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The War of 1812

The War of 1812 pitted US forces against those of Great Britain in a battle for control over the destiny of the North American continent. 


  • The War of 1812, which lasted from June 18, 1812 to February 18, 1815, was fought over issues that continued to plague relations between the United States and Britain after the Revolutionary War, like impressment of American sailors and trade restrictions on American shipping.
  • Though many American grievances were resolved during the course of the war, the Treaty of Ghent, which formally ended the War of 1812, involved no significant change in pre-war borders or boundaries.
  • For Native Americans who had allied with the British, the outcome of the war was devastating to their land and political autonomy.

War in Europe and grievances in the United States

The War of 1812, which lasted from June 18, 1812 to February 18, 1815, was a military conflict between the United States, Great Britain, and Great Britain's Native American allies on the North American continent.
After the American Revolution, the United States and Great Britain were hardly on good terms. To achieve victory, the United States had accepted aid from France, Great Britain’s longtime enemy and imperial rival. Tempers flared again in the early 1800s when the Napoleonic Wars between France and Britain led the British to implement a number of military measures aimed at weakening France.
Unfortunately, Americans were caught in the crossfire, despite US neutrality in the war. First, the British had begun the practice of impressment, or forcing American sailors into British military service. Britain also imposed trade restrictions on the United States, refused to recognize US neutrality in the European war, and routinely violated neutral shipping rights. These measures were designed to prevent the United States from providing France with aid, supplies, or support.
The British had also allied with Native Americans in the Northwest Territory (encompassing the modern-day states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin). Comprised of several tribes, including the Shawnee, Kickapoo, Sauk, Fox, and Winnebago, a Native American confederacy led by Shawnee prophet Tenskwatawa and his brother Tecumseh had arisen to challenge US settlement in the territory.
The British supported this confederacy in an effort to halt US westward expansion and protect British interests in Canada by creating a Native American buffer state between US territory and British Canada. These were the primary grievances of the United States against Great Britain, and the major reasons that war broke out in 1812. 1
Painting of Tenskwatawa in Shawnee dress.
Painting of Tenskwatawa, the Shawnee Prophet, by George Catlin, 1830. Image courtesy the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The War of 1812

The seizure of American ships and sailors, combined with the British support of Tecumseh's uprising, led to strident calls in Congress for war against Great Britain. The loudest came from the “war hawks,” led by Henry Clay from Kentucky and John C. Calhoun from South Carolina, who proclaimed that they would not tolerate these British insults to American honor. Many Federalists opposed the war, since they believed it would disrupt the maritime trade on which many northeastern businesses depended. In a narrow vote, Congress authorized the president to declare war against Britain in June 1812.
The US military strategy focused on seizing parts of Canada in the hopes of forcing British concessions. However, the US army was small, disorganized, and poorly equipped. Despite these shortcomings, the Americans managed two significant victories over the British in battles on or near Lake Erie in the fall of 1813. In the Battle of the Thames, Tecumseh was killed and Native American resistance was crushed.
Meanwhile, events in Europe continued to influence the course of the war. With the abdication of Napoleon in April 1814, the British were able to devote more of their resources to the war with the United States. The end of the war in Europe, moreover, made some of US President James Madison’s demands, such as the return of neutral shipping rights and the immediate cessation of impressment, irrelevant. With the British no longer at war with France, these practices were abandoned before the end of the war with the United States.
In the Battle of Bladensburg in August 1814, the British sacked and burned Washington, DC, plundering the White House and wounding US national pride. The British continued their march north but were unable to capture Baltimore in the Battle of Fort McHenry, during which Francis Scott Key penned the poem that would later become the US national anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner. 2
Engraving depicting the burning of Washington, D.C.
Engraving depicting the burning of Washington, DC by British forces. Published by G. Thompson, London, 1814. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

The Hartford Convention and the Treaty of Ghent

The War of 1812 was very unpopular in New England because it disproportionately affected the region, which was the most dependent on maritime commerce.
The war sparked a resurgence of the Federalist Party in New England. Many Federalists deeply resented the power of the slaveholding Virginians (Jefferson and then Madison), who appeared indifferent to the war's economic impact on their region. In December 1814, twenty-six Federalists called a meeting in Connecticut to discuss the economic tumult. At the Hartford Convention, some attendees issued calls for New England to secede from the United States. But the tactic backfired: by suggesting secession during wartime and condemning the new American government, Federalists appeared unpatriotic. The Hartford Convention discredited the Federalist Party and sowed the seeds for the party’s demise.

The end of the war of 1812

Popular anti-war sentiment increased, and the military conflict effectively stalemated by 1815. The Madison administration then entered into peace negotiations with the British. The Treaty of Ghent, which formally ended the war, involved no significant change in pre-war borders or boundaries.
With the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the British had already abandoned their policy of impressing American sailors, and had informally lifted restrictions on neutral trade. According to the terms of the treaty, the British returned nearly four thousand Americans who had been classified as prisoners of war and forced into British service.
The end of hostilities ushered in the “Era of Good Feelings,” during which US-British relations improved. The nation’s sense of victory and unity was enhanced by the dissolution of the Federalist Party and the easing of bitter partisan divisions.
In the aftermath of the War of 1812, the American people began to think of the United States as a proud and independent nation rather than a collection of formerly colonial territories. For this reason, the war is sometimes referred to as the “Second War of Independence.” The war also resolved one of the United States’ major grievances: British support for Native American tribes in an effort to halt US westward expansion. 3

The War of 1812 and Native Americans

For American Indians, the war was devastating. General Andrew Jackson destroyed the military capabilities of the Creek nation in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in March 1814. The battle occurred in the Mississippi Territory, which Jackson sought to clear for US settlement. Approximately 15% of the entire Creek population was killed. The Treaty of Fort Jackson forced the Creeks to surrender twenty-three million acres of land and to promise to never again ally with the British or Spanish against the Americans.
The US victory and the death of Tecumseh in battle ended any prospect of a Native American alliance system or confederation, and the British essentially abandoned their Native American allies. With no protection from the British, and very little tribal cohesion, Native Americans would suffer further defeats as the United States continued to expand ever westward.
Andrew Jackson, virtually unknown before the war, emerged as a national hero after his triumph at the Battle of New Orleans, which actually occurred after the Treaty of Ghent was signed but before the news had reached New Orleans. As president, Jackson would preside over the further removal, relocation, and destruction of Native Americans and their way of life.

What do you think?

Why did the United States and Britain go to war in 1812?
What was the impact of the war on Native Americans?
What were the most significant consequences of the War of 1812?

Want to join the conversation?

  • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user Jerry Wang
    Why the Federalist Party was dissoluted after the war?
    (18 votes)
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    • starky sapling style avatar for user ForgottenUser
      The Federalist Party dissolved after the war for two main reasons. First, the party seemed opposed to the democratic ideals of the time, admiring nations like Britain who kept power in the hands of the elite. Secondly, many Federalists were opposed to the war, not wanting to damage any of their relationships with Britain, whom they had trade deals with. After the US won the War of 1812, the party seemed unpatriotic and undemocratic - not living up to the ideals of most citizens.
      (55 votes)
  • starky ultimate style avatar for user DuncanR
    Here’s a tough question, when was the war of 1812?
    (11 votes)
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  • starky sapling style avatar for user ForgottenUser
    Was the War of 1812 really when US citizens started to think of their country as a nation and not a coalition of colonies? I've heard arguments that this was really the case after the Civil War, where people started referring to the country in terms of 'the United States' as opposed to 'those United States'.
    (14 votes)
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  • mr pink red style avatar for user lhendersonctp
    what was discussed at the Hartford convention
    (7 votes)
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    • mr pants teal style avatar for user KarishmaVPatel
      The Hartford Convention was when Federalists gathered in Hartford, CN to discuss the topic of New England ceding from the US. This convention was held because Federalists were strongly opposed to the War of 1812. The Hartford Convention was one main factor that lead to the downfall of the Federalist party, as they were seen as unpatriotic.
      (15 votes)
  • old spice man blue style avatar for user Musa Suhail
    I as a Canadian I always thought that Canada held a bigger part in the war, and was taught about how America wanted to fight because they thought it would be easy to invade Canada and "free" it from the British, and to take the land. I thought that 1812 was more Canada Vs. America than Britain Vs. America.
    I also was told that Canada won, and that it was a big moment for us because it gave a sense of Canadian identity and showed that we were an actual power, and I see it romanticized a lot especially with Laura Secord and such.

    Was this right? I'm seeing a lot of people (especially Americans) saying that it was a USA-British war and that the US won.
    (5 votes)
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    • leafers ultimate style avatar for user SuperCaptain
      While Americans did find that taking Canada would be "a mere matter of marching," that was not the only cause of war. Britain was fighting a war in Europe, and was known to board American ships in search of deserters.
      While the war was mostly Britain vs the US, the Americans were humiliated on the Canadian frontier. While Canadians did not compose the entirety of the British ranks in Canada, Canadians viewed the defeat as a victory for Canada.
      The US viewed that it had won because of victory on the ocean and The Battle of New Orleans, which took place after the war had ended.
      The war was a stalemate from a technical standpoint, but from a practical standpoint Canada won and Native Americans (First Nations) lost.
      (10 votes)
  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Ellie Park
    I still don't understand why so many presidents were involved during the war of 1812.
    (5 votes)
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  • leafers seedling style avatar for user Sarah Marcotte
    After the War of 1812, did the British stop trying to prevent American expansion by allying themselves with the Native Americans because of a treaty or was it an informal agreement?
    (4 votes)
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    • leaf blue style avatar for user batman
      I don't really know, but what I do know is that the British's alliance with the Native Americans sort of died out when Tecumseh died in a war because he was the one who allied himself and the Native Americans and persuaded the British to help him fight the U.S. He was like the bridge between the Native Americans and the British.
      (5 votes)
  • starky ultimate style avatar for user cgse1106
    What was the aftermath of the war?
    (3 votes)
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    • leafers ultimate style avatar for user SuperCaptain
      The results of the War of 1812 were mostly in the attitudes of the nations. As the war ended in a stalemate, territory exchange was negligible. The US ceded parts of the Louisiana Purchase north of the 49th parallel, and received some land south of the 49th. US claims over northern Maine would also be solidified. The greatest result would be a rise in national identity in both the US and Canada. The US and Britain both suffered humiliating defeats, but the US gained respect with Britain. The only people who stood to lose from the war were indigenous peoples, as Britain was not willing to press redresses in US federal Indian policy when negotiating the treaty.
      (3 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user MossM
    Were there any Anti-Federalist as well?
    (4 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Ellie Park
    Can I have more details for the Battle of New Orleans?
    (3 votes)
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