War of 1812: The First Time the United States Declared War

War of 1812

Causes and Outcome of the War of 1812

The United States’ share in the Trans-Atlantic trade began to fall when Britain entered the Napoleonic Wars that had erupted in 1803. Both Britain and France tried to control the seaways, especially the ones in the Atlantic Ocean, and the United States was caught in a very difficult situation between taking sides or playing neutral.

As a result of those overseas trade disputes, the United States declared war on their former colonial master, the British Empire, exactly thirty-six years after the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was the first time the U.S. ever declared war on another nation.

Though it is still debatable as to which side won or lost, the United States were satisfied with the outcome of the war which they otherwise remember as the Second War of Independence.

Below, World History Edu takes an in-depth look at the major causes and effects of the War of 1812, a war many have described as the United States’ firm commitment to breaking the hold Britain had on the young nation. The article also looks at the capturing and burning of the Washington, D.C. by British forces just a few months before the war ended.

Major Causes of the War of 1812

While Britain was battling with France in the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) in Europe, the United States had to deal with the terms promulgated in a decision taken by Britain in 1793 which basically required its former colony to shut down marine trade with France for as long as the rule demanded. On the other hand, France suspended trade ties with all nations which had any commercial or diplomatic relationship with Britain.

Primarily, causes of the War of 1812 could be summarized in three grievances which the Jay Treaty of 1794 endeavored to resolve after the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). Negotiated by renowned American statesman John Jay (later Chief Justice of the United States), the Jay Treaty of 1794 secured a deal with Britain that required British troops to vacate those occupied forts in the northwest and lift the trade restrictions on American exports. The Jay Treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate in a 20-to-10 vote on June 24, 1795.

Read More: John Jay’s Greatest Accomplishments

Much to the surprise of the United States, Britain did not comply fully to the terms of the Jay Treaty. To begin with, most exports from the United States to Britain were restricted, though the latter continued to export conveniently to the U.S. Secondly, Britain was unrelenting its impressment of U.S. sailors in the Atlantic Ocean. The third cause had to do with borders and America’s unquenchable appetite to expand westward. Making matters worse, Britain had broken a section of the 1783 Treaty of Paris by occupying forts in the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain regions.

These concerns, especially America’s expansionist campaigns and the desire to completely assert itself as an independent republic by breaking away from British sovereignty, generated hostilities parallel to those which triggered the American War of Independence (1775-1783).

War of 1812

The Napoleonic Wars that pitted Britain against France put a huge strain on America’s maritime trade. The two European powers tried used trade sanctions and impressment to coerce the United States into taking a side. Quote: Thomas Jefferson on the deteriorating relations between the U.S. and Britain

British impressment of American sailors in the Atlantic Ocean

Following the breakout of the Napoleonic Wars in 1803, the British Empire, in an attempt to secure an advantage over France, scaled up its impressment of American sailors. British sailors were notorious for flexing their muscle in the Atlantic Ocean, intruding American ships to impress people into its famed Royal Navy and other squadrons. Many of these victims were U.S. citizens, but Britain argued they only impressed British subjects who were escaping from serving in the Napoleonic Wars. It’s estimated that some 9,000 sailors on American vessels were impressed between 1807 and 1812.

A case in point was in 1807, when the Royal Navy on the HMS Leopard impressed four U.S. sailors aboard the USS Chesapeake. British forces took into custody four seamen that were aboard the Chespeake, maintaining that those men were British sailors that had deserted from its navy. It turned out only one of the four, Jenkins Ratford, was actually British. The controversy, which came to be known as the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair, caused the blood in many Americans to boil.

More than 30 years had passed since America declared itself free from British rule, and Britain was still openly dictating to Americans, including putting up naval blockade on American coasts in an attempt to capture French ships that had sailed into the area.

Safe to say that all those years of harassments and impressment by the British in the Atlantic created a level of disdain for the British comparable to the ones saw in the early 1770s, just before the American War of Independence. Later in 1811, U.S. navy on the USS President mistook Britain’s HMS Little Belt for the HMS Guerriere and fired at it in an attempt to retrieve impressed Americans.

Why did the British impress other countries’ seamen?

When a ship or its sailors are impressed it means that those sailors have forcefully been taken and sent to work for the nation that is doing the impressing. Britain used impressment to boost its Royal Navy fighting ability against arch rival Napoleon’s France.

It must be noted that although the Royal Navy impressed sailors from other countries, the majority of those seized ships and sailors came from the United States. Interestingly, British courts saw nothing wrong with the Royal Navy’s impressment in the Atlantic Ocean. This was because Britain had come to rely strongly on its naval prowess to maintain its dominance in the world at the time. Other names of impressment include “press gang” or “the press”.

At the end of the day, British impressment and other trade restrictions against the United States were aimed at boosting British trade.

It must be noted that the British was not the only nation that seized American ships in the Atlantic. French navy was engaged in the act of impressment as well. Following France’s passage of the Milan Decree in December 1807, the French navy began capturing merchant vessels from countries that took a neutral stance in the Napoleonic War.

The names of the four sailors of the famed Chesapeake-Leopard Affair in 1807 were: Jenkins Ratford, William Ware, Daniel Martin, and John Strachan. Only Ratford was actually British. The remaining three were American sailors. Image: HMS Leopard (right) fires upon USS Chesapeake

How America’s Westward Expansion caused Anglo-American ties to deteriorate

The United States felt they had every justification  ̶  what they called Manifest Destiny  ̶  to extend their territories to the north and the west. The philosophy was underpinned by by the belief that it was America’s sacred duty to spread not just democracy but capitalism as well to every nook and cranny of North America.

This westward expansion meant that Native Americans had to be forcefully uprooted from their lands and then relocated elsewhere. What this meant was that the U.S. was bound to be on a collision cause with Britain, who at the time had taken to building strong ties with the Native Americans in order to thwart America’s westward expansion.

In 1794, American forces under General “Mad” Anthony Wayne defeated the Native Americans in Toledo (modern day Ohio) at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. The Treaty of Greenville (1795) was struck and hostilities ceased; however, the U.S. forcefully relocated the Native Americans in the area to north-western Ohio.

Safe to say, Britain was anything but pleased with America’s aggressive expansionist policy. For example, in 1803, the size of the United States increased by a whopping 2.14 million square kilometers when Napoleon sold Louisiana to them for $15 million. The area was partly occupied by the Native Americans. Prior to the Louisiana Purchase, Spain had won the territory from France in 1762 but Napoleon reclaimed it in 1801.

Then-U.S. President Thomas Jefferson tasked future presidents James Monroe and James Madison as well as Chancellor Robert R. Livingston to negotiate terms and payments with French Treasury Secretary Francois Barbe-Marbois. The purchase was the basis for Britain’s attempt to capture ports of New Orleans and the Mississippi River in January 1815.

America’s response to British impressment and trade restrictions

All throughout the early years of the Napoleonic Wars, British impressment of American seamen went unabated. Those naval actions severely disrupted U.S. marine trade. The U.S. Congress responded by passing a number of acts to sustain their commerce and avoid British and French restrictions. Congress rolled out the Non-Importation Act in November 1806 to ban the importation of some vital goods from Britain. The ban failed to render desired results and was suspended within four months.

Upon the recommendation of Secretary of Treasury Albert Gallatin, the Embargo Act was passed on December 22, 1807. Among others, the embargo reduced export of farm produce and deprived local manufacturing industries of imported inputs. Ironically, Britain maintained their gains by shipping goods to the United States through Canada.

Attempts to coerce America into taking sides in the Napoleonic Wars

As the Napoleonic Wars raged in Europe, Britain and France issued conflicting orders to disadvantage each other. For example, Britain blocked France from a number of ports such as those stretching from Brest to Elbe by Orders in Council in May 16, 1806. Basically, the Orders of Council required merchant vessels from neutral countries during the Napoleonic War to secure license from Britain before they could do business with France.

France countered with the Berlin Decree in November 21, 1806; the decree prohibited British ships from trading with France, her allies and even neutral countries. Therefore, the United States could not afford to act neutral as the decree further threatened to arrest both British and neutral citizens as well as capture or confiscate British and neutral ships within French territories.

Britain then reviewed their Orders in Council in January 1807; commercial relationships with France were disrupted just as the Berlin Decree did to Britain. Besides, the new orders included inspection of ships for ammunitions belonging to France. The decree was meant as a response to Napoleon’s attempt to cut commercial ties with Britain, her allies and neutral States.

Though Britain and France rolled out these acts to spite each other, the United States got frustrated over building any stable commercial relationships. As a result, President Jefferson suspended the Embargo Act before March 1809 and signed the Non-Intercourse Act on March 7.

Aimed at stiffening British and French international trade, the new act lifted embargoes on U.S. exports except for ships bound for the two warring European countries. Nonetheless, the act hardly benefited the United States. Passed before Jefferson left the White House, the Non-Intercourse Act, like the Embargo Act of 1807, was ineffective and was hardly enforced.

Influential Presidents of the United States

Though Britain and France rolled out these acts to spite each other, the United States got frustrated over building any stable commercial relationships. As a result, Congress passed the Non-Intercourse Act of March 1809, which removed all trade restrictions on American shipping with the exclusion of ships heading for French or British ports. The act was aimed at coercing Britain and France into ending their seizure of American goods, ships and seamen in the Atlantic Ocean. Image: Third United States President Thomas Jefferson

Napoleon subtly incites Britain against the U.S.

James Madison, sworn in as U.S President in March, 1810, then resorted to the Macon’s Bill Number 2 (signed on May 1, 1810) which lifted all trade restrictions on Britain and France on the condition that neither powers would disturb America’s marine trade in the course of the Napoleonic Wars. There was a caveat however. The law vowed to look favorably on any nation that ceased its harassment of American shipping. The law then stated to that the U.S. would maintain its embargo on the other country that continued in its disruption of U.S. trade.

Napoleon pretended to comply with the bill and temporarily halted France’s trade aggression against the U.S. The U.S. was therefore left with no choice than to embargo Britain. The very cunning French leader rightly anticipated that Britain would be outraged by the U.S.’s decision. Napoleon took this decision to further worsen U.S.-Britain ties to a point where the two nations would be forced into a war. That way, Britain’s attention could be taken away from the Napoleonic Wars.

America’s Westward Expansion pushes Native Americans further into the arms of Britain

Earlier in 1809, Indiana Territory governor William Henry Harrison led the U.S. to acquire 3 million acres of Native American land by signing the Treaty of Fort Wayne with leaders of such native groups as the Delawares, the Piankashaws and the Winnemac. Shawnee chief and warlord Tecumseh opposed the move, and warned the U.S to stay off native lands.

In 1811, the Native Americans (in modern day Indiana) prepared forces to ward off U.S. invaders. But while Tecumseh was away to recruit more soldiers, U.S. forces, led by William Henry Harrison, occupied the banks of the Tippecanoe in November 1811. Harrison defeated the native armies led by Tecumseh’s brother, Tenskwatawa at the Battle of Tippecanoe. U.S. forces also destroyed the prominent Natives American’s village Prophetstown.

The United States’ aggression toward the Natives forced Tecumseh to side with Britain, which at the time, had started envisaging a war erupting with the United States.

Besides, the United States provinces in the northwest were prone to Native American attacks while those in the south were also hard-hit by the disrupted marine trade.

War with Britain was projected by most Americans as the only way to reaffirm their independence.

Read More: Greatest Native American Leaders of All Time

The United States Declares War on Britain

On June 18, 1812, James Madison, upon deliberations with the U.S. “war hawks” of Congress, declared war on Britain. In the House, the declaration received a 79-49 votes in favor. In the Senate, 19 people supported declaring war on Britain, against 13.

But Britain had repealed trade restrictions on U.S. by the time letters of the declaration reached the British Crown. Interestingly, Britain waited for response from the U.S. concerning the repeal, while the U.S. likewise waited for Britain’s. In any case, it was too late to annul the declaration as U.S forces had already planned to open the first attack of the war on Canada.

It’s said that many British politicians were taken aback by the U.S. declaration of war against Britain. The last thing Britain needed was to have its forces stretched as it fought fiercely against Napoleon’s France.

After immense pressure from War Hawks in Congress, especially from Speaker of the House Henry Clay, President Madison went on to declare war against Britain on June 18, 1812. Image: James Madison, the 4th United States President

Why did Southern and Western Congressmen support the war against Britain?

Perhaps the biggest sufferers of Britain’s aggressive stance against American western expansion were the westerners and southerners. As those U.S. states were big advocates of the perpetuation of slavery, more U.S. territories in the west meant that slavery could be expanded into those areas. This in turn meant more business opportunities.

On the other hand, the Federalists, including many people from New England in the east, were very cautious about the ramifications of fighting a nation with a naval power as massive as Britain. Many Federalists were of the view that Western and Southern politicians simply wanted to use the war as a means to encourage America’s westward push.

Basically, the Federalists were pro-British and therefore tried to dissuade their counterparts, i.e. pro-French Republicans, from voting for a war against Britain. The Republicans had come to be pro-France because the French supported the United States during its fight for independence from Great Britain.

Battlefields and Warships

At the beginning of the war, the Royal Navy could boast of about 500 warships while the United States had only sixteen. President Madison and most of his countrymen underrated the formidability of Canada and projected that surrendering the north would bait Britain into negotiation on US expansion in the north and marine trade.

Noticeably, none of the battles was fought in Britain; in addition to battlefields in the United States, Native American provinces and Canada, navies clashed on Lake Champlain and River Thames, among others. While British forces marched into territories such as Washington, D.C., U.S. forces only invaded as far as the British colony Canada, with none of their (U.S) warships and navies landing near the waters of Britain.

In a war involving two nations separated by the Atlantic Ocean, and battlefields across rivers and lakes, warships could not be excluded. Britain deployed the HMS Detroit on Lake Erie under Captain George Chisholm and the HMS Wolfe on Lake Ontario captained by Commodore Sir James Lucas Yeo in October 1812 during the Battle of Queenston Heights. Considered the first major battle of the War, the battle saw Britain emerge victorious against a numerical superior US force.

Captain Philip Broke of the Royal Navy had the enormous HMS Shannon tow the USS Chesapeake eastward across the Atlantic to the port of Halifax during the Battle of Boston Harbour on June 6, 1813. Chesapeake’s captain, James Lawrence lost the battle, and died of severe wounds soon after.

Other warships deployed in the war include the USS Hamilton and Scourge; both sank in Lake Ontario during a storm in August 8, 1813. The U.S. Navy also had the “Constitution”, the “Eagle” and the “Ticonderoga” while the Royal Navy could boast of the Prince Regent, the St. Lawrence and the Tecumseth, among others.

Old Ironsides during the War of 1812

Also known as Old Ironsides, USS Constitution secured a famous victory against HMS Guerriere in a single-ship engagement.

Major Battles

Under Michigan governor William Hull, U.S. troops marched from Detroit into Canada in August 1812, but British Major General Isaac Brock, then-commanding officer of Upper Canada (present-day Ontario), and Tecumseh’s forces repulsed them back into Detriot, U.S.

With his forces defeated, Hull was forced to surrender at the west of Lake Erie in Detroit without firing any shots.

Before the incursion into Canada, many Republicans and Jeffersonians were extremely optimistic that U.S. forces could capture their neighbor’s territory and then force Britain into making some huge concessions. Lawmaker Henry Clay even claimed that Kentucky’s militiamen could singlehandedly deliver Montreal and Upper Canada (i.e. Ontario) to the United States.

Hull’s actions during the invasion disgusted the Americans, and Major General William Henry Harrison replaced him for the next invasion of Canada in the Battle of Queenston Heights on October 13, 1812.

At the Queenston Heights, U.S. forces – under Harrison, Major General Stephen Van Rensselaer and Lieut. Col. Winfield Scott – killed Brock during the brawl. However, Mohawk chiefs Superintendent John Brant and Major John Norton and the timely arrival of Major General Roger Hale Sheaffe with reinforcement overpowered the U.S forces. Pressed hard from all angles, Harrison could do no better than surrender to the combined British and Canadian forces at the signal of Scott. About 300 and 100 casualties were recorded on the U.S. and British sides, respectively. Britain also captured about 1,000 of Harrison’s men as war prisoners.

By 1813, British forces were less occupied in the Napoleonic Wars and they fully engaged the U.S. in various battles. On April 12, 1813, about 1,700 U.S. forces met British troops at Fort York in Upper Canada. Some 300 British forces were defeated, and York (now Ontario) was burnt down.

Contending over control of Lake Erie, U.S. Navy fired cannons on the Royal Navy warships in September 1813. The victory forced Britain to vacate Detroit.

The Native Americans led by Tecumseh teamed up with British forces under Major General Henry Procter to fight at the Battle of Thames on October 5, 1813. Tecumseh sought to get revenge for the U.S.’s destruction of Prophetstown, but he was killed and the combined forces of Tecumseh and Britain were decisively defeated by Harrison’s men. Britain and the natives lost some 600 troops including the warrior chief of Wyandot, Stiahta, while the U.S. recorded seven deaths and some twenty-two wounded men on their side. Procter, blamed for the defeat, was slapped with six-months suspension without pay and his rank was reduced.

Another U.S. major general, Andrew Jackson organized large troops, comprising American regulars, some Lower Creeks, Tennessee militiamen as well as the Cherokee of the Southeast Indians, to fight in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in March 1814 against Red Stick forces led by Chief Menewa. Jackson and his men killed over 800 out of 1,000 Red Stick soldiers. He also forced the surviving Red Sticks to sign the Treaty of Fort Jackson on August 9, 1814, which ceded over 9 million hectares (about 22 million acres) of Creek land to the United States. The ceded land created modern day Alabama and parts of Georgia.

The U.S government paid reparations to the displaced Upper Creeks in the form of food and also paid about $300,000 worth of claims on damaged properties. Jackson became popular after this battle, giving him an advantage to win the presidency later in 1828.

Further United States’ attempt to occupy Canada resulted in the bloody Lundy’s Lane Battle in Ontario near the Niagara River in July 1814. British forces under Major-General Phineas Riall and Lieut. Gov. Gordon Drummond faced U.S. forces led by Brigadier-General Winfield Scott, Lieut. Col. James Miller and Major-General Jacob Brown; the enemies fought from sunset till the midnight of July 25. The forces got exhausted, water and weapons were running down and army heads on both sides had incurred injuries. The U.S. forces retreated, and the equally exhausted British forces retreated as well.

The battle ended with over 850 casualties each on the British and U.S. side but the British and Canadians consoled themselves that at least the United States could not occupy any Canadian province. On the U.S. side, Miller was nicknamed “Hero of Lundy’s Lane” for a close-range attack which inflicted severe injuries on British forces.

The Battle of Bladensburg and the Burning of Washington, D.C.

On August 24 1814 ̶ barely a month after Lundy’s Lane ̶ the British revamped some 45,000 forces under Major General Robert Ross and Admiral Cochrane to besiege Washington, D.C. As the British advanced towards the U.S. Capitol, two out of the three bridges linking to the Capitol were demolished to limit their access.

Brigadier General William H. Winder led some U.S. troops to ward the enemy off the remaining bridge at Bladensburg while others watched out at Upper Marlborough.

A series of attempts  ̶̶  including Madison himself issuing orders and engaging the strategies of military heads such as Maryland’s major general Samuel Smith and lawyer Francis Scott Key  ̶  failed to repel the British army.

Commodore Joshua Barney with the flotiliamen (hired soldiers) and other US forces faced the British, leaving several casualties including Barney who was shot in the leg. Both sides had sustained severe casualties by nightfall, but the U.S. forces were so pressed that they retreated from Bladensburg bridge and battlegrounds across Maryland.

War of 1812

British forces torched many buildings in our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., including the White House

Facing little resistance from U.S. forces, Ross then marched his men towards Washington, D.C., successfully besieging the city on the night of August 24. Overpowered, U.S. forces evacuated the capital together with President Madison and his family. British forces at this time had the city at their disposal, but Ross and Cochrane commanded his men not to attack civilians and private properties.

The White House, which took Irish-born architect James Hoban eight years to finish (October 1972- November 1800) at the cost of $232,372 and had only housed Presidents John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Madison for  a total of thirteen years, was torched by British forces.

However, First Lady Dolley Madison managed to save some historical artefacts such as the portrait of the country’s first President George Washington before the fires.

Read More: 10 Most Influential First Ladies of the United States

Ross did not spare the congressmen who declared the war; he burnt down the magnificent seat of government  ̶  the Capitol, also built by Hoban with further remodeling by American architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe  ̶  which had hosted Congress for about fourteen years (1800-1814).  Many military buildings and public structures were set ablaze by British forces.

After displacing America’s first gentleman and his family, the remaining British forces could not find any easier way out of American soil. With no backup, and having lost some men by an accidental gunpowder explosion in Washington, D.C., some British forces were captured and jailed, while others died before their ships could touch the shores of Britain.

Heavy downpour saves Washington, D.C. from total ruin

Had it not been for the heavy downpour that occurred that day to douse the fire, our nation’s capital would have suffered much more damage than it did. The rain also came with thunderstorm that disorientated occupying British forces in the capital. Some Americans took this as providence and the Almighty’s favor.

At some point, politicians considered relocating the capital to another city (perhaps back to Philadelphia) as the reconstruction cost of the capital appeared very steep. The proposal was voted against by the House in an 83-74 vote.

Defence of Fort M’Henry

The horrible sight at Bladensburg as fires consumed the White House inspired American poet Francis Scott Key to write the poem “Defence of Fort M’Henry” in mid-September, 1814. The poem became America’s national anthem titled “The Star Spangled Banner” in 1931.

Apparently, Scott and Col. John Stuart Skinner had joined British crew on the HMS “Tonnant” to seek the release of one American prisoners of war named Dr. William Beanes. Scott and the others were however under British guard after Beanes was freed. He watched British forces fiercely engaged his countrymen in the follow up Battle of Baltimore on September 13, 1814, and began to write the poem that same night.

Highlight of the Battle of Baltimore and Francis Scott’s Poem

Between September 12 and 14, Britain staged another invasion on the shipbuilding ports of Baltimore. Over 4,000 British forces under Cochrane, Ross and Rear Admiral George Cockburn occupied the Chesapeake Bay and faced some 3,000 U.S. forces led by Brigadier General John Stricker. The ensuing battle injured about 300 and killed forty-six British troops including Ross. On the other hand, American forces recorded twenty-eight deaths and 250 wounded men.

But that was not all in Baltimore; on September 13, for as long as 25 hours, sixteen British warships bombarded Fort McHenry from a distance not convenient enough to bring it down due to its defensive chains and artilleries commanded by Major George Armistead.  British forces gave up the bombardment and retreated. This was the ultimate battle scene which influenced the original title of Scott’s poem “Defence of Fort M’Henry”.

The Battle of Plattsburg

Neither Britain nor the U.S. allowed their men enough time to rest from the Bladensburg experience nor go back to the trade which had triggered so much hostilities. Earlier in September 1814, Chief Commander Sir George Prevost had led some British soldiers on incognito routes from Canada to Plattsburgh where they clashed with U.S. forces.

Meanwhile, British and U.S. warships had sailed their navies with their respective captains George Downie and Thomas Macdonough to fight on Lake Champlain on September 11 in the Battle of Plattsburg. Britain surrendered after Downie was killed, and Prevost’s men and the remaining British navy retreated.

The Treaty of Ghent

Outcome of the Plattsburg set the scene for peace talks in Ghent, Belgium, which ultimately brought an end to the war with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814. In effect, both sides were required to return provinces they captured in the three-year war, and the U.S-Canadian boundaries were maintained.

Britain also agreed to suspend its efforts in trying to create a nation for the Native Americans in the Northwest. For many years, Britain supported calls for an Indian state, hoping that such a state would serve as a buffer against America’s westward expansion.

Basically, the pre-war condition of both nations was restored, meaning American failed to attain its pre-war objective of halting British violations of U.S. maritime rights.

However, the two sides were able to set up an robust resolution technique for resolving any future border dispute. This measure was a very important outcome of the war, considering the fact that the United States-Canada border is the world’s longest unfortified international border, measuring 8,891 km (5,525 mi) long.

War of 1812

The Treaty of Ghent, which was signed on December 24, 1814 in the city of Ghent (today’s Belgium), brought to a conclusion the War of 1812

The Battle of New Orleans and the Ratification of the Treaty of Ghent

By the time news of ceasefire and the Treaty of Ghent reached the United States and the British troops stationed in Canada, British lieutenant general Sir Edward Packenham and his men had already crossed the Gulf Coast in an attempt to claim the Mississippi River and the wealthy ports of New Orleans.

On January 8, 1815, Andrew Jackson had his army right on time to attack and repel British troops in the Battle of New Orleans. It took less than an hour for the American forces to comprehensively defeat the British, who were led by Major General Sir Edward Pakenham and Major General Samuel Gibbs. The death toll from the Battle of New Orleans for the Americans was around 13, while the British suffered close to 300 deaths, including Pakenham and Gibbs.

Battle of New Orleans 1815

Taking place 15 days after the signing of the Treaty of Ghent (in modern day Belgium) which formally ended the War of 1812, the Battle of New Orleans witnessed American forces, led by Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, face off against British forces, led by Major General Sir Edward Pakenham. American forces recorded a resounding victory over the British.

News of ceasefire arrived in the United States almost at the same time as Andrew Jackson’s victory. Britain required the U.S. Senate to either ratify or reject the peace treaty without making any amendment. The Senate had no issue with the treaty so long as America’s Independence was intact and they could boast of the victory at Plattsburg as well as the restored U.S-Canada boundaries.

Without delay, Senate unanimously approved the treaty on February 16, 1814, officially ending the war which had claimed the lives of some 14,500 Americans and 8,500 British and Canadians within three years.

Why didn’t Canada welcome America’s invasion attempts with open arms?

Like many of Jeffersonians and Republicans, then-U.S. Secretary of War William Eustis erroneously thought that Canadians couldn’t wait to rid themselves off British rule. Eustis believed that the U.S. could simply take Canada with only officers, stating that Canadians would “rally around” America’s flag. Eustis and other political figures like Clay could not have been more wrong. U.S. forces that crossed into Canada were fiercely repelled by a joint Canadian-Native American force.

A big win for the Republicans

Since the Federalists politicians took an antiwar stance, the party came to be seen by many as one that was bereft of national pride and patriotism. Republicans accused the Federalists of being too pro-Britain and not standing up to defend America’s honor.

Having been tagged as an unAmerican party, the Federalist Party steadily began to decline until its ultimate demise few years later.

Who were the biggest losers?

Perhaps the biggest losers of the war were the Native Americans. First off all, their dreams of having a nation of their own was dashed per the Treaty of Ghent. Secondly, with Britain less interested in protecting Native Americans in the northwest, America proceeded to unleash unspeakable horrors upon the Native tribes. The infamous Trail of Tears in the 1830s captures their sorrows and pain.

Why was it called “Mr. Madison’s War”?

At some point, New Englanders had so much had enough with the Republicans’ push for war against Britain that some of their politicians wanted to secede from the Union. The New Englanders even termed the War of 1812 as “Mr. Madison’s War”. This explains why New England militia dragged their feet in given support during the early few months of the war.

As British naval blockades began to pinch New Englanders badly, some politicians in those states even proposed having a secret negotiation with the British. Incensed that their states’ rights had been ignored, those politicians blamed the southerners and westerners for dragging the entire country into war against Britain.

What the above means is that the Southerners were not the first to preach for states’ rights in the fledgling republic. Instead it was the New Englanders in the North.


Although the young nation of the United States suffered some very terrible defeats in a number of battles during the war, the fact that U.S. forces refused yielding to Britain was a monumental achievement. Britain at the time had no equal in terms of its naval power. This explains why the British found it so easy to impose its will in the Atlantic Ocean.

Notwithstanding those costly defeats, the few victories the U.S. secured [in places like New Orleans, Baltimore, and New York] against Britain went a long way in boosting its national pride. For example, the victory at New Orleans in 1815 was celebrated by many across the United States.

In addition to boosting the nation’s pride, the War of 1812 helped advance the military and political career of some very important figures. The likes of Andrew Jackson and Winfield Scott were praised for their military leadership. Similarly, figures like James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and William Henry Harrison who featured during the war all went on to become presidents of the United States.

10 frequently asked questions about the War of 1812

Here are some frequently asked questions about the War of 1812 along with concise answers:

Why is it called the War of 1812?

It is called the War of 1812 because it officially began in June 1812 when the United States declared war against Britain.

What were the major causes of the War of 1812?

The main causes included British impressment of American sailors, trade disputes, British support for Native American resistance, and American desire to expand into Canada.

Who were the major figures in the War of 1812?

Major figures included U.S. President James Madison, British commanders Sir Isaac Brock and Tecumseh, and future U.S. President Andrew Jackson.

What were the major battles of the War of 1812?

Key battles included the Battle of Lake Erie, Battle of New Orleans, Battle of Fort McHenry (inspiring the U.S. national anthem), and the capture and burning of Washington, D.C.

How did the War of 1812 end?

The war officially ended with the Treaty of Ghent in December 1814, although news of the treaty took time to reach all theaters of war. The Battle of New Orleans occurred after the treaty was signed but before the news reached the United States.

What were the consequences of the War of 1812?

The war had mixed outcomes. It ended with no significant territorial changes, but it bolstered American nationalism, weakened Native American resistance, and eliminated British influence in the western frontier.

Did the War of 1812 have any impact on the United States’ relationship with Britain?

Yes, the war led to an improved relationship between the United States and Britain in the long term. It marked the beginning of a period of peaceful relations and trade.

Did the War of 1812 have any influence on American culture?

Yes, it had a cultural impact, inspiring patriotic songs like the U.S. national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and boosting American pride and identity.

Why is the Battle of New Orleans (1815) significant?

The Battle of New Orleans, fought two weeks after the Treaty of Ghent was signed, was a significant American victory that boosted national pride and played a role in Andrew Jackson’s rise to prominence.

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