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The War of 1812 Summary

So anxious were both governments to reach an agreement, that no mention was made of the problems that had originally caused friction between the two nations. The matter of British seamen searching American vessels was ignored, and Aboriginal claims to land in the American west were never discussed. In terms of men, money and materials, the cost of this tragic struggle cannot be calculated with any degree of accuracy. Official reports suggest British losses were 8,600 killed, wounded or missing, while the Americans suffered a total of about 11,300 casualties. Undoubtedly, there were many more on both sides, since the records kept by many militia units were neither complete nor accurate. Deaths from dicease among the regulars, militia and Aboriginals also would add substantially to the totals.

In Upper Canada, where the hand of war had struck most heavily, a bitter distrust of the United States persisted among the inhabitants for many years. This unfortunate legacy of suspicion proved a serious handicap in development of goodwill between the two peoples.

Oddly enough, the War of 1812 brought some lasting benefits to British North America; there was a new sense of pride among the people, a pride in having defended their lands with courage and skill. There was, too a better understanding between French speaking and English speaking Canadians, for each race had fought a common foe.

Certain practical advantages resulted from the conflict. Large sums of British money spent in the British provinces on war supplies brought a degree of prosperity previously unknown. In Nova Scotia, additional funds had been gained from the sale to Britain of captured American ships and cargoes. In New Brunswick, merchants had profited by a brisk business in food and other supplies with the blockaded states of New England. In Lower Canada (Quebec), such towns as Quebec City and Montreal had become prosperous centres of trade and transportation. In Upper Canada (Ontario), the flow of British funds affected the economy of the province from one end to the other. York recovered rapidly from it's misfortunes, and Kingston thrived on the work provided by it's busy shipyards. Farmers located near military centres had no trouble in selling their produce at high prices.

It was not realized at the time but the conflict with the United States was the first step toward the ultimate union of the provinces of British North America. The war had, in effect, forced the provinces to co-operate with one another in the urgent matter of defence. As the Canadian historian, Arthur Lower, says: " It therefore does not seem too far out to say that the War of 1812 is one of the massive foundation stones of modern Canada".

The war helped set the two countries on different courses. National characteristics were evolving: American ebullience, Canadian reserve. The Americans went wild over minor triumphs, the Canadians remained phlegmatic over major ones. Brock was knighted for Detroit, but there were no gold medals struck, no ceremonial swords, banquets, or fireworks to mark Chateauguay, Chrysler's Farm, Stoney Creek or Beaver Dams. By contrast, Croghan's defence of Fort Stephenson was a signal for a paroxysm of rejoicing that made him an overnight hero in the United States.

American hero worship filled the Congress, the Senate, and the state legislatures with dozens of war veterans. Three soldiers - Harrison, Jackson and Zachary Taylor - became president. But there were no Canadian Jacksons because there was no high office to which a Canadian could aspire. Brock and de Salaberry were Canada's only heros, Laura Secord her sole heroine. And Brock was not a Canadian.

In the end we ask who won and who lost the War of 1812. The clear loser in this conflict without any doubt is the Native People of North America. In the summer of 1815, the United States signed fifteen treaties with the tribes, guaranteeing their status as of 1811. But it did not return an acre of land. The dream of the Aboriginal state never came true.

If any one could claim victory it was Canada. The United States declared war on Great Britain and set out to make Canada states in the union. Ten American armies crossed into Canada and all were driven out.

There are even court martial charges laid against some of the American Generals after the Second Battle of La Colle. President Madison tries to put a lid on it, and intervenes, but too late. The American public quickly becomes disillusioned, and support for the war starts to fall away after the burning of Washington. The war should never have been fought. It was motivated by merchants and greed. It had little to do with patriotism, or national pride. The US gained nothing in territory that had not been surrendered to it by the Treaty of Paris.

By the end of the century, many American children have never heard of the War of 1812. By the 1960's, it is reduced to a folk song. The song is entitled "The Battle of New Orleans" it was written by Jimmy Driftwood. The song was recorded and made famous by Johnny Horton in 1959.

When America did look back at the War of 1812 they thought first of the interference with their maritime rights which had caused them to fight, then of the successful exploits of their own privateersmen. Since the signing of the peace treaty in Ghent convenienty coincided with the end of England's interference in American affairs, they imagined it as a second successful end of the War of Independence.

America's new freedom depended not on the Treaty of Ghent but on the Treaty of Paris in 1814 . It was not the little war against England that won America the blessing of being left alone but the much larger war in Europe against Napoleon, with Napoleon defeated and Britain supreme at sea the world was to see peace for one hundered years. And during this peace America was safe and grew strong.

The War of 1812 was of enormous significance to Canada. Had the United States been successful in their endeavour it is likely that Canada would not have evolved as a separate country.

Published on: 2004-08-05 (28294 reads)

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