The Treaty of Ghent
The American PerspectiveThe U.S. government attempted several peace negotiations throughout the course of the war. After several aborted efforts, American and British negotiators finally met in Ghent, Belgium to hammer out a peace agreement.
The five American peace commissioners included representatives from different political parties of different parts of the U.S. They were: Henry Clay, the eloquent firebrand who had helped trigger the war; Jonathan Russell, ambassador to Sweden; John Quincy Adams, a brilliant but somber diplomat; Albert Gallatin, a sophisticated Swiss-born former Secretary of the U.S. Treasury; and James Ashton Bayard, a Delaware senator.
The team was initially asked to focus on the question of impressment. Ironically, by the time the negotiations got underway , this issue was irrelevant since Napoleon had been defeated, and the British navy suddenly found itself with a surplus of sailors.
Early in the talks, the British party insisted on the creation of a native territory between Canada and the U.S. The Americans were not open to this idea since there were hundreds of American settlers living on the proposed territory, and also because so many Americans had been victim to native attacks.
The British and the Americans were so entrenched in their positions regarding the issue of a native territory that both sides expected the other would break off negotiations. Henry Clay decided to bluff the British and say that he was leaving. Shortly thereafter, the British Prime Minister seemed to forget all about any obligations to the First Nations people.
In November of 1814, James Monroe, the Secretary of State, informed the commission that the peace talks could be wrapped up if both sides agreed to return to a prewar situation. Subsequently, U.S. negotiators spent the next month writing up a peace treaty. A few minor outstanding points remained, such as fishing rights, but the American negotiators were weary after months of negotiation. They knew that their near-bankrupt government would not allow the war to continue over such trifling issues.
On Christmas Eve of 1814, the peace treaty was signed and sealed. The eleven articles stated that the U.S. and Britain would return to the status quo ante bellum, or the exact same state of affairs as before the war. There was no mention of impressment or the Orders in Council; the issues which had spurred the U.S. into declaring war. On paper, it was as if the war had never been fought.