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The Origins of The War of 1812

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The origins of the War of 1812 were in the conflict that raged in Europe for almost two decades after Napoleon Bonaparte became First Consul (later Emperor) of France. These Napoleonic Wars (1799–1815) caused Great Britain to adopt measures that greatly aggravated the United States. On 21 November 1806, Napoleon ordered a blockade of shipping (the Berlin Decree) aimed at crippling British trade. He ordered all European ports under his control closed to British ships and further decreed that neutral and French ships would be seized if they visited a British port before entering a continental port (the so-called Continental System).Great Britain responded to Napoleon with a series of orders-in-council requiring all neutral ships to obtain a licence before they could sail to Europe. Following the victory of Lord Nelson at Trafalgar on 21 October 1805, Great Britain had the sea power to enforce its blockade of France.

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For many years the Americans had grappled with the problems of being a neutral nation in the great European war. Tensions mounted as the British began stopping American ships from trading in Europe. Even more vexing was the British practice of searching American vessels for “contraband” (defined by the British as goods they declared illegal) and of searching for deserters who had fled the harsh conditions of the Royal Navy. Many of these deserters had taken jobs on American ships, but American certificates of citizenship made no impression on the British. Moreover, some British captains even tried to impress (seize) native-born Americans and put them into service on British ships.

These maritime tensions exploded, literally, in 1807 off the shore of Chesapeake Bay. While a British naval squadron was watching the area for French ships, several British sailors deserted and promptly enlisted in the American navy. The captain of the American 38-gun frigate Chesapeake knew that he had deserters on board when HMS Leopard tried to board and search his ship. When the Chesapeake refused to heave to, the 50-gun Leopard opened fire, killing three and injuring 18 of the crew. The British boarded and seized four men. This “Chesapeake Affair” outraged even temperate Americans. Several years later, on 1 May 1811, officers from the British ship HMS Guerriere impressed an American sailor from a coastal vessel, causing further tension. This dispute over maritime rights might have been resolved with diplomacy; in fact, the new British government of Lord Liverpool rescinded the orders-in-council a few days before the US declared war, though the news hadn’t reached America in time. Moreover, not all Americans wanted war with Great Britain, notably the merchants of New England and New York.

However, President James Madison was intrigued by the analysis of Major General Dearborn that in the event of war, Canada would be easy pickings – even that an invasion would be welcomed by the Canadians. Furthermore, the “War Hawks,” a group of Congressmen from the south and west, loudly demanded war. Motivated by Anglophobia and nationalism, these Republicans encouraged war as a means to retaliate against Britain for the economic distress caused by the blockade, and for what they perceived as British support for the First Nations in resisting American expansion into the West. On 18 June 1812, President Madison signed a declaration of war against Great Britain, supported by both the Senate and Congress.

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As American leaders planned their invasion of Canada, they quickly decided that Upper Canada was the most vulnerable to attack. The Atlantic provinces were protected by British sea power, and Lower Canada was protected by its remoteness and by the fortress of Québec. In contrast, Upper Canada seemed to be an easy target. The population was predominantly American and the province was lightly defended. Upper Canada was defended by about 1,600 British regulars, formed mostly from the 41st Regiment of Foot and detachments from other units. However, the badly outnumbered British were in fact better prepared than the Americans knew. The 41st Regiment of British regulars had been reinforced by a number of militia units (although their loyalty and reliability was uncertain). The Provincial Marine controlled Lake Ontario. Much of the preparation was thanks to the foresight of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, administrator of Upper Canada. Brock had a thorough grasp of the challenges of the upcoming conflict and had been preparing for five years, reinforcing fortifications, training militia units and, perhaps most important, developing alliances with the First Nations.

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The Origins of the War of 1812. (2019, January 03). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 28, 2023, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-origins-of-the-war-of-1812/
“The Origins of the War of 1812.” GradesFixer, 03 Jan. 2019, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-origins-of-the-war-of-1812/
The Origins of the War of 1812. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-origins-of-the-war-of-1812/> [Accessed 28 May 2023].
The Origins of the War of 1812 [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Jan 03 [cited 2023 May 28]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-origins-of-the-war-of-1812/
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