THIS WEEK in the War of 1812: June 11, 2012
By early June 1812, war between the United States and Great Britain was growing inevitable. Since 1806, while it battled Napoleon’s navy, the Royal Navy had seized thousands of American sailors to serve on British ships.
Indian bands on the Northwest frontier – modern day Indiana, Illinois and Michigan – were joining Shawnee leader Tecumseh’s confederacy to resist white encroachment. A group of mostly southern and western congressmen, known as the ‘War Hawks’ advocated war with Britain over the Indian threat and British interference with U.S. maritime trade.
On June 1, President James Madison sent a message to Congress outlining all of these grievances. Congress debated what to do for more than two weeks.
The War of 1812 began on June 18, of that year. Hostilities continued until February 1815. It was a conflict of contradiction and irony.
During most of the war, the American Army – which usually contained more militia men than professional soldiers – seemed incapable of doing anything right on land, while the Navy’s leaders seemed like they could do no wrong. (Two of the Navy’s most stirring mottoes – “Don’t give up the ship” and “We have met the enemy and they are ours” come out of the War of 1812).
It occurred at a time before the telegraph or steamship, so news traveled slowly by horseback or sailing ship. The United States Congress declared war not knowing that two days earlier the British government decided to withdraw the Orders in Council allowing the Royal Navy to stop and seize ships from neutral nations like the United States.
The Americans’ biggest victory, at New Orleans, occurred 15 days after a peace treaty had already been signed in Europe between British and American envoys.
As the only major U.S. armed conflict with another nation between the 1780s and the 1840s, the War of 1812 saw the rise of several national figures like Andrew Jackson and Oliver Hazard Perry. In fact, six future U.S. presidents served in some capacity during the war: James Monroe, Jackson, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor and James Buchanan.
Shortly after war was declared, some in the United States started calling it the Second War of Independence. Like the American Revolution, the War of 1812 saw fighting in the North, the Mid-Atlantic, the Deep South, the Western Frontier and upon the high seas.
The hardships it imposed on U.S. maritime trade nearly forced the first secession movement – in the North.
The war’s bicentennial is being commemorated in Canada, where it is seen as a war against American invasion. In his 2011 message to the country on the start of the 1812 commemoration, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper noted “The War helped establish our path toward becoming an independent and free country, united under the Crown with a respect for linguistic and ethnic diversity.”
Next week we begin posting a summary of all-war related events that occurred that week 200 years earlier.