|Results of the war of 1812
The Treaty of Ghent, signed on Christmas Eve in 1814, was essentially an armistice. Both sides simply agreed to stop fighting and to restore conquered territory. No mention was made of those grievances for which America had ostensibly fought: the Indian menace, search and seizure, Orders in Council, impressment, and confiscations. These maritime omissions have often been cited as further evidence of the insincerity of the war hawks. Rather, they are proof that the Americans did not defeat the British decisively. With neither side able to impose its will, the treaty negotiations--like the war itself--ended as a virtual draw.
The news from Ghent triggered an outburst of rejoicing in the United States. Many Americans had rather expected to lose some territory, so dark was the military outlook early in 1815. But when the treaty arrived, the public mood rocketed from gloom to glory. The popularity of the pact was so overwhelming that it was unanimously approved by the Senate. A slogan of the hour became "Not One Inch of Territory Ceded or Lost"--a phrase that contrasted strangely with "On to Canada" at the outset of the war.
The most spectacular manifestation of Federalist discontent was the ill-omened Hartford Convention. Late in 1814, when the capture of New Orleans seemed imminent, Massachusetts issued a call for a convention at Hartford, Connecticut. The states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island dispatched full delegations, whereas New Hampshire and Vermont sent partial representation. This group of prominent men, twenty-six in all, met in complete secrecy for about three weeks--December 15, 1814, to January 5, 1815--to discuss their grievances and to seek redress for their wrongs.
In truth, the Hartford Convention was actually less radical than the alarmists supposed. Its immediate goal was to secure financial assistance from Washington, because the shores of New England were then being menaced by British blockading squadrons. A minority of the delegates gave vent to much wild talk of secession, but they were outvoted by the moderate Federalists. The report and resolutions adopted by the Hartford Convention, in fact, resemble a modern political platform.
The Hartfordites, resenting the war-bent policies of the administration, were eager to restore New England to its stellar role on the national stage. They recommended amendments to the Constitution aimed at hobbling Congress and restoring Federalist influence by a kind of minority veto. These proposals would require a two-thirds vote before an embargo could be imposed, before new western states could be admitted, and before war could be declared--except in case of invasion.
Three special envoys from Massachusetts, bearing demands of the Hartford Convention for financial support to promote defense, journeyed to the burned-out capital of Washington. The trio arrived just in time to be overwhelmed by the glorious news from New Orleans, followed by that from Ghent. Pursued by the sneers and jeers of the press, they slunk away into obscurity and disgrace.
Unhappily, the stench of treason has clung to the Hartford Convention. The taint was not justified by its formal resolutions. Yet if the War of 1812 had not ended when it did, the convention might well have paved the way for treasonable courses.
Federalist doctrines of disunity, which long survived the party, blazed a fateful trail. Until 1815 there was far more talk of nullification and secession in New England than in any other section, including the South.
The War of 1812 was a small war, involving about 6,000 Americans killed or wounded. It was but a footnote to the mighty European conflagration. In 1812, when Napoleon invaded Russia with about 500,000 men, Madison tried to invade Canada with about 5,000 men. But if the American conflict was globally unimportant, its results were highly important to the United States.
Americans wrested no formal recognition of their rights on the high seas, but informally they did. No longer did British aristocrats jeer at the "striped bunting" over "American cockboats." The Republic had shown that it would resist, sword in hand, what it regarded as grievous wrongs. Other nations developed a new respect for American fighting men. Naval officers like Perry and Macdonough were the most effective type of negotiators; the hot breath of their broadsides spoke the most eloquent diplomatic language. America's diplomats abroad were henceforth treated with less scorn. In a diplomatic sense, if not in a military sense, the conflict could be called the Second War for American Independence.
A new nation was welded in the fiery furnace of armed conflict. Sectionalism, now identified with discredited New England Federalists, was given a black eye. The painful events of the war glaringly revealed, as perhaps nothing else could have done, the folly of sectional disunity. In a sense the most conspicuous casualty of the war was the Federalist party.
The nation thrilled to the victories of its warriors. A brilliant naval tradition, already well launched, was strengthened by the exploits of the gallant seamen. The ineptitude of insubordinate or fleeing militia was forgotten. The battle-singed regular army, which in the closing months of the war had fought bravely and well, had won its spurs. War heroes emerged, such as Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison, both of whom were to become president.
Hostile Indians in the South had been crushed by Jackson at Horseshoe Bend (1814) and those in the North by Harrison at the Battle of the Thames (1813). Left in the lurch by their British friends at Ghent, the Indians were forced to make such terms as they could. They reluctantly consented, in a series of treaties, to relinquish vast areas of forested land north of the Ohio River. The Indians were big losers.
Manufacturing increased behind the fiery wooden wall of the British blockade. In an economic sense, as well as in a diplomatic sense, the War of 1812 may be regarded as the Second War for American Independence. The industries that were thus stimulated by the fighting rendered America less dependent on Europe's workshops.
Regrettably, the war revived and intensified bitterness toward England. The uglier incidents of the conflict, notably the burning of Washington, added fuel to a century of Britain hating and Britain baiting. Mutual suspicion and hate were perhaps the most enduring heritages of this frustrating war. Few Americans could have guessed in 1815 that it was to be the nation's last armed conflict with England.
Canadian patriotism and nationalism, no less than American patriotism and nationalism, received a powerful stimulus from the clash. The outnumbered Canadians, fighting bravely in defense of their homeland against the Yankee invaders, won their full share of the laurels. Their stirring song "The Maple Leaf" ringingly recalls these battles, including Chippewa and Lundy's Lane, which Americans regard as their victories.
Many Canadians felt betrayed by the Treaty of Ghent. They were especially aggrieved by the failure to secure an Indian buffer state or even mastery of the Great Lakes. Canadians fully expected the frustrated Yankees to return, and for a time the Americans and British engaged in a naval armaments race on the Great Lakes. But in 1817 the Rush-Bagot agreement between Britain and the United States severely limited naval armament on the lakes. Better relations brought the last border fortifications down in the 1870s, with the happy result that the United States and Canada came to share the world's longest unfortified boundary --5,527 miles (8,899 kilometers) long.
After Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo in 1815, Europe slumped into a peace of exhaustion. Deposed monarchs returned to battered thrones, as the Old World took the rutted road back to conservatism, illiberalism, and reaction.
But the American people were largely unaffected by these European developments. Freed from the humiliating side blows of the belligerents, they no longer had to scan the Atlantic horizon for approaching sails--sails that might bring news of impending calamities. Americans thrilled to a new sense of nationality. They were like subject peoples attaining their majority and for the first time shaking off the shackles of colonialism. Turning their backs on the Old World, they faced resolutely toward the untamed West. Unlike monarchy-cursed Europe, Americans were ready to take the high road toward democracy, liberalism, and freedom. The steady tramp, tramp, tramp of the westward-moving pioneers came to be the giant drumbeat of a new destiny.
The causes and consequences of the War of 1812 have long sparked spirited debate. Was war the result of western war-hawk expansionism or of British provocations on the high seas? Most recent historians emphasize the naval issue. The young nation's pride and independence, they argue, could not tolerate John Bull's repeated affronts. The Jeffersonian Republicans accepted the need for war because they believed that the future of their party, and indeed of the entire American experiment in republican government, rested on the infant nation's ability to prove that it could meet external challenges.
Perhaps more interestingly, scholars also have seen the first vague outlines of an American identity emerging from the smoke of the War of 1812. Henry Adams's magisterial History made this theme a central motif; Adams found evidence of a distinctive American character even in the tactics and techniques of Yankee seamen. The war does appear to have dissolved many localisms and to have begun the forging of a genuine national consciousness--thus paving the way for an upsurge of expansionism and nationalism in the so-called "Era of Good Feelings."