(The War of 1812 and After)

The second war with England had been long foreshadowed—in 1793, when aggressions were committed on our commerce; in 1807, when an embargo was forced upon us as the only alternative, and thereafter almost uninterruptedly until the formal declaration was made in 1812. These foreshadowings also pointed to war with France, whose offenses against our commerce had been equally exasperating, and in one period, under Napoleon, much greater than those of England. Diplomacy had been tried in vain. Six years of protest against Orders in Council restricting our trade had led only to futile results. Retaliation by non-intercourse acts and an embargo had resulted in greater harm to ourselves than to the offenders.

The young Republic, threatened as it so often had been with disintegration, now by the Federalists, now by the Republicans; with a periodical deficit in its treasury, and with 3,000 miles of ocean separating it from the offenders, was in no condition to wage an aggressive war against Napoleon, the conqueror of Europe. It chose instead to join issue with England, the determining factor being an opportunity to make the scene of war a near neighbor—Canada. At the beginning, the war was popular throughout the country, except with New England shipmasters. Congress voted for it by 79 to 49 in the House and 19 to 13 in the Senate. With the war as a chief issue Madison was handsomely reelected. A new country of 8,000,000 people, widely scattered, and poor in credit, went to war with 20,000,000 of people who had recently driven the French navy from the sea and Napoleon's army out of Spain.

Operations began on our northern frontier. Two expeditions were dispatched to Canada, one by way of Niagara, one by Detroit. The first failed to gain possession of the country beyond a few frontier forts, the second ended in a disastrous retreat by Governor Hull, and the loss of Detroit, Fort Dearborn (Chicago), and Mackinac Island. These events, combined with hostilities from the Indians, who had long been troublesome, and were now cooperating with the British, put in peril the whole Northwest Territory—that region secured to the colonies by George Rogers Clark in 1779, and out of which great States have since been carved. But this calamity was averted by the splendid victory of Perry on Lake Erie, and the work of our land forces at Chippewa and Lundy's Lane.

More memorable still were the victories won by our ships on the sea. On August 19, 1812, England's chief offender in making searches of American ships, the Guerrière, was captured by the Constitution; then the Frolic was captured by the Wasp; the Macedonian by the United States, the Java and other ships by the Constitution. Later came Macdonough's splendid victory on Lake Champlain. Six months of naval warfare led to American successes that astonished Europeans who remembered Nelson's victories at Copenhagen, Aboukir Bay and Trafalgar. One notable defeat came to us—that of Lawrence, with the Chesapeake lost to the Shannon. American privateers took up the war in 1813, and captured 400 prizes.

In spite of all these successes our merchantships, had suffered badly. Altogether the English captured more than 1,600, so that, by the end of the war, the American flag had almost ceased to float on merchant ships. The war lasted nearly three years. Its total cost has been reckoned as $100,000,000, not counting the loss in ships and other properties, and about 30,000 lives. The losses to our shipping bred growing discontent which found a voice in 1814 in the Hartford Convention of December that year. This convention was generally expected to recommend to New England an act of secession, and it did result in a declaration that, unless New England could retain the duties collected at her ports, she would withdraw from the Union. But nothing more was ever heard from that disloyal threat. One victory came to American arms after the articles of peace were signed—the battle of New Orleans, in which Andrew Jackson, with his frontier riflemen, swept away the Peninsular veterans of Packenham.

Jackson's victory and the naval victories of Perry on Lake Erie, of the Constitution, and Macdenough, became our chief benefits from this war. Peace left matters between us and England very much where they were in 1812. The advantages to us lay in the great and new prestige won for us in Europe by "Old Hickory" and "Old Ironsides." After 1814 our population increased rapidly. The revenues at the close of the war had fallen to about $11,000,000, but two years later they rose to $45,000,000. Industries revived everywhere, and an era of prosperity set in such as none had dreamed possible. Andrew Jackson, who at Tallapoosa, in March, 1814, by a great victory, first broke the Indian power in the South, gave to the country further conspicuous services by invading Florida in 1818. Here the Seminoles had become troublesome to American settlers and the Spanish authorities had completely failed to preserve order. Jackson, in consequence, virtually took possession of Florida. Soon afterward Florida was annexed to the United States.

In addition to Jackson's victories over the Indians in Georgia and Florida, came in these years the victories of Harrison in the Northwest Territory, and on the Thames, in Canada, the results of which, combined with Jacksons work, were eventually to force the Indians beyond the Mississippi, and thus to open the new West to settlements. Pioneers in great volume now poured into the Middle West, until our population by 1820 had become 10,000,000.

These movements were helped forward immensely by new mechanical inventions. First of these was the steamboat of Robert Fulton, in 1807, which by 1820 had been followed by a large use of steam navigation on inland waters, the Hudson, the Mississippi, and the Great Lakes. Inventions in Europe for the manufacture of cotton goods led to new and larger demands for the chief product of the South. Aided by the cotton gin, invented in 1793, and now in general use, the cotton crop enormously increased, adding to the wealth of all the States producing it. In these years plans were made for a vast system of internal improvements, including not only roads but canals, first of which was the Erie Canal, completed in 1825, and then, followed the railroad.

Along with the growth in cotton production came new demand for slaves. Now for the first time rose real danger to the Republic from the institution of slavery, a danger which thirty years afterward became grim and portentous. The issue first came to a settlement in the famous Missouri Compromise of March, 1820. The whole question was thus put quietly away for another generation. And then &151; "squatter sovereignty" and civil war.

F. W. H.

Volume IV
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© 2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman