During the late 1700s and early 1800s, Great Britain was at war with France which led to a shortage of skilled sailors. To acquire more men for its navy, Great Britain began to detain American ships and take U.S. sailors by force.
England also tried to prevent U.S. farmers from trading with French forces which dealt a crippling blow to the economy of the young nation. Additionally, British soldiers continued to occupy territory belonging to the U.S., despite Great Britain's promise to remove these soldiers in the Treaty of Paris (1783). Most of the British soldiers were located along the Great Lakes, providing Indians, including the Shawnee leader Tecumseh, with support in their struggle against American settlers.
In 1812, President James Madison asked the United States Congress to declare war.
In June 1812, James Madison declared war on Great Britain, becoming the first U.S. President to declare war on another country. (White House Historical Association, painting by J. Vanderlyn)
In the summer of 1812, a poorly planned campaign by U.S. forces to invade Canada, ended with an American defeat and withdrawal. However, Americans were buoyed by the success of U.S. naval victories which contributed to the re-election of President James Madison. Britain responded by establishing a blockade along the east coast of the U.S. (south of New York City) which greatly impaired trade.
By the spring of 1814, the war with Napoleon was over, and experienced British troops were ready for battle with the U.S. One of the many strategies of the British was to attack the Chesapeake region which included the Washington D.C. area since it was the government seat. Despite the general sentiment that the U.S. would be hard pressed to defend itself against such a heavily fortified and well trained foe, the nation showed that it could prevail. However, it was not an easy fight.
Here an engraving depicts U.S. troops battling the British and their Indian allies in Ontario during the War. The Shawnee chief, Tecumseh was killed in this battle. (The Granger Collection; Britannica
Despite these actions, and after a major land and sea defense of Baltimore in September 1814, the British were forced to withdraw from the Chesapeake region. It was these events that inspired a young Francis Scott Key to pen a poem that would eventually become our National Anthem - one of the more enduring stories of the War of 1812.
The U.S. Capitol after the burning of Washington by the British in August 1814. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)
At the same time that U.S. forces were defending Baltimore, the British fleet in Lake Champlain was destroyed, forcing them to retreat into Canada.
Soon after, the British were forced to agree to a peace treaty, known as the Treaty of Ghent. In January 1815, not being aware that the Treaty to end the conflict had already been signed the previous month, the British decisively lost the Battle of New Orleans commanded on the U.S. side by future president, Andrew Jackson. Thus came to an end our second war for independence, often referred to as "the Forgotten War."
Excerpts of this history were taken from:
- Maryland State: Star Spangled 200, official website of the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission
- Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail Feasibility Study and Environmental Impact Statement (PDF), National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Northeast Region, March 2004.
The Peace Treaty between Great Britain and the U.S. was known as the Treaty of Ghent and ended our second war for independence.?? (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)