helped to persuade British statesmen to agree to end the war, in which no decisive gains had been made by either side. For some time negotiations for peace had been taking place. Although Great Britain had refused an early Russian offer to mediate between it and the United States, the British entered into direct peace negotiations at Ghent in mid-1814. The American delegation to the meeting at Ghent was headed by John Quincy AdamsAdams, John Quincy,
1767–1848, 6th President of the United States (1825–29), b. Quincy (then in Braintree), Mass.; son of John Adams and Abigail Adams and father of Charles Francis Adams (1807–86).
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, Henry ClayClay, Henry,
1777–1852, American statesman, b. Hanover co., Va. Early Career

His father died when he was four years old, and Clay's formal schooling was limited to three years.
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, and Albert GallatinGallatin, Albert
, 1761–1849, American financier and public official, b. Geneva, Switzerland. Left an orphan at nine, Gallatin was reared by his patrician relatives and had an excellent education.
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. After long and tortuous discussions, a treaty (see Ghent, Treaty ofGhent, Treaty of,
1814, agreement ending the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain. It was signed at Ghent, Belgium, on Dec. 24, 1814, and ratified by the U.S. Senate in Feb., 1815. The American commissioners were John Q. Adams, James A.
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) was signed (Dec. 24, 1814), providing for the cessation of hostilities, the restoration of conquered territories, and the setting up of boundary commissions.

The final action of the war took place after the signing of the treaty, when Andrew JacksonJackson, Andrew,
1767–1845, 7th President of the United States (1829–37), b. Waxhaw settlement on the border of South Carolina and North Carolina (both states claim him). Early Career

A child of the backwoods, he was left an orphan at 14.
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 decisively defeated the British at New Orleans on Jan. 8, 1815. This victory, although it came after the technical end of the war, was important in restoring American confidence. Although the peace treaty failed to deal with the matters of neutral rights and impressment that were the ostensible cause of the conflict, the war did quicken the growth of American nationalism. In addition, the defeats suffered by the Native Americans in the Northwest and in the South forced them to sign treaties with the U.S. government and opened their lands for American expansion.


See G. W. Cullum, Campaigns of 1812–15 (1879); T. Roosevelt, The Naval War of 1812 (1882, repr. 1968); A. T. Mahan, Sea Power in Its Relation to the War of 1812 (2 vol., 1905; repr. 1968); J. W. Pratt, Expansionists of 1812 (1925, repr. 1957); H. Adams, The War of 1812 (ed. by H. A. DeWeerd, 1944); F. Beirne, War of 1812 (1949, repr. 1965); G. Tucker, Poltroons and Patriots (2 vol., 1954); C. S. Forester, The Age of Fighting Sail: The Story of the Naval War of 1812 (1956); A. H. Z. Carr, The Coming of War (1960); R. Horsman, The Causes of the War of 1812 (1962, repr. 1972) and The War of 1812 (1969); H. L. Coles, The War of 1812 (1965); R. V. Remini, The Battle of New Orleans (1999); A. J. Langguth, Union 1812 (2007); A. Taylor, The Civil War of 1812 (2010); G. C. Daughan, 1812: The Navy's War (2011); D. R. Hickey and C. D. Clark, An Illustrated History of the War of 1812 (2011); T. O. Bickham, The Weight of Vengeance (2012); H. Howard, Mr. and Mrs. Madison's War (2012); J. C. A. Stagg, The War of 1812 (2012).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

War of 1812


(in Russian, Anglo-American War of 1812–14), the result of England’s striving to undermine the trade and economy of the USA, on the one hand, and, on the other, the consequence of the policy of certain circles of the USA who strove to expand their posessions—the seizure of Canada. The immediate cause of war was the search and seizure of American vessels by the British fleet. On June 18, 1812, the USA declared war on England. American privateers inflicted vital damage on English ships at sea; however, attempts to invade Canada met with failure. The English, utilizing their naval supremacy, blockaded the coast of the USA. On Aug. 24, 1814, the British made a successful landing and seized and burned most of Washington. In the course of the war, the military actions of the American forces against the English troops took on the character of a struggle to guarantee the independence of the USA. American forces won a number of victories: on Lake Champlain (September 1814), and at New Orleans on Jan. 8, 1815 (news of the signing of the peace treaty had not yet been received by the military command). On Dec. 24, 1814, the Treaty of Ghent was signed, reestablishing the prewar status.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

War of 1812

Jackson’s New Orleans victory occurred after treaty was signed. [Am. Hist.: Hart, 893]
See: Irony
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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