The War of 1812


Twenty-nine years after the end of the American Revolution, conflict between Great Britain and the young United States flared up again. The War of 1812 broke out for a variety of reasons, including Britain’s seizure of American ships, impressments of American sailors into the British navy and restriction of trade between the United States and France. As we approach the 200 year anniversary of the conflict, join Active Minds as we explore the impact this war had on our young nation.

Key Lecture Points

  • June 2012 marked the 200-year anniversary of the declaration of the conflict that has come to be known as the War of 1812. This was the first war the US fought after the Revolutionary War, and once again, the foe was Britain. While it is one the lesser-known wars in US history, it played a significant part in the establishment of a national identity. Despite a conclusion that simply reasserted the pre-war status quo of the disputed territories, this war left lasting legacies of military legitimacy and continental sovereignty. It also created the two recognizable emblems of the nation: the Star Spangled Banner and “Uncle Sam.”
  • This war was also an important stimulus to the establishment of a Canadian national identity. Many historians agree that were it not for the war of 1812 and the need for the Canadian territories to band together to fend off the attempted seizure of Canadian territory by the US, the development of a national Canadian identity might never have happened.
  • The war did result in the defeat of the North American Indian Confederacy by US troops and consequently facilitated unhindered US westward expansion. After the war, the removal of Native American tribal groups, and the absorption of Native American lands into US territory proceeded rapidly and comprehensively.
  • During the war, James Monroe held the dual roles of Secretary of State (1811-1817) and Secretary of War (1814-1815) under President Madison.. The rout of the Native Americans of North America greatly enhanced the US popular belief in “manifest destiny,” which led in short order to the Monroe Doctrine (1823), a cornerstone of US policy in the Americas to this day.
  • The war bestowed on the US a greatly enhanced reputation with the “Great Powers” of Europe as a consequence of US achievements in holding Great Britain at bay. After the war, the Great Powers ceased to interfere in US trade. US economic prosperity soared as a result of this post-war “Era of Good Feelings.”

Exploration Questions

  • What were the main grievances of the US against Britain?
  • How different do you think the outcome would have been had the Napoleonic wars not ended when they did?

Reflective Questions

  • Knowing what you know now about the War of 1812, does it change the way you hear “The Star Spangled Banner”?
  • Dolley Madison left a lasting legacy for First Ladies. Who are your favorite First Ladies and why?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Borneman, Walter R.. 1812: The War That Forged a Nation. Harper Perennial, 2005. 392 pages. Borneman extracts people and events and integrates them into a popular narrative of the conflict's campaigns and battles.
    Click here to order
  • Hickey, Donald. The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict, Bicentennial Edition University of Illinois Press 2012 480 pages. An excellent single volume history of an early American conflict poorly understood by most people.
    Click here to order