The War of 1812: Reasons and Consequences

The war of 1812 was a great watershed in the history of British North America. It ultimately laid the foundations of independence of Canada. It also empowered Canadians to express the feelings of loyalty to Great Britain. The net effect of loss remained with the native people who were deprived of their land and freedom as a consequence of European quest for annexation. The warring parties were United States of America and the UK and Ireland and its colonies including Canadian regions. The war started in 1812 and lasted for three years though a peace treaty interrupted it in 1814. The war culminated in uniting Canadians and the Americans far more intimately than they had been ever before.

The War of 1812 carried great weight with the people of the Britain’s North American colonies. The war was taken into account as a successful effort for national endurance against an army that possessed greater war resources as compared to that of the defenders. The war began badly for the americans in their endeavor to attack Canada in August 1812 was countered by Major-General Isaac Brock, commanding a small force composed of some 350 regular British troops supported by local militias and American Indian allies and led the British seizure of Detroit.1 It also moulded into one cemented block which comprised of the French-speaking and English-speaking colonies against one enemy. English language Canadian historians hailed it a great success as it endowed Canada with a sense of being a separate nation as well as a thinking of loyalty to the United Kingdom. It is supposed that at the start of the war, probably one third of the residents of Upper Canada were bron in America. Some of them were united empire loyalists, but others were incentivised by less costly lands and did not have the feelings of obedience to the British Crown. However, majority realized the common danger of invasion. An associated myth that thrived during and after the war was that the Canadian militiamen had done very good job and the British officers did not perform satisfactorily. It left indelible imprints on the Canadian military mindset later on.

When we comb the history of those times, the war that began in North America was eclipsed by the war between France and Great Britain. However, Canadians see it as one of the most significant epochs in their history for them, even though it was a little war. The young provinces of upper Canada had not entrenched themselves prior to the symptoms of serious trial which they were to face in future. Events were collaborating in such a way in Great Britain and America, that they were to have decisive influence in taking British colonies of North America on board in the war. “Events in continental Europe, the United States and Great Britain were following a course that was to breed conflict, a conflict in which the British colonies of North America were to become involved” ( R. TAYLOR, The War of 1812: AnIntroduction).

While relying on their own resources and with demonstration of great courage as a nation, Canadians had stopped the giant enemy to march into their lands that the later considered it just a matter of time. American hopes regarding take over of Canada with ease were falsified by later events. War greatly underscores the power and potential of unity of a nation who was determined to defend its territories against an enemy that possessed greater material resources but could not rival the Canadians in the demonstration of the will power to fight and defend. The war had the affect of conferring the Canadians with heroes like Isaac Brock and Laura Secord. The war indicated that new era had dawned in which European allies could no longer be used covertly in defence.

It was for the first time, that masses of Canada both British and French acted like a molten piece of lead to choke the path of foreign invasion. It was the foundation of the common Canadian identity. It is noticable that war left the principal protagonists unaltered but the people who were suqeezed in the middle felt the lasting impacts of the war. Thus, the war ended in a stalemate with no gain for either side.2 Upper Canada comprised of those lands that is now Ontario. During that time, American immigrants of dubious feelings inhabited it. The war had the effect of cementing the loyalty of the residents to Great Britain. The scions of the French, housed Lower Canada, Which is now called Quebec. However, the loyalty of these people was questionable and suspected. But ultimately the population came down on the side of the British authorities in their endeavors against Americans.

Britain and France had been at war since the leap up of the French revolution and the fresh impetus to this clash was provided by continental blockade. After the war laid down its burden, 1,600 British and 2,260 American soldiers had scrifised their lives.3 The trade sanctions affected America and she decided to raise the banner of revolt against its erstwhile colonial master. Britain dictated a series of trade limitations which were considered contravening the international law by U.S.4

The British were engaged in a very crucial and decisive war with Napolean and they did not want Americans to do trade with their enemies under any circumstances. They were quite indifferent to the lawful and theortical rights of United States because of the enormity of the enmity with France. As Horsman argues, “If practical, England wanted not to go to war against America, but she would come in favor of war, if later was going to spoil her efforts against her arch adversary. Furthermore, growning number of people both in the government and pritave sector thought that it was necassry to fight war against the Americans who posed great threat to unrivalled naval supremacy of Great Britain.”

The United States Merchant Marine was reaching the double of its capacity in between 1802 and 1810.5 it must also be noticed that the bigggest trade partner was the United Kingdom: overwhelmig quantity of cotton and other items were destined for Great Britain.6 The United States merchant marine had become the biggest nuetral fleet in the world by a big difference which raised the eyebrows of many in Great Britain.7 U.S. thought it flagrant violation of the rights of the neutral nations to trade and thus war started flaring up. “In the early years of the nineteenth century, the royal navy was the dominant naval power in the world. “It used its overwhelming strength to cripple American maritime trade and launch raids on the American coast. However, the Royal Navy was acutely conscious that the American navy had won most of the single-ship duels during the war”. ( John J. Newman, and John M. Schmalbach. United States History: Preparing for the Advanced Placement Examination)

She was also in dire need of recruits for its navy, which was already suffering from dissertations. Most of those who were disserting the British navy were joining the American ships. Britain felt it worthwhile to take essential measures to maintain a semblance of prestige worthy of her world status. She not only seized the American vessels but she also pushed for the impressments of American seamen (including and particularly the suspicious British deserters) into her royal navy. She also watched with great concern that the United States could be reaching to the Pacific Ocean.

Such an extension of the American influence could only be at the cost of the interests of the British people. Thus, Britain and Canada, which was left over possession and was on its way to the semi independence, backed Native Americans in their efforts against the US annexation drive. Frontiersmen demanded the seizure of Canada not because they wanted the land, but because the British were thought to be arming the Indians and thereby blocking settlement of the west8 On the other hand, United States wanted unhindered trade with all nations as it had neutral status and she also wanted to penetrate into the western frontier. As far as frontier is concerned, historian Bevin Alexander argues: “The conviction grew without the West that the frontier could enjoy security only by expelling the British from Canada and annexing the entire region to the United States.”

Britain seemed to be more and more the rival of the interests of the United States both tactically and strategically. Its expulsion from the North America would have a great promise for the cementation of the results of the American war of independence. British challenged the navel sovereignty of the American that led to this war. American President felt it justified after comprehensive prudence that she should now go to war against Great Britain. Since the strength of the United States to dare such a massive attack was out of its reach, the only option left was to attack Canada. Canadians have historically seen this assault as an illustration of American lust. America was not well prepared for the war and what followed was the logical corollary of the circumstances. Canada was the only rational option that initiated the war, especially given the geo-political and strategic considerations that led to war in the first place.

From the times of Napoleonic war, the royal navy has made great advancement to expand itself.9 While the Royal Navy was comfortable with manning its ships with the help of volunteers in peace times, it was considreably difficult in times of war. Since a reasonable section of the sailors in the United States navy came from the British navy out of the dissertation and better incentives10. The Royal Navy vessels openly interrupted the American vessels and inspected them in search of their men and ensure the stoppage of American trade with French. It was widely belived in America that British desserters were vested with their natural rights to become citizens of this country and thus avoid the turmoil instituted by British against them. These matters were contentious in nature as Britain would not accpet the naturalization of citizens. The issues were more complicated by the fraudulent identity papers used by sailors. It made impossible for the British to distinguish between the American and the British sailors. It led to the pressing of some Americans who had been the Bristish subjects, although some were made free on appeall11. Anger at impressment was eaxcerbated when the British would come close to the American harbors and start doing the process in the American shores 12.

The noise and choas of free trade and the rights of the sailors previaled everywhere from the american perspective. The notion that the reason of the war was the United States drive for the Canadian regions has been much debated among historians but any such logic had not found favor with them. Consequently such reasoning is often ommitted.13Some Canadian historians articulated the argument in the early 20th century, and it goes with most of the Canadians.14 Madison and his counsellors thought that the truimph over Canadian lands will be without pains and the ecominc intimidation would compel the British to come to peace.

This was a very strange war as it resulted nowhere in any shifting of boundaries. None of the iusses on which war had happened were touched by the Treaty of Ghent, yet it transformed the relations of the two countries of the world which were of course United States and Great Britain. The issue of impressment was debated when the royal navy halted impressemnt after the rout of Napolean. The treaty firmly consolidated the status quo and there were no territorial alterations. Except for some ocassional border disputes coupled with some of the disturbances of the American civil war, the relations of the two countries greatly normalised. As a matter of fact, the due came so close to each other that their interests became one and they were welded into close allies. Some of the border dispites were settled. “But the lessons of the war were taken to heart. Anti-American sentiment in Britain ran high for several years, but the United States was never again refused proper treatment as an independent power” 15

The US was able to put an end to the Indain danger on its western and southern frontiers. “Canadians remember the war as a victory by avoiding conquest, while Americans celebrated victory personified in the heros who went on to become the 7th President of the United States in 1829” (Henry Adams, History of the United States of America (during the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison).The nation also gained psychologically as it was an another feather in their cap. “The nation also gained a psychological sense of complete independence as people celebrated their “second war of independence.”16

The US Army did not show commendable performance in its efforts to attack Canada and the Canadians had demonstrated their valor well in their bid to defend their lands. But the British were left with no doubt that the less popluated region would be in range in a thid war.. “We cannot keep Canada if the Americans declare war against us again” Admiral Sir David Milne wrote to a correspondent in 1817.17

The War of 1812 was taken by the people of the British North America and consequently Canada as a truimph as they were able to protect themselves against the American onslaught. The final result vested confidence with the empire oriented Canadians along with”militia myth” that the civilian militia had been predominantly answerable rather than the British regulars, was expoilted to spur new forms of nationalsim. It had far reaching consequences as Canada did not need regular army for longer times to come.


Horsman (1962), A Very Brilliant Affair: The Battle of Queenston Heights p. 264. Toronto: Robin Brass StudIO.

R. TAYLOR, The War of 1812: AnIntroduction. 2008. Web.

John J. Newman, and John M. Schmalbach. United States History: Preparing for the Advanced Placement Examination. AMSCO School Publications, Inc.: New York. 2006, 2004, 2002, and 1998. Page 131.

Henry Adams, History of the United States of America (during the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison), New York: A. and C. Boni, 1930, vol. 7, p.385; Donald R. Hickey, The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict, Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1990, p.303.

Sheppard, George. Plunder, Profit and Paroles: A Social History of the War of 1812 in Upper Canada. Montreal and Kingston, 1994.

Kert, Faye Margaret. Prize and Prejudice: Privateering and Naval Prize in Atlantic Canada in the War of 1812. St. Johns, 1997. of 1812.


  1. See Robert Malcomson, A Very Brilliant Affair: The Battle of Queenston Heights, 1812, Toronto: Robin Brass Studio, 2003.
  2. John J. Newman, and John M. Schmalbach. United States History: Preparing for the Advanced Placement Examination. AMSCO School Publications, Inc.: New York.
  3. See. British and American forces also suffered 3,679 and 4,505 wounded, respectively. It is noteworthy that these “official” figures do not include losses to disease, casualties among American or Canadian militia forces, or losses among allied native tribes.
  4. Caffery, Kate pgs 56-58.
  5. Caffery, Kate, pg 51.
  6. Caffery, Kate, pg 50.
  7. Toll, Ian W. pg 281.
  8. Hacker (1924); Pratt (1925). Goodman (1941) refuted the idea and even Pratt gave it up. Pratt (1955).
  9. Toll, Ian W. pg 382.
  10. Caffrey, Kate pg 60.
  11. W. Arthur Bowler, “Propaganda in Upper Canada in the War of 1812,” American Review of Canadian Studies (1988) 28:11-32; C.P. Stacey, “The War of 1812 in Canadian History” in Morris Zaslow and Wesley B. Turner, eds. The Defended Border: Upper Canada and the War of 1812 (Toronto, 1964).
  12. Horsman (1962) p. 267.
  13. Hacker (1924); Pratt (1925). Goodman (1941) refuted the idea and even Pratt gave it up. Pratt (1955).
  14. W. Arthur Bowler, “Propaganda in Upper Canada in the War of 1812,” American Review of Canadian Studies (1988) 28:11-32; C.P. Stacey, “The War of 1812 in Canadian History” in Morris Zaslow and Wesley B. Turner, eds. The Defended Border: Upper Canada and the War of 1812 (Toronto, 1964).
  15. Toll, Ian W. Pg. 180 Amirality reply to British press critism.
  16. Stagg (1983).
  17. Toll, Ian W. pg 458,459.
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