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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 freedom from British rule officially, England continued to treat the United States as a colony. France and England were at war, and Britain wanted to use the United States against the French. Under President James Madison, the United States went to war with England again. The War of 1812 is 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. Many 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 Native Americans to attack the United States. The biggest issue 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. Only the Navy did well. Although the British Navy was the most powerful in the world at the time, American ships managed to win most one-on-one battles. Soon the British Navy stopped fighting one-on-one and began setting up blockades instead.

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

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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