The war of 1812, supposedly fought over neutral trading rights, was a very peculiar conflict indeed. Britain’s trade restrictions, one of the main causes, were removed two days before the war started; the New Englanders, for whom the war was supposedly fought, opposed it; the most decisive battle, at New Orleans, was fought after the war ended.
Before the war began, Britain and France had disrupted US shipping, confiscated American goods, taking US seamen into the British navy, and both sides had blockaded each other’s ports which caused great annoyance to American traders, and Britain’s abduction of American sailors especially caused great uproar and indignation at home. These forces led Americans to declare war on Britain in 1812. When the war began, it was being fought by the Americans to address their grievances toward the British.
This seemed like a justifiable cause for a war, however not all of the citizens shared the same sense of unity about the political issues the war was being fought over. The US was quite upset about the continuing impressments of American sailors into the British Navy and the seizures of American merchant trading vessels by the British. In a committee report in 1811, congressmen address their complaints against Britain. The British defied an “incontestable right”, and they captured “every American vessel” that they could find.
In response to these intolerable actions, The president of the United States wishes to declare war against Great Britain. A group of congressman known as the War Hawks desperately desired going to war. One of these “War Hawks,” John C. Calhoun, agrees with the committee’s report, by saying “these rights are essentially attacked, and war is the only means of redress. ” Hugh Nelson, congressman from Virginia, believed that the war was inevitable and that it would bring the American people together. He stated, “to demonstrate to the world… hat the people of these state were united, one and indivisible. ” This quote demonstrates his thoughts that if the United States were to unite in a strong fashion, it would indeed “repel all foreign aggression. ” President Madison’s Declaration of War coincided directly with the report and the writings of the War Hawks, in that it explained itself by stating, “We behold our seafaring citizens still the daily victims of lawless violence… We behold our vessels… wrested from their lawful destinations. ” In the War of 1812, many groups had apprehensions to the war at hand.
Some, like the War Hawks, used the plight of the New England maritime traders as an excuse to go to war. In reality though, New England was doing better off before the war, because during which it became increasingly difficult to ship goods across the Atlantic and it was impossible to trade with Great Britain. John Randolph, a Representative from Virginia, even went as far as to say that “maritime rights” had no say in influencing the war. He believed that “agrarian cupidity” was the true influence that urged the war.
By that, Randolph means that men are looking to take the fertile lands of British Canada for themselves, considering that the northern mountains did them no good. When observing the votes for war in the House of Representatives, one might notice a peculiar detail. The agrarian regions of the United states, which includes the Western Frontier, The South and The Agricultural Mid-Atlantic States, have many more yes votes than no votes. Whereas in New England, and the Maritime and Commercial Mid-Atlantic States, the no votes heavily outweighed the yes ones.
The Jeffersonians claim that they want war to fight for the “maritime rights” and yet the Maritime and Commercial States stand out with a majority of no votes. Not a single Federalist voted yes for the congressional vote for war, while a large majority of Democratic-Republicans voted yes for war. Most of these Federalists were also ironically located in New England, but most of the Democratic-Republicans were located in the South and the West. Before the War of 1812, If Americans had been able to put aside their regional selfishness and differences, a declaration of war may not have even been required in the first place.
Forces such as disrupted shipping, confiscated goods, and abduction of sailors could have been negotiated over with Great Britain. The United States lacked the unity, discipline, and strength to challenge the British and ended up paying dearly for the declaration of war against them. It is evident in the representatives’ voting that New England and other Maritime regions were against the war. This may suggest that the idea for war was prompted by Democratic-Republicans like the War Hawks, whose motives may have been questionable as mentioned by Randolph.
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