Did the USA lose the War of 1812?

In this Staff report:

It is argued that the USA lost, and that Canada won- or at least that the USA perhaps came out with a draw. Many factors are considered. But there’s one that isn’t- respect for US Naval power.

Even though the US Navy was still no match for the British Navy, the series of humiliating single ship duels that the US frigates won against British Frigates was shocking to the brits. At that period, it was assumed that the Bristish Navy could not lose except in the face of overwhelming odds. The USN proved different.

Thus, even though that various “free shipping” and impressment issues were not mentioned in the Treaty of Ghent, the British stopped those practices against our ships, largely due to a respect for American naval power.

Thus, even though those issues weren’t even mentioned in the Treaty, the USA got what it wanted. We “won”. :stuck_out_tongue:

Still and all, as far as the land war went, I agree our Canadian neighbors can say much the same. They “won” too. :smiley:

I think it was more due to the fact that the British stopped them because they weren’t neccesary anymore. The Napoleonic wars were largely over, so Britain wasn’t desperate enough for manpower that they needed to impress sailors anymore, and they no longer were trying to enforce a blockade against France.

Got a cite?

I’ll grab Hickey’s books at lunch, and I’m going on memory right now.

But the Orders in Council (most of the blockade and trade stuff) were called off before any of those naval battles took place; indeed they were called off before war was declared. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orders_in_Council_(1807)#Repeal_of_the_Orders_in_Council

Nice report. FWIW, I was always taught that the War of 1812 was a draw. Interesting to learn even that is a bit of an exaggeration, as far as the war (as distinguished from the peace) is concerned…

It is true that the orders in Council had already been repealed. But Impressment didn’t stop until Napolean was defeated or the end of the War of 1812 (which more or less happened at the same time). From Wiki:
“The Royal Navy, however, was acutely conscious that the United States Navy had won a majority of the single-ship duels during the War. Also, American privateers and commerce raiders had captured large numbers of British merchant ships, sending insurance rates up and embarrassing the Admiralty.”

"The United States did gain a measure of international respect for managing to battle the British Empire to a standstill. The morale of the citizens was high because they had fought one of the great military powers of the world and managed to survive, which increased feelings of nationalism; the war has often been called the “Second War of Independence.” "

From Memory:
A large part of our Naval victories were the results of choosing our battles and the superiority of our Frigates. These Frigates that included the USS Constitution were constructed from 2000 Southern Live Oaks and were effectively the strongest and thickest hulls of any war vessel of the time. It additionally had innovative cross bracing that added to the strength. I believe it was the Brits that coined the nickname Ironsides from the shock of seeing cannonballs bounce off the hull.

Six of these Heavy Frigates were commissioned; I do not know how many saw time in battle. These were all superior to any British ship of the same size. The Frigates were also faster then larger Ship of the Lines and could evade combat with the superior firepower, usually with ease.

This contributed greatly to our victories in single ship combat.

Jim {Great report Gfactor}

I don’t dispute that America’s fledgling Navy gained respect. And you are also correct that one of the consequences of the war was increased nationalism.
But respect isn’t a victory. At all. Impressment was only going on because the British needed sailors for the Napoleonic wars, which as you point out, ended around the same time. For America, impressment stopped in 1812, because our ships were no longer neutral. It didn’t resume because the Napoleonic wars ended. As Hickey says:

*Don’t Give up the Ship * at 20

Id. at 290

Hickey points out (294) that the U.S. claimed that it dropped its demands on impressment because the end of the war in Europe had rendered the issue moot. (In other words, the U.S.'s own claim about the issue undercuts your claim, but it gets worse). “Secretary of State James Monroe conceded to the American envoys that the administration had to drop impressment because the chances of winning concessions on this issue (which in truth were never very strong) had vanished altogether with Napoleon’s defeat.” He points out that the U.S. continued to press the British to give up the practice for over 25 years after 1814. The British were unwilling to abandon the practice. Fortunately, relative peace in the region prevented the issue from coming to a head, and in 1850s, the British instituted reforms that obviated the need for impressment.

An excellent staff report - fair-minded and well-researched. For more on the war at sea, see Theodore Roosevelt (yes, the future President)'s fine account, The Naval War of 1812.

Thanks for the kind words, PBear42, What Exit?, and Elendil’s Heir

But it is. Since the end of the War made Impressment moot, I’ll concede that. However, when you are a new and fledgling nation, respect is critical. What the USN did to the British navy during the War 1812 might have kept us out of other wars. It (along with Jacksons victory at New Orleans which added to the respect)also may have lead to the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819 which gave us Florida and part of Louisiana, which was a pretty good deal the USA wrung out of a weakened Spain. But would even a weakened Spain have worried about a USA that had shown itself to be a push-over?

*Respect * is more important than you think.

I also agree this was a good article, in any case!

I agree respect is important. Winning it was an accomplishment, for sure; a feather in our cap. But I don’t think it counts as a victory in the war of 1812.

We had won our two previous wars (and the Revolution, for that matter), btw:

The Tripolitan War and the Quasi-War (both of which are even more obscure than the War of 1812).

Thanks. :smiley:

I was going “Quasi-War” WTF? :confused: Then I went to Wiki:

And, I remembered it as “Undeclared War with France”. Interesting too.

That’s the one. Quasi-War and XYZ Affair sound more mysterious, IMO. :smiley:

Dear GFactor:

Thanks a lot, Dr. Brain. You keep writing these outstanding Staff Reports and setting the bar a lot higher for us mere SDSAB mortals. Cut it out, whydoncha?


Anony Mous

Yeah, I’ll add my congrats and thanks to gfactor.

Who won? asks the OP. Well, the British burned Washington (poor chap.)

It would be silly to claim that the USA “won.” We certainly didn’t get anything tangible out of it. Overall, the War of 1812 was a stupid, unnnecesaary conflict… but one that was pretty much inevitable.

There was no clear good guy or bad guy- just a superpower behaving as superpowers usually do (like a bully) and a small, aspiring superpower spoiling for a fight.

Both sides grossly miscalculated. Britain thought that the USA was a pipsqueak, upstart nation that could be pushed around, and wouldn’t dare retaliate. Many in the USA thought Canada was territory ripe to be taken, with minimal effort.

As it turned out, both sides were woefully mistaken. The net result: both sides wasted a lot of men and money and ended up with the status quo ante.

Now, while the USA didn’t win anything tangible, it doesn’t automatically follow that nothing was gained. Britain was forced to accept the inevitability of US expansionism, something they’d been trying to stifle. It seems likely that SOME kind of conflict over US expansionism was going to happen, even if “Mr. Madison’s War” had been avoided by cooler heads.

As it is, both sides got their noses bloodied, for no particularly good reason.

But as you can see, people do. Like I said, it’s pretty much been argued every possible way.

Hickey, Don’t Give Up the Ship!

Here Hickey cites Samuel Perkins, George Coggershall, Irving Brant, Marshall Smelser, Owsley, and Reginald Horsman.

He includes James, Hitsman, Reilly, and Stanley among the British and Canadians who claim the U.S. lost.

He continues

Great book.

Excellent Staff Report, GFactor! They did NOT cover this in my history classes.

And I, for one, welcome our new Canadian overlords. :smiley:

A thought on those naval battles where the American ships acquitted themselves so well… Might part of that have been due to the British habit of impressing, particularly of Americans? It seems to me that if I were an American sailor manning a cannon on a British frigate against my will, and Ol’ Ironsides came up alongsides, my shots just might be a bit mis-aimed.

And for the record, I was taught in grade-school social studies that the War of 1812 was a draw, but that the US rather impressed the rest of the world by not losing outright. Which seems to be more or less what the Staff Report was saying. And when I was a bit older, I also learned how the American Indians got rather royally screwed by both sides in the process.

I thought the same thing this afternoon. I don’t remember reading anything specifically about this. I’ll take a look when I get a chance.

(Emphasis added.)

I’ll see what I can find on the world’s perspective on this. Apparently, Donald Graves wrote an article called “The Many Wars of 1812” in the Journal of the War of 1812 (Spring/Summer 2004). Hickey says that the Graves article argues that where you lived determined how you viewed the outcome of the war (a pretty basic notion). I wonder if Graves talkes about people who didn’t live in British North America, Great Britain, or the U.S. I don’t know enough world history offhand to put this in context.

The world must have seen that the tide was turning, after all. The Napoleonic wars were over, and British was turning its attention here. OTOH, if they thought the U.S. was about to get clobbered, the Ghent Treaty might have caused them to question their views . . . and then there is New Orleans . . . hmmm
BTW, I had never heard of the Patriot War until I was halfway through writing the report.

I knew I’d find a cite for this.

Cusick, in The Other War of 1812 (cited in the report) says that it was the Patriot War (the Other War of 1812) that caused Spain to realize that it had no future in Florida.

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