War of 1812
June 1812 - February 1815
The War of 1812 was a conflict fought between the United States and the United Kingdom, with their respective allies, from June 1812 to February 1815. Historians in Britain often see it as a minor theatre of the Napoleonic Wars; historians in the United States and Canada see it as a war in its own right.
From the outbreak of war with Napoleonic France, Britain had enforced a naval blockade to choke off neutral trade to France, which the US contested as illegal under international law. To man the blockade, Britain pressed American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy. American sentiment grew increasingly hostile toward Britain due to incidents such as the Chesapeake–Leopard affair, which happened five years before the war. The British were in turn outraged by the Little Belt affair in 1811, in which 11 British sailors died. Britain supplied arms to American Indians who raided American settlers on the frontier, hindering American expansion and provoking resentment. Historians debate whether the desire to annex some or all of British North America (Canada) contributed to the American decision to go to war. However, the Western interest was in expansion into American territories such as Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, where they were threatened by Indians supported by the British. On June 18, 1812, President James Madison signed into law the American declaration of war, after heavy pressure from the War Hawks in Congress.
With most of its army in Europe fighting Napoleon, Britain adopted a defensive strategy, with offensive operations initially limited to the border and the western frontier. American prosecution of the war effort suffered from its unpopularity, especially in New England, where it was referred to as "Mr. Madison's War". American defeats at the Siege of Detroit and the Battle of Queenston Heights thwarted attempts to seize Upper Canada, improving British morale. American attempts also failed to invade Lower Canada and capture Montreal. In 1813, the Americans won the Battle of Lake Erie, gaining control of the lake, and they defeated Tecumseh's Confederacy at the Battle of the Thames, securing a primary war goal. The Americans made a final attempt to invade Canada but fought to a draw at the Battle of Lundy's Lane during the summer of 1814. At sea, the powerful Royal Navy blockaded American ports, cutting off trade and allowing the British to raid the coast at will. In 1814, one of these raids burned the capital, but the Americans later repulsed British attempts to invade New York and Maryland, ending invasions from Canada into the northern and mid-Atlantic states. In early 1815, the Americans decisively defeated the invading British Army attacking New Orleans, Louisiana. Fighting also took place in Spanish Florida; a two-day battle for the city of Pensacola ended in Spanish surrender.
In Britain, there was mounting opposition to wartime taxation, and merchants demanded to reopen trade with America. With the abdication of Napoleon, Britain's war with France ended and Britain ceased impressment of American sailors. This made the original cause of the war irrelevant. The British were then able to increase the strength of the blockade on the United States coast, smothering American maritime trade, but their attempts failed to invade America, at which point both sides began to desire peace.
Peace negotiations began in August 1814, and the Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814. News of the peace did not reach America for some time. In February 1815, news reached the East Coast concerning the great victory at New Orleans—at the same time as news of the Christmas peace treaty. The Americans triumphantly celebrated the restoration of their national honor, leading to the collapse of anti-war sentiment and the beginning of the Era of Good Feelings, a period of national unity. The treaty was unanimously ratified by the US Senate on February 17, 1815, ending the war with no boundary changes.