The War of 1812
The War of 1812 began on June 18, 1812, when the United States declared war on Britain. The war declaration, opposed by a sizable minority in Congress, had been called in response to the British economic blockade of France, the impressment of American seamen into the British Royal Navy against their will, and the British support of hostile Indian tribes along the Great Lakes frontier. A faction of Congress known as the War Hawks had been advocating war with Britain for several years and had not hidden their hopes that an American invasion of Canada might result in significant territorial gains for the United States.
In the months after President James Madison (1751-1836) proclaimed the state of war to be in effect, American forces launched a three-point invasion of Canada, all of which were decisively unsuccessful. In 1814, with Napoleon Bonaparte’s (1769-1821) French empire collapsing, the British were able to allocate more military resources to the American war, and Washington, D.C., fell to the British in August. In Washington, British troops burned the White House, the Capitol and other buildings in retaliation for the earlier burning of government buildings in Canada by U.S. soldiers.
Battle of Plattsburgh: September 11, 1814
In early September 1814, a British army under George Prevost (1767-1816) entered New York State from Canada and advanced toward Plattsburgh. British ground troops soon engaged in skirmishes with the Americans. Then, on September 11, a British naval squadron under Captain George Downie sailed into battle against a smaller American naval force under Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough (1783-1824), who was waiting at Plattsburgh Bay on Lake Champlain. Shortly after the battle began, Downie was killed, and after several hours of fighting, the British surrendered. Prevost called off the land battle, and the British retreated to Canada.
Treaty of Ghent: December 1814
The American victory on Lake Champlain led to the conclusion of U.S.-British peace negotiations in Belgium, and on December 24, 1814, the Treaty of Ghent was signed, formally ending the War of 1812. By the terms of the agreement, all conquered territory was to be returned, and a commission would be established to settle the boundary of the United States and Canada.
British forces assailing the Gulf Coast were not informed of the treaty in time, and on January 8, 1815, the U.S. forces under Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) achieved the greatest American victory of the war at the Battle of New Orleans. The American public heard of Jackson’s victory and the Treaty of Ghent at approximately the same time, fostering a greater sentiment of self-confidence and shared identity throughout the young republic.