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What Was the War of 1812?

By Rebecca Partington
Updated May 17, 2024
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The War of 1812 was a war between the United States and the United Kingdom. The countries at war included the United States, the United Kingdom, and some of the United Kingdom's colonies: Upper and Lower Canada (now Ontario and Quebec, respectively), Nova Scotia, and Bermuda. During this war, 2260 American and 1600 British troops died.

This war had several causes: the United Kingdom was warring with France, and wanted to keep the United States from trading hemp with France; the forced conscripting of Americans into the British navy; general British control on American trade; alleged British military aid for Americans Indians defending themselves against American settlers; and American desire to expand territory.

The Americans were not successful in the beginning of the War of 1812 because their repeated attempts to cross into Canada were blocked by General Issac Brock. The majority of General Brock's army consisted of local militias and American Indians who were allied with the British. The American army also consisted of local militias, but the militia members often refused to serve or had incompetent leaders, and the Americans also suffered from a lack of financial resources and many logistical problems. In addition, New England refused to provide troops or money for the war effort.

The British had plenty of money and superior logistical arrangements, but their concurrent war with France was deemed more important. Because of this, for the first two years of the War of 1812, the British took a defensive approach. In 1814, the war with France ended and the British sent armies to invade the US, but the Americans had finally adapted to fighting the British and devised better ways to solve logistical problems.

Although a large portion of the east coast was blockaded by the Royal Navy throughout the war, trade remained open through New England because of trade relationships with Britain and Canada. This blockade was extremely damaging to agricultural exports from the United States, but was good for manufacturing, as Americans had to rely on themselves for the production of goods.

Although the Americans attempted to defend its ports with small gunboats, this strategy was a failure due to British naval superiority. One of the more famous battles of the War of 1812 was a series of attacks on Chesapeake Bay, which ended in the Burning of Washington, during which the White House and the Capitol were burned down. The Americans managed some success with using hired mercenaries, or privateers, to attack British merchant ships. They also won control of Lake Erie, which served to keep western Ontario in check. American control of Lake Champlain allowed them to repel a British invading force in 1814.

In 1814, the British and Americans agreed to peace, returning the national boundaries to their prewar locations. In January of 1815, they signed the Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812. In retrospect, this war united both the Canadians and the Americans much more strongly than they had been before the war.

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Discussion Comments
By Spacetrucker — On Jan 23, 2014

It's strange that when one looks into the Antebellum reference on this site, they declare the battle of 1812 was an American victory that legitimized the US as a formidable power.

Someone needs to either correct this or re-educate me as to how on earth this could be claimed as a victory, unless getting your capital razed and White House burned down is now considered a win.

By dkarnowski — On Oct 14, 2010

I think it is a result of the war of 1812 that we now have such a close and crucial relationship with our neighbor Canada to the North. It almost seems that this conflict with our motherland of Brittan was the sealing force in creating a North American alliance of what is now, a world power of force.

While I do think that Canada is a much more peaceful nation the United States is, has been and will continue to be perceived as. Hopefully their moderation in the use of force and the declaration of war will temper our own desires to expand our military industrial complex.

By fitness234 — On Oct 14, 2010

I think the most historically significant part to the results of the war of 1812 is the burning of Washington D.C. Can you imagine what it would have been like to see the white house on fire? What a horrible ordeal for these new citizens to see the capital that they worked so hard for burning by the very British they fought not even fifty years previously.

War is obviously never a good thing but perhaps some relief can be found in the fact that we were able to rebuild from that point and become the great nation that we are now. Sometimes war can end with things being better then before but you know that the family of every dead soldier could never agree with that statement.

By IceCarver — On Oct 14, 2010

The war of 1812 is a prime example of a war where one of the parties in conflict actually help the indigenous people as a means of fending off their enemy.

It is widely believed that the British support of Native Americans during the war of 1812 caused significant problems of the settlers trying to occupy the newly formed United States.

By providing arms, horses and other military tools, these now well armed groups of natives could cause quite a bit of struggle for the settlers and many died because of this support.

The ironic part of this action is of course that it was the British that originally had a huge hand in actually helping to settle America. So the natives were now helping the original settling force but then again, they were attacking the root of their perceived problem, the settler.

By ronburg44 — On Oct 14, 2010

When I think of war, I usually correlate the concept with a great deal of death but the reality is that some wars have significantly more casualties then others. The war of 1812 is a good example of a war that really didn't kill a drastic number of humans, especially when you compare it to major military conflicts the the revolutionary war in the United States or Vietnam.

While the several thousand that did die serving their countries during the war of 1812 battles, this number is very similar in body count to the modern war being held in Afghanistan and Iraq right now.

I would perceive that the wars we are currently waging are significantly of large scale then the War of 1812 and so the comparable number of casualties might be correlated to the expansion of technology and smarter fighting techniques.

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