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The War of 1812


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What Was Happening Here

The War of 1812 was fought largely on American land and therefore had a great effect on the homefront. The American military was one that was mixed with some professional soldiers but like in the Revolutionary War was mainly militia and draftees. In America the views of the war varied greatly due to sectionalism with the south and west supporting the war and the north remaining more cautious to begin another war especially the British who strong supporters of American industry. These issues on the homefront had a profound affect on how America waged the War of 1812 and the results of the war.

When the time came to begin the War of 1812, the American military was in no way prepared. During Jefferson’s time in office he had cut back greatly on government spending particularly by decreasing the military to almost nothing. As the war began America realized the need for a military and attempted to quickly rebuild it, "The army consisted of only 7,000 men and small state militias" (Wikipedia) At the start of the war America was equipped rather poorly in terms of its generals. This was due to the fact that a, "significant reason for the poor quality of the general officers found in the U.S. Army at the start of the conflict was that most of the appointments were political" (Casebook). A large portion of the generals who were chosen were generals from the revolutionary war, making them rather old. All these older generals who were now past their prime argued at first over who was superior due to the military district system then in place. This system divided the nation into nine military district with a general in charge of each one. Aside from this confusion the American army was also rather small still. In order to raise an army, "The wages proposed to be given to induce men to come forward and enlist for five years, leave their homes and march away to take Canada, is a bounty of $16, and $5 a month; and at the end of the war, if they can get a certificate of good behavior, 160 acres of wild land and three months' pay"  (Casebook).  This offer although slightly intriguing due to the land offer, seemed to spark little interest at first due to the fact that the pay was worse than what could be earned outside of the army, $15 a month. An army of 500,000 with 450,000 being militia was eventually created but the lackluster support for the war in the beginning with few troops destroyed the American dream of taking Canada. The American army was successful early on in only one portion of the war and that was with their navy. Although the American navy was still weaker than the British navy, it was able to defeat the British multiple times forcing them to retreat to Canada. The American military was weak and inexperienced at the beginning of the War of 1812, but thanks to the navy, at the end of the war the military had proven itself to be able to withstand the British.

American support for the war was based on sectionalism with the south and west supporting the war and the north openly opposing it. The Southerners and Westerners saw the War of 1812 as an opportunity to gain more land, destroy the British influence in America, and expand slavery. This support, however, did not exist in the North. In the North most people opposed the war because it would impact the economy as Britain was America’s most prevalent trading partner. American industry relied strongly on this bond with British and would falter without it, "our own growth or manufactures we in that time carried or sent abroad (in round numbers) no less than $45,294,000 worth. You will next find that out of this sum, all the rest of the world (Great Britain and her allies excepted) took about $7,719,366, and that Great Britain and her allies took the remainder, amounting to $38,575,627" (Casebook). The North strongly opposed the war because of this threat to their economy and trade. In attempts to boycott the war Northerners flew their flags at half mast once war had been declared and also denied any financial aid to the war effort. Some Northern merchants even continued selling to the British. This internal dissent left America divided and there was even talk of Northern secession at the Hartford Convention, "Hartford Convention delegates intended for them to embarrass the President and the Republicans in Congress—and also to serve as a basis for negotiations between New England and the rest of the country" (Wikipedia).  This talk lead to the demise of the Federalist party as they became associated with secession and disunity. Clearly the War of 1812 divided America and this divide caused much trouble during the war, as America tried to function without the northern economy or support.

The War of 1812 occurred on the nation’s front step with invasion into America being a constant threat. This homefront atmosphere, however, had little affect on convincing Americans of the need to go to war. The American military was almost nothing at the start of the war but by the end the militia alone was 450,000 people showing the support for the war. However, all of America did not support the war. The North openly opposed the war which caused many difficulties in the attempt to successfully defeat the British. The homefront clearly had an affect on the nation’s ability to defeat the British in the War of 1812 as it ended in a stalemate.

The War of 1812 was concluded in 1814 when the Treaty of Ghent was signed by both the English and Americans.  Following the signing of the treaty, however, a last battle broke out in New Orleans.  The battle of New Orleans was by far an American victory as the British troops were desimated while only 71 American soldiers died.  This battle showed what might have been had the war continued.

Play Video  - The Battle of New Orleans Video