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The War of 1812: A Second Fight for Independence

Even though the United States had won independence, the British still treated it like a colony.

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While the American Revolution won the 13 colonies freedom from British rule officially, England continued to treat the United States as a colony. France and England were at war, and while each nation wanted to use the United States against the other, the British took their mistreatment of Americans much farther. Under President James Madison, the United States went to war with England again. The War of 1812 didn’t end the worst of the British abuses, but it’s still considered the second war of independence by many people. 

Causes of War 

There were several reasons the United States declared war on England in 1812, and almost all of them were about the British not respecting the United States as its own country, neutral in the war between England and France. The British Parliament passed laws to stop Americans from trading with any other nation. It pushed some of the Native Americans to attack the United States. The biggest issue, however, was impressment – the British Navy capturing American sailors and forcing them to serve on British ships.  

A Back and Forth War

Early in the war, the Americans did not do well against the British or the Natives, except for the Navy. Although the British Navy was the most powerful in the world at the time, American ships managed to win most one-on-one battles. The British Navy eventually stopped fighting one-to-one with American ships and began setting up blockades instead. This allowed it to leverage the fact that it had far more ships than the Americans. 

In 1814, though, the old American commanders were replaced with new ones, who did much better. The United States began winning back some of what it lost to the British. At that point, the British won their war with France, freeing them to send more people to the war in America. They entered the Chesapeake Bay and burned Washington D.C., then made it as far as Baltimore before American troops stopped them.

The Hartford Convention

The war with England was most popular with the southern and western states, but it was not well liked in New England. The remaining Federalists opposed the conflict, which they called “Mr. Madison’s War.” The Hartford Convention was a series of meetings in 1814-15 at which many of these New England Federalists unsuccessfully tried to stop the war. Their failure to convince the public of their side led to the end of the Federalist Party, as it became seen as a party of cowards. Also, though none actually went through with it, this was the first time states discussed the option of leaving the Union. 

Ghent and New Orleans

The United States was almost out of money and it didn’t seem like it could keep up the war. So President Madison started peace talks at Ghent, Belgium. The Treaty of Ghent officially ended the war on December 24, 1814, but the news didn’t travel fast enough to stop the fighting. The British invaded New Orleans in January but were defeated by Major General Andrew Jackson on January 8. 

The Treaty of Ghent didn’t mention two of the main causes for the war – the freedom of American ships and the impressment of sailors – but it did grant much of the Great Lakes region to the United States, and so it was still considered by many a diplomatic victory.

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