War of 1812
In June 1812, the United States declared war against Great Britain in reaction to three issues: the British economic blockade of France, the impressment of thousands of neutral 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 the U.S. Congress, made up mostly of Western and Southern congressmen, had been advocating the declaration of war for several years. These War Hawks, as they were known, hoped that war with Britain, which was preoccupied with its struggle against Napoleonic France, would result in U.S. territorial gains in Canada and British-protected Florida.
In the months following the U.S. declaration of war, American forces launched a three-point invasion of Canada, all of which were repulsed. At sea, however, the United States was more successful, and the USS Constitution and other American frigates won a series of victories over British warships. In 1813, American forces won several key victories in the Great Lakes region, but Britain regained control of the sea and blockaded the Eastern seaboard.
In 1814, with the downfall of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), 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. However, the British soon retreated, and Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor withstood a massive British bombardment and inspired Francis Scott Key (1779-1843) to pen the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
On September 11, 1814, the tide of the war turned when an American naval force under Thomas Macdonough (1783-1824) won a decisive victory at the Battle of Plattsburg in New York on Lake Champlain. A large British army under Sir George Prevost (1767-1816) was thus forced to abandon its invasion of the U.S. northeast and retreat to Canada.
Treaty of Ghent: December 24, 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, ending the war. Although the treaty said nothing about two of the key issues that started the war–the rights of neutral U.S. vessels and the impressment of U.S. sailors–it did open up the Great Lakes region to American expansion and was hailed as a diplomatic victory in the United States.
News of the treaty took almost two months to cross the Atlantic, and British forces were not informed of the end of hostilities in time to end their drive against the mouth of the Mississippi River. On January 8, 1815, a large British army attacked New Orleans and was decimated by an inferior American force under General Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) in the most spectacular U.S. victory of the war. The American public heard of the Battle of New Orleans and the Treaty of Ghent at approximately the same time, fostering a greater sentiment of self-confidence and shared identity throughout the young republic.