What Caused the War of 1812?

A reenactment of the War of 1812 in Ontario, Canada.
A reenactment of the War of 1812 in Ontario, Canada.

What Caused The War Of 1812?

War of 1812 was a conflict that lasted from 1812 to 1815 and was fought between the US and the UK, Canada, and Native American allies. While the scholars in Canada and the US see the war in its own merit, the British always see it as part of the Napoleonic Wars. By the end of the war in February 1815, several issues that led to the war had been resolved with peace returning to the area without boundary changes. The US suffered costly defeat by the British, Canadians, and the Native Americans over the course of the war including the capture and destruction of Washington DC in August 1814. However, the US military were able to prevent the British invasion of New York, New Orleans, and Baltimore. The War of 1812 ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent in February 1815.

Additional Causes Of The War

The US declared war on the British and its allies for several reasons including trade restriction as a result of British war with the French, the support the British troops was offering Native American tribes fighting the European-American settlers, impressments of several American merchants, insult to nations pride during Chesapeake-Leopard Affair, and the US interest in extending its borders.

Trade Restriction

At the start of the 19th century, the British were engaged in a bitter conflict with the French. During this conflict, the US interest was injured by both countries. In an attempt to prevent supplies from reaching either end, both countries tried to prevent the US from engaging with the other. The US trade with the French and the Spanish had initially prospered. However, in 1807, the British passed the Order in Council requiring a neutral ship be licensed by the English authorities before trading with the French and its colonies. The French, in turn, announced the Milan Decree requiring its authorities to capture any neutral vessel that submitted to search by the British. As a result, the US ship that had complied with the British demands was captured by the French at the European port while those that complied with the French decree could fall prey to the Royal Navy.

Impressments Of American Merchants

The Royal Navy outraged the Americans by their impressments of the US merchants. The British removed thousands of seamen from the US merchant vessels and handing them over to the British. In 1807, a US vessel, Chesapeake was fired at and captured by the HMS Leopard and seizing four sailors, three of which were the US citizens. Although the British apologized, the Congress was forced to pass the Embargo Act forbidding all export ships from the US ports and import from Britain. However, the measure was dropped in 1810. Napoleon subsequently suggested that he would remove all trade restrictions. Meanwhile, President Madison stopped the American- Britain trade while the New Congress began pushing for war over the British violation of the maritime rights as well as encouraging the Native American hostility against the Americans.

Declaration Of War

A group of young Republicans-Democrats known as “War Hawk” led by the House Speaker Henry Clay put more pressure on President Madison to declare war on the British. The War Hawks championed for the war against the Great Britain because of the above and concentrated on the grievances more than the expansion of the territories. On June 18, 1812, Madison signed a declaration of war against the Britain with the war beginning immediately.


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