Monday, June 18, 2012

WAR!! In 1812...

Today is the Bicentennial of the start of the War of 1812.  On this day, 18 June 1812, President James Madison signed the declaration of war passed by both the House (79-49) and Senate (19-13) earlier in the month.

File:USS Constitution vs Guerriere.jpg
USS Constitution v. HMS Guerriere by Michel Felice Corne (+1845AD)

So begins the first declared war of the United States of America.  Some characterize this conflict as a sort of "Second American Revolution" in which the newly independent USA defended their sovereignty from a British attempt to retake the country.  The writer of this blog would disagree with this assessment -- the primary war aim of the United Kingdom was simply to maintain control of Canada.   This they did, even while having to wrap up the conflict with Napoleon.  There is certainly more to say as the anniversaries of events come and go.  A little background, then, on the declaration of war that today's anniversary marks:

The U.S. was drifting into the Napoleonic conflict toward the end of the Presidency of Thomas Jefferson.  From 1789 to 1805 US shipping increased from 100,000 to a million tons – supplying both Britain and France.  Then, in 1807, the British Parliament passed the “Orders in Council," which forbid US trade with the enemy of Britain: Napoleonic France.  France had issued similar orders, the Continental System of 1806, but, of course, could not enforce them the way the Royal Navy could.

In 1807 Congress and President Jefferson adopted the Embargo Act as the reply – no US foreign trade.  The replacement of President Jefferson with newly elected James Madison in 1809 didn't eliminate the problem.  In 1809 the US replaced the Embargo Act of 1807 with the Non-Intercourse Act, which forbid trade with France and Britain, but opened up to other nations.  This would expire in 1810.  Madison decided to deal with the whole matter by stating that as soon as one of the two powers lifted restrictions with the US, we would cease trading with the other.  Napoleon acted first, in 1810, lifting statutory restrictions while continuing to harass American shipping.  Britain even followed suit, on 16 June 1812, but the United States declared war on 18 June.  Free trade rights were not the only cause of the war – impressment of American citizens, hopes to expand (Canada & Florida), and Indian troubles blamed on Britain all fed the war fever.

We shall have to keep track of this war as it develops.

Live well!

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