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The Setting

     The War of 1812 lasted from 18 June 1812, when the United States declared war on Great Britain, until 17 February 1815, when President Madison ratified the Treaty of Ghent with his signature. The War was a purely Republican project, unanimously and bitterly opposed by the Federalists. It was hoped that the declaration would frighten Britain into concessions over trade, impressment of seamen, and fisheries, and into ratification of the seizure of Canada, which was soon to occur. It did not work out that way. 32 months of bungling warfare resulted in a treaty in which the American negotiators managed to secure the status quo ante bellum when the British negotiators bungled their opportunity. The war was stopped before any real damage could be done. The war was also called "The Second War For Independence" [1815], and "Mr. Madison's War" [1812], or described as "Perpetual War, the policy of Mr. Madison." It was probably James Monroe, the imperialist Secretary of State, who was behind it all, however.

     Great Britain had been at war with Revolutionary France since 1793, and Bonaparte since 1799. Wellington had been fighting in Portugal and Spain since 1808. Bonaparte invaded Russia in 1812, taking wooden Moscow on 14 September, which then burned down. He abandoned his army to utter destruction during the winter retreat to France. More Frenchmen were conscripted, and Nappy defeated Austria, Prussia and Russia at Dresden in August 1813. In October, he was defeated in turn at Leipzig, and fled back to France, again leaving the ground littered with dead Frenchmen. In March 1814, the Prussians took Paris and sent Napoleon to Elba. In 1815, Bonaparte escaped from Elba, collected an army, and lost it on 18 June 1815 at Waterloo. 330,000 troops were engaged in this battle.

     The United States Navy consisted of 17 ships, the largest being three 44-gun frigates. Ships of the line, zero. At Trafalgar, 21 October 1805, the Royal Navy had 27 ships of the line, the French and Spanish 33. If the whole United States Navy had been there, it hardly would have been noticed. In 1812, the Royal Navy had over 1000 ships, 500 of which were on station at any time. The United States was like a terrier clamped on an ankle of Britain while it was engaged in this gigantic world war, not much more than a noisy nuisance.

     The population of the United States in the Census of 1810 was 7,240,000. The population of Great Britain in 1811 was 12,000,000. The population of Canada in 1806 was estimated at 433,000. The last state admitted to the Union before the war was Ohio, the 17th state, in 1803. Lousiana was admitted shortly after the declaration of war, on 30 April 1812. The first state admitted after the war was Indiana, in 1816. Kentucky had a population of 407,000 in 1810, Ohio 231,000, and Louisana 77,000. Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania were the most populous states, each approaching 1,000,000. New Orleans was the largest city in the west, followed by Cincinnati, Louisville and Pittsburgh. The center of population was 40 miles northwest of Washington, D.C., in northern Virginia. Most people lived on farms, and there was little industry. James Madison (1751-1836) had been elected President in 1808, succeeding Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), and was re-elected in 1812 after the declaration of war and its first few catastrophes. Madison was succeeded by James Monroe (1758-1831) in 1816. Jefferson, Madison and Monroe were the Virginia Dynasty of Republicans. Andrew Jackson was later to insult and overturn their republican-aristocratic pretensions when he was elected President in 1828.

     In 1812, there were no telegraphs and no railways. Steamboats had just been introduced on the Hudson, the Lakes, and on the Ohio and Mississippi, but were still rare and did not yet go to sea. Most power came from the muscles of animals and men, and some from water wheels and the wind. Aside from the new steam engine and the increasing use of iron in machinery, technology and transport were not far different from what they had been in Roman days, except that the roads, water supply and public sanitation were worse. The most important novelty was the printing press, but illiteracy was common. American transport was dominated by boats and horseback. Wagons were useful only in good weather. To take a wagon from Cincinnati to the St. Mary's River, 105 miles, a month was required. Oxen were the preferred draught animal, since they could forage while horses required grain. The mail travelled in saddlebags, at an average rate of about 4 mph, or 30 miles a day. A pack horse could make 12 to 15 miles a day. A voyage across the Atlantic took about a month. Sea voyages were hazardous, because the ships, lacking power, were easily driven onto rocks.

War Aims

     The aim of the War of 1812 was the annexation of Canada. It would have been embarrassing to avow this aim openly, but its importance was clear to everyone at the time. Arguments over trade policy, especially the British Orders in Council, and impressment of seamen, both results of the Napoleonic Wars, had festered for years. Subsequent to the Chesapeake affair of 1807, the impressment issue had been more or less worked out by diplomacy. The worst of the shame was being insulted like an insignificant yokel by the arrogant Royal Navy, not any special concern for the British deserters who did often find their ways onto American ships. Satisfaction was demanded. However, the Battle of Tippecanoe fought on 7 November 1811, in which the Indian confederation led by Tecumseh (1768-1813) was defeated, was actually the first battle of the war. The British were known to support the Indians, and were thought the instigators of all the trouble, which had been continual since 1791. Tecumseh was the spiritual successor of Pontiac, the great Ottawa, who had assembled a confederation extending from the Lakes to the Gulf, allied with the French in 1763. Pontiac had been instrumental in Braddock's defeat at Fort Duquesne in 1755. Upon their defeat, the French had perforce to abandon the Indians, who then had no recourse except to the British, who protected them by the Proclamation Line of 1763, forbidding settlement west of the Atlantic watershed. This angered the colonists, who did not respect the paper threat anyway. The Indians naturally supported the British in the War for Independence, again choosing the losing side, which was their unerring custom.

     The Indians preferred the French to the British by far, but there were no longer French around. The British had abandoned the Indians they had promised to protect in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris ending the War for Independence, and again in 1794 with the Jay Treaty. Still, it was a case of any port in a storm, and the British were again promising them protection. Of course, the British abandoned them again in 1815, and after that there was no help. The northwest Indians, principally Miamis under Little Turtle, had utterly defeated General Arthur St. Clair (1736-1818) on the Wabash in 1791, where 1000 men were lost out of 1400, with only 8-12 casualties for the Miamis, it was said. General "Mad" Anthony Wayne (1745-1796) was more formidable, raising Wayne's Legion at Pittsburgh in 1792 to fight the Indians. The Indian confederation was crushed by Wayne's Legion at Fallen Timbers, near the mouth of the Maumee, in 1794. The Treaty of Greenville that followed in 1795 confined them to northwestern Ohio and northern Indiana, opening the trans-Ohio for white settlement.

     It is impossible to appreciate the temper of Americans, especially westerners and Republicans, by reading modern histories. These people were capable of self-delusion and hypocrisy to a level seldom attained except among the very religious. They considered the American policy with respect to Indians, as expressed by Jefferson, for example, as kind, enlightened and generous. Jefferson was, of course, an unsurpassed dissembler and hypocrite of high order, whose actions show his real intentions. Indians were ungrateful savages, it was held, treacherous and cruel, believing the British lies that the Americans wished to kill them all off and take all their lands. Of course, what the Americans wanted was only to kill them off and take all their lands, as subsequent history demonstrates. Within 30 years, there were no more Indians whatever in the Northwest. The British were supposed behind it all, as bad as the savages they egged on to outrage and atrocity. The British were hated with that peculiar kind of hate that exists within families. The French and the Spanish were hated more fundamentally. Americans did not like anybody very much.

     Americans were petrified by Indians, whose skills as warriors were of a high order. The shame of this fear was eased by boasting and equivocation. In every conflict up to Tippecanoe, Indians could be defeated only by overwhelming numerical superiority, and small Indian war parties could wreak havoc on isolated detachments. Most depredations were the work of small bands of outlaws, whether of Indian on white, white on Indian, white on white, or Indian on Indian. White robbers and bandits preyed on Indians as well as whites, and Indian banditti did the same. Whenever a hostile Indian band was reported on the prowl, alarm spread like wild fire. Any outrage was repaid on the nearest Indian, whether he had anything to do with the outrage or not. Indians were admonished to settle down and adopt agriculture, but when they did, they were robbed, murdered and driven out, carrying the bones of their ancestors to strange places in the west.

     Most tribes tried to ensure as much peace as possible, well knowing that the Americans did not discriminate when revenge was on their minds. Dangerous bands were controlled, and murders of whites punished with death, which was advertised as widely as possible. William Henry Harrison (1773-1841) worked for equal justice, in that just as Indians punished Indians for murdering whites, so would whites punish whites for murdering Indians. To his extreme disgust, this never happened. Juries failed to convict, and criminals walked through jail walls, it seemed. Killing an Indian was not a crime to an American, just as killing a black was no crime either. Whatever people said, what they actually did was different.

     It had been a generation, 30 years, since the 1783 Treaty of Paris ending the War for Independence (usually called the Revolutionary War in the United States, as if anything done by a pack of lawyers could be called revolutionary), and a new generation sought military glory. The incompetent, intriguing Federalists of the post-war era had now been replaced by Virginia planter-lawyers and other tobacco-chewing Republicans, with their anti-European, anti-aristocratic, anti-business, anti-intellectual, anti-trade, anti-bank, anti-Atlantic seaboard and anti-government proclivities. Federal government was in the hands of the Virginia mafia, while corruption and cronyism permeated it from crown to large toe. The hardships and pain, and incompetence, of the last war had dissolved into glowing mythology and hero-worship. The Republicans now sought their own chance at immortal fame through the hazards of war, relying on Bony to keep the British occupied. Moreover, the French and British each constantly tried to cripple the trade of the other with neutrals, such as the United States, leading to intolerables such as the Orders in Council and Napoleon's paper blockades. This trade warring was the source of plentiful resentment against the British, and had almost led to war with France earlier.

     The War Hawks (Clay, Calhoun, Cheves, Lowndes, Grundy, Porter, Johnson and Troup), or Young Republicans, gained control of Congress and agitated for war in every direction. Madison gave them their war in consideration for being renominated for President. No great military leaders are found among the War Hawks, since they avoided battle, with the exception of Richard M. Johnson (1781-1850) of Kentucky, who was with Harrison at the Battle of the Thames, as we shall see below. The Clay that fought in the war was Green Clay, not Henry Clay (1777-1852). Isaac Hull (1773-1843), the naval officer, must be distinguished from his uncle William Hull (1753-1825), the incompetent general. The John Armstrong (1755-1816) who fought the Miamis at Eel River on 18 October 1790 where the Kentucky militia panicked and he lost his sergeant and 21 of his 30 regulars, and hid under a log until the Indians were gone, is not the same as the John Armstrong (1758-1843) of New York who married a Livingston, was minister to France, and became Secretary of War in 1813. Many actors in the war have the same last names, so it is not easy to identify them properly. The war was unpopular in New England, which contemplated secession, and was often accused of treason. It is interesting that the United States was at war with someone practically continuously from the adoption of the Constitution in 1789 until the close of the Civil War, and aggressively invaded both its neighbors during this period.

     The strength of partisan feeling in the United States is demonstrated by the Baltimore Riots of June and July 1812. The Republican mob attacked the offices of the federalist newspaper Federal Republican, and in the worst incident nearly beat several people to death, including the venerable "Light Horse" Harry Lee (1756-1818), Revolutionary hero, who never recovered from his wounds and died a few years later.

     Secretary of State Madison was the driving force of American imperialism at this time. He seemed impressed by Napoleon's conquests, and thought the United States could do the same in its hemisphere. As we shall see, American military expertise was not up to the challenge. Not only was Canada a possible conquest, but Mexico was another tempting prize, with its possibility of the extension of slavery. Mexico was in the agony of a bloody civil war at the time, which had begun in 1810 with Hidalgo's rising. Although independence from Spain was achieved in 1821, the internal wars continued almost without pause. Joel Poinsett was sent as minister plenipotentiary to the viceroy in Mexico, but his real mission was to foment rebellion, as he did most effectively in Chile, as well as in Mexico. Onís, the Spanish minister in Washington, well knew Madison's views. Spain was occupied and oppressed by Bonaparte at the time, and the American colonies were largely thrown on their own resources to suppress the independence movements. American adventurers in West Florida took advantage of the situation to declare their independence, and this territory was included as part of the State of Louisiana in 1812. A similar effort in East Florida was less successful.

     Madison already knew what he wanted. His map proposed a southern border of the United States extending from the mouth of the Rio Bravo (Rio Grande) up to 31° latitude, and then west to the Pacific. Cuba was also included, as a natural part of the American domain. Most of this new territory would ensure room for the support and extension of slavery, an aim close to the hearts of the southern War Hawks. It is remarkable that this expansion took place as it was planned this early, in the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. Cuba was always a problem, and never became American territory, though dominated economically by the United States for many years, and, of course, invaded. Madison suggested to the Mexican states in rebellion (as far as was possible in the chaos) that they form their governments similarly to American states, so that they could be easily annexed. He also intimated to Mexican visitors that the 75,000 men raised for the taking of Canada could just as well be used against Mexico. These insulting suggestions guaranteed that Mexico would do all in its power to resist the demands of the United States.

     The United States was, however, a refuge for Mexican supporters of independence. Hidalgo was making for the United States when he was captured by treachery in the spring of 1811, and Bernardo Guitiérrez de Lara fled to the U.S. with his family when the royalists captured his villa on the Rio Bravo at the same time. Revolution broke out early in Texas, but was suppressed by a counter-revolution not long after. In 1813, de Lara led a group of American adventurers into Texas, capturing the capital San Antonio de Béjar with the help of Americans who already were there. José Alvarez de Toledo, a Spanish naval officer from Santo Domingo and fugitive from the Spanish government in Cádiz, supplanted de Lara, but lost to royalist forces that had come up from Nuevo Santander (Tamaulipas) at the critical battle on Rio Medina. The remnants were pursued by Colonel Elizondo as far as Nacodoches (as it was spelled then), and were largely captured and shot. This was a fairly typical episode of American penetration into Texas, which probably began with Burr and Wilkinson early in the century (but then without effect).

     Although General Ramón Rayón of the supreme junta of the independence party in Mexico (a body of minimal influence) tried to send Francisco Antonio Peredo to Washington to procure arms, the royalists controlled the coast at the time and Peredo could not travel. Envoys were also sent to the Archbishop of Baltimore concerning the spiritual support of those in areas controlled by the independence party. Of course, due to the British blockade and pirates in the Gulf, any direct support from the United States was impossible anyway, even if more effective measures had been taken to secure it. The United States also had little to spare in this line, since its resources were also stretched to the limit by the war.

     The principal war aim was to conquer Canada and thereby remove British support for the Indians objecting to the seizure of their land west of the Appalachians, and to show how splendidly military the new nation could be. The professed aims of war were to limit British naval arrogance in the Atlantic (the Napoleonic wars had been hard on neutrals) and to claim fishing rights. This pretense was mainly to appease New England. To achieve these aims, the Republic had forces shaped by Jefferson's absurd theories, as useless as could only be devised by a man of high self-esteem who had avoided all military service and was devoid of any military or naval experience (a type then becoming prominent in the British establishment as well). Soldiers were to be provided by the ordinary citizens, locally organized as the need arose, and electing their own officers democratically. Jefferson's Second Amendment to the Constitution is a relic of this theory, now twisted out of all recognition. These "militia" were commanded by officers appointed by the states or the federal government on the basis of political patronage and influence. An astounding number of Americans claimed high military rank. The "Kentucky Colonel" is an example, but Major-Generals were not uncommon. For units called to federal service, Washington provided the general officers, pay and supplies, making full use of political connections and influence. There was corruption at all levels of the chain of supply

     The Republican doctrine was that a Navy and coast artillery were unnecessary, apparently because they were something that individual states could not rationally supply. Sailors were to be provided by the merchant marine, fishermen and rivermen, marines by citizens of the ports, again locally raised as necessary and commanding small boats perhaps mounting a single cannon. Commodores commanding these mosquito fleets were to be state political appointees.

     There actually was no US Navy, as far as any ability to support fleet actions or protect the coast went. What there was of a navy had been inspired by the earlier near-war with France under the Adams administration. There was nothing larger than the three 44-gun frigates, and even these had trouble leaving port through the blockade. USS President, for example, was lost after being disabled trying to leave New York, and USS Chesapeake was captured by HMS Shannon off Boston (some of its timbers are in the fabric of a pub in Ashford, Kent). In individual actions, however, US ships, both frigates and smaller vessels, came off very creditably against the Royal Navy, in spite of all probabilities, even once or twice winning against superior force, which rarely happened with sailing navies. The Royal Navy forbade the expensive firing of cannon in gunnery practice, brutally treated its sailors, and equipped its ships badly (cheap carronades instead of expensive long guns, for example). Only the excellence of a few individual commanders, which was, typically, poorly rewarded, saved the Royal Navy from humiliation in these minor engagements. Hundreds of privateers prowled the seas, and their crews filled up the prisoner-of-war camp at Dartmoor.

     Any impressions you may have formed of the probable efficacy of this military force from the brief outline just given will be completely confirmed in the sequel. The British were engrossed with Bonaparte, but spared enough ships to erect a tight blockade of the entire Atlantic seaboard, effectively stopping all seaborne trade except that beneficial to them, and smuggling. New England, in fact, was not blockaded until late in the war, since it supplied the British army. The blockade was a serious discomfort, one effect of which was to change the domestic fuel in eastern cities from Welsh coal to Pennsylvania anthracite. Few men were spared for the defense of Canada, that region being instructed to look out for itself as best it could with its own resources. One useful ally was the Indian, who often made up a somewhat unruly but frightening element in every British Canadian force. In the time since independence, the United States had managed to convert the native inhabitants of the West into implacable enemies, many of whom (such as Tecumseh) had taken refuge in Canada, and were itching for revenge. The British Canadians were Canadians because they had declined to become Americans, and had no taste whatsoever for being liberated by the Democracy.

Part 2 - Taking Canada, Really Invading Canada

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