June 18, 1812, the United States stunned the world by declaring war on
Supporting its allies in Spain and Portugal, Britains army was on
the Iberian Peninsula, involved in a struggle with Napoleon Bonaparte,
who had marshaled the forces of Revolutionary France under his penumbra.
Despite losing the Thirteen Colonies to George Washington and the American
revolutionaries twenty-five years earlier, England, like many on the European
continent, did not take the United States that seriously. Despite the
fact that most of Britains supplies for the Napoleonic war came
from America and Canada -from beef to feed the Duke of Wellingtons
army, to the oak trees essential to maintain Britains majestic navy.
Britain found itself faced with another war, a war they had assiduously
tried to avoid.
The ostensible reasons for the war seemed to have been forgotten once
the opening shots were sounded. The United States was upset at the British
navys arrogance on the high seas. Desperate to find sailors for
a fleet of over one thousand ships, Great Britain didnt hesitate
to stop and search American ships in the hopes of recovering seaman who
deserted the draconian existence of the British navy for the easier life
aboard U.S. vessels.
British captains were not above press-ganging the odd American while they
were at it. England had also
begun to seize Yankee
ships trading with Napoleonic France. These tactics caused a huge controversy
in the American Congress. Eventually, the United States cut off all trade
with the continent.
As the record reveals, the Americans wanted more than just maritime rights.
What they also wanted was the other half of the North American continent
still in the hands of the King of England. In 1778, during the American
Revolution, the Yankees tried to seize Canada, and actually captured Montreal.
The expedition however, under Generals Richard Montgomery and Benedict
Arnold, perished in the sub-zero cold beneath the towering walls of the
fortress at Quebec.
In 1812, Americans were determined to make another attempt at eradicating
the British presence in North America, and settle "the Indian question"
once and for all. Such a campaign, promised Thomas Jefferson, would be
a matter of mere marching. In Congress, the War Hawks took up this position
and demanded the United States finalize the independence from Britain
they had fought so hard to win. Many Americans came to see the 1812 conflict
as the second Revolutionary War.
When Great Britain finally realized that the Americans would go to war
on the impressment issue, it revoked the Orders-in-Council which authorized
the seizures. In the final analysis, these causes bore so little weight,
that they were not even mentioned in the peace treaty which, eventually
ended the war. But in early 1812, it was too late. War was imminent, and
could would not be stopped.