The Treaty of Ghent

Further Reading

The Treaty of Ghent

The Treaty of Ghent: An American Perspective

The Treaty of Ghent: A First Nations Perspective

The British/Canadian Perspective

In November 1813, the British government proposed the negotiations that would eventually lead to peace. Britain had snubbed an earlier attempt by the Russian emperor to act as mediator because it wanted to meet the with the Americans face to face.

The British negotiating team included the bumbling Admiral James Gambier, an admiralty lawyer by the name of William Adams, and Henry Goulburn, a low level diplomat and the real chairman of the mission. They met with their American counterparts in Ghent, Belgium, a city chosen in part for its proximity to England. After all, the three "negotiators" were mere messenger boys for the Whitehall triumvirate: the British Prime Minister, the Colonial Secretary and the Foreign Secretary.

A top item on the British agenda was the creation of a native territory between Canada and the U.S. The British were determined to honour pledges to First Nations that had been made on behalf of their "white father." At the end of the Revolutionary War, the British had ceded all the lands south of the Great Lakes to the Americans with total disregard for the native peoples who lived there. Now, Britain was determined to respect its native allies. But British insistence on negotiating such a territory served less altruistic purposes as well; such a territory would act as a permanent buffer between Britain’s Canadian colonies and the incendiary United States.

Other British demands included: the exclusive right to keep vessels on the Great Lakes, the right to build forts on those shores, and the right to continue navigation on the Mississippi.

After the Americans rebuffed the proposed native territory, the British Prime Minister began to doubt its necessity. The British war chest being empty after years of fighting Napoleon, they simply could not afford to let the negotiations unhinge on this point. He urged the negotiating team to water down the clause, suggesting that the natives "shall enjoy all the rights and privileges they enjoyed before the war."

The British prime minister then focused on his desire to retain Michilimackinac and Fort Niagara which the British had conquered during the war. He also hoped to get Sacket's Harbour in the bargain as well. The British had a long tradition of stretching out negotiations in order to achieve more military successes, and therefore, more bargaining power.

Ultimately, the British did not get much of what they hoped for. But the government consoled itself with the small victory of not having lost any territory. On Christmas Eve of 1814, the negotiating team signed a treaty agreeing to a return to the status quo ante bellum - the exact same state of affairs as before the war.