War of 1812

War of 1812




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War of 1812


The second administration of Thomas Jefferson was plagued with problems. The worst of which was the constant harassment by the British against U.S. Ships at sea. Equally plaguing, was that the British were forcing captured American seamen into forced service or impressment. Shortly afterward, war again erupted between the British and French and the British issued orders-in-council that decreed a blockade of much of the European coast, and barred ships from the French coastal trade. Angered, Napoleon issued his own Milan and Berlin decrees which blockaded the British, and threatened anyone with seizure who obeyed the British orders-in -council. Caught up in the middle of these two countries, Thomas Jefferson asked Congress for an embargo to keep American ships from leaving. However, the Embargo Act of 1809 was a failure and soon repealed because it financially only hurt the Americans.

Before long, a newly elected member from Congress rose to prominence. His name was Henry Clay. He was elected Speaker of the House on his first day in Congress. Henry Clay loved to participate in the debates on the House floor. He was known as very fair and gave all of his colleagues equal treatment. Clay was also know for his sharp tongue and his amazing skills as an orator. Henry Clay led a group known as the War Hawks. The War Hawks felt that it was time to show the British that they would not take their belligerence any longer. Clay successfully persuaded President Madison to ask Congress for a declaration of war, and he did just that on June 1, 1812. It passed the House, following a three day debate by a margin of 79 to 49, followed by approval of the Senate by a vote of 19 to 13. All of the Federalists voted against the declaration, as did 20% of the Republicans.

The war started with a three-pronged attack of Canada that resulted in complete failure. When they were done the Americans were convinced that the Canadians were happy with British rule. At the same time the British blockaded America all they way from New York to the mouth of the Mississippi River. Then things got much worse when Napoleon resigned after a failed invasion of Russia. His resignation allowed the British to forget about their hostilities with the French and concentrate solely on the war with America.

Throughout the entire war President Madison's administration struggled to find the money to fund the war. At the same time they had trouble recruiting troops. As a result, the army often was short on staff and supplies as the government came very close to bankruptcy. Then on August 24, 1814, 4,000 veterans of the Napoleonic Wars, under the leadership of General Robert Ross, landed in Maryland. They marched on Washington, and burned the Capital. They torched the executive mansion, the Capital, and most of the public buildings. The city was saved from total destruction when an enormous storm struck during the night and extinguished the fire. The British then attempted an assault on Baltimore, but they were repulsed by the American army. The British next focused on New Orleans where General Andrew Jackson was waiting for them. Jackson destroyed the Creek Indians while in route to save the city of New Orleans. Confronted by the British, he ordered his men to get down in a ditch that stretched from the Mississippi River to a swamp about a mile away. Before long the British attempted to smash their line but Jackson and his men held. They killed 2,000 British soldiers and only lost a dozen men. Both sides signed a treaty in Washington on February 17, 1815.