War of 1812Events and Locationsfrench

The Treaty of Ghent

The Treaty of Ghent: A British Perspective

The Treaty of Ghent: A First Nations Perspective

The Treaty of Ghent: An American Perspective

On Christmas Eve of 1814, the members of the British and American negotiating teams, scrawled their signatures and affixed their individual seals to the document, which once ratified by their respective governments, would end the war of 1812.

Almost immediately after declaring war on Britain, American president James Madison began searching for a diplomatic resolution to the conflict. He might even have ratified the August 20, Dearborn-Prevost Armistice if it hadn’t have been for the unresolved issue of impressment. When Russia offered to mediate, Madison sent his negotiators to St. Petersburg, but the British were adamantly opposed to anything except face-to-face negotiations. Both sides eventually agreed to meet in the Belgian town of Ghent in August of 1814.

By then the U.S. had dropped the impressment issue. With Napoleon defeated, Britain had a surplus of sailors and no longer engaged in the practice. The other major U.S. grievance, the Orders-in-Council forbidding trade with European countries, had long since been repealed by Britain. Only the territorial issues remained. Once Britain agreed to drop the creation of a First Nations barrier-state between the U.S. and Canada, it was only a matter of time before both countries agreed to end hostilities by returning to the exact same conditions that had existed before the war.

The Treaty of Ghent, in effect, meant that thousands of people had died for nothing: nobody won the war of 1812. The United States, though it achieved none of its stated war aims, did achieve the less openly stated aim of pushing the First Nations off their traditional territories, which were now open for white settlement. Britain could rest secure in the knowledge that Canada was safe from U.S. territorial ambitions for the foreseeable future. The real losers were the First Nations. Their warriors had fought alongside Britain on the understanding that they would be rewarded with a country of their own, yet now that it had grown tired of the war, Britain reneged on its promise and retreated behind the meaningless phrase that the First Nations would be given “all the rights and privileges they enjoyed before the war.”