Who won the war of 1812?
Patrick Harris -
Since it ended it 1814, there has been constant debate over who won the War of 1812. Historically both sides have claimed victory. Each truly believes that they achieved a significant strategic goal in the war.
The Americans have several reasons that they were the winners of this war, characterizing it as their “Second War of Independence” (ushistory.org). Though the American army did not succeed in it’s mere mater of marching in order to capture British North America, which was a stated war goal by the jingoistic war hawks in congress, the American’s believe that they have quite a lot to be proud of from this forgotten war. One of the main pretexts that the American government had for declaring war on Britain was the impressment of American merchant sailors to British warships. After the end of the war, this practice stopped, leading the American’s to believe that their actions in the war had stopped this deplorable practice. Also, the American’s point to their battle record, which shows that many of the larger battles of the war were in fact American victories, such as Jackson’s near total annihilation of Pankenham’s force at New Orleans; or the heroic fight of Fort McHenry at Baltimore, which still lives on in the American national anthem. The American’s see their naval victories, such as the capture of the Guerriere and the Battle of Lake Erie, as evidence of their tactical prowess over the overwhelming superiority of the Royal Navy. For these reasons, the American’s believe that they are the victors of the War of 1812.
The British/Canadians, on the other hand, see the War of 1812 as a British (Canadian) victory for one simple reason, that nothing changed. At the start of the war, impressment was being curtailed by the more American friendly government of Lord Liverpool, who had replaced Spencer Percival upon his assassination. At the end of the war, the land border remained unchanged, and the British had repulsed every American invasion of British North America. The British had no stated war goals, other than maintaining the status quo in Canada, which was achieved. The British were overstretched during this time period due to the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, and could spare very few resources for North America. For this reason, the British fought a mainly defensive war. The British may not characterize the War of 1812 as a total victory, because it was not one, but it is definitely not a defeat in their eyes.
So who was the true winner?
In my opinion, Britain (and Canada) were the true winners of the War of 1812. Every American invasion of Canada was repulsed. Though American forces fought with tenacity and bravery, they were simply outclassed by the British. On the seas American commerce was hunted to near extinction by the Royal Navy. In many land battles, the American’s only held the advantage through exceptional commanding officer’s, numerical superiority, and not a small amount of luck. Even the superiority of the American’s in terms of numbers (at least during the early stages of the war) did not win the war for them, and they suffered humiliating defeats be numerically inferior British forces, such as the surrender of Fort Detroit. The War of 1812 was, until the Civil War, the closest America had ever come to breaking apart, with New England, among other regions, debating secession, this being caused by their opposition to war with America’s greatest trading partner at the time, Britain. The American’s also failed the crucial “Hearts and Minds” campaign, and support for the American’s among the Canadian populace was low (take Laura Secord for an example. She was a first generation American immigrant to Canada, and yet she aided the British.). The American’s cling to a few relatively insignificant victories and the ending of impressment as their reasons for victory, yet these are flimsy reasons, and they do not stand up under the microscope of history. Impressment, already being curtailed in 1812, stopped fully in 1814 with the end of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. The American;s had nothing to do with it, the British simply did not require as many men for their navy. The American’s had no hope of taking Canada without a substantial cost, and this cost was their economy, which relied on trade from Britain and Europe. With the British blockade of the Eastern Seaboard, this trade was almost impossible, and it sent the U.S. economy into a tailspin. The British maintained the status quo in North America, but the war also gained something for them. In the heroes of the War of 1812, the Canadian identity was born.
Boswell, R.(Nov 27th 2011). Canada Won the War of 1812, U.S. Historian Admits. The National Post. Retrieved from http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/11/27/canada-won-the- war-of-1812-u-s-historian-admits/ on Oct 24th 2013.
Grant, R.G. (2013) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Warfare. London, Dorling Kindersley Limited.
The Second War for American Independence (N.D.) The Independence Hall Association. Retrieved from http://www.ushistory.org/us/21e.asp