- The American War of 1812 was fought between the US and Great Britain. It was only 29 years after the American Revolution.
- It was the first time that the United States got to fight other people on a bigger scale.
- The British made people from America join their army even though they were not born there. They also attacked American settlers on their land.
The War of 1812 was a time when America had to fight against the British. In the early 1800s, Britain fought with France. The British tried to stop the Americans from trading with France. The British Royal Navy also took seamen without permission from U.S. ships and made them work for them instead of Americans!
Congress said that they would stop this, so they declared war on Great Britain. This is why sometimes people call it the Second War of Independence.
Causes of the War of 1812
It was difficult to trade with both France and Britain. Neither of them accepted the US’s right to trade with each other. So they punished ships for doing so.
But by 1810, some Americans started moving towards being friends with France instead of just being neutral (without taking sides) between England and France.
The war happened because some Americans thought that Britain was stirring up problems on the frontier where Native Americans lived. Those people were mad at Britain.
First Nations resistance
In the 18th century, Native Americans were resisting settlement by white Americans. Some of the people who resisted were Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa, brothers. They created a coalition for all of the tribes around the Great Lakes and Ohio River valley.
The British helped them. This made the Americans very angry.
In 1812, Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa had taken Detroit from white Americans in a battle. But then they lost it again in another battle in 1813 that killed Tecumseh.
Who was Tecumseh?
Tecumseh was a Native American chief who tried to make an Indian state. He was born in 1768. His name means “blazing comet” or “shooting star”.
Tecumseh didn’t like Americans by the time he was a teenager. He saw what they did to Shawnee people and their land. Tecumseh hated violence.
Tecumseh then went to Ohio to become a respected leader. His younger brother Lalawethika became the Prophet because, in 1806, he predicted a solar eclipse. Everybody began to follow him.
The Governor of Indiana William Henry Harrison wanted to destroy Prophetstown. Lalawethika attacked Harrison, but he lost a two-hour battle. Then the governor destroyed the Native American town.
Tecumseh was angry. He rallied his followers during the War of 1812 and joined British forces. He helped to defeat American forces at the Siege of Detroit.
Tecumseh also joined an invasion of Ohio and fought against Harrison’s army. When Harrison invaded Canada, Tecumseh followed him but when Harrison continued to follow them back to their home, Tecumseh was killed on October 5, 1813.
General Isaac Brock from the British Forces said of him, “A more sagacious or a gallant warrior does not, I believe, exist.”
Small armies for a big war
Many Americans wanted war against the British, but America was not ready. The U.S. military had only about 12,000 people. It had only 16 ships.
Congress agreed to expand the army, but when it came time to do that, there were some problems: harsh discipline and low pay.
The British were also not ready for war because they were already fighting in Spain and Portugal. And because of the war with France, their navy was pretty small too.
The war begins
The fighting began after the U.S. president, James Madison, sent a list of grievances to Congress on June 1, 1812. Four days later, Congress permitted Madison to go to war with Great Britain.
On June 18th, Madison signed a declaration of war against Great Britain after a series of disagreements. British troops invaded Washington, DC, in 1814 and burned the White House, Capitol Building, and Library of Congress. They attacked Baltimore next.
The Battle of Baltimore
The battle of Baltimore and the British siege of Fort McHenry took place on September 13th and 14th in 1814. The U.S. had 1000 men at Fort McHenry with 20 guns, while the British had 19 ships with 5,000 men.
The British had defeated the Americans at Bladensburg and they set their eyes on the third-largest city in America, which was Baltimore.
Baltimore was a good place for the American Navy during the Revolutionary War. Baltimore is on a river that led to many other places, like the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. It also had a deep harbor, which made it better for ships than other places. The Navy needed as many ships as possible, so what happened to this town mattered to them.
The British were defeated at the Battle of Baltimore. Americans had a safe port in Baltimore again.
“The Star-Spangled Banner”
A year before the war in Baltimore, Mary Pickersgill was asked to make a large American flag for Fort McHenry. With the help of her daughter, her nieces, and an African American apprentice, she made the flag with 15 stripes and 15 stars on it. Every day after that, they would raise the same flag during reveille, even if they were under attack by guns.
In 1814, the American flag was still on top of Fort McHenry. The British had tried to attack, and it did not work out.
The lawyer Francis Scott Key saw it and felt very proud of being American. He then wrote four verses that he called “The Defence of Fort McHenry.”
He set them to an English drinking tune. This song was published as “The Star-Spangled Banner”. It is now the American national anthem.
“Don’t give up the ship!”
Captain James Lawrence said these very famous words. He was badly wounded and told his crew to not let the ship go. He said this during a fight during the War of 1812. He later died in 1813 in England.
Fire and storms
Throughout the war, British and American forces fought by setting fire on towns and cities. American forces in 1813 burnt down York (present-day Toronto), the capital of Upper Canada, which belonged to the British.
They set fire on its provincial parliament and other public buildings. One thing that was not burnt was a lion statue that is owned by the U.S. Naval Academy today.
British troops marched into Washington, DC, and set buildings on fire. The next day, the fire continued until it was put out by a tornado that ripped through Washington, DC. It killed many British soldiers.
New England secession
During the war, people in New England thought about separating from the United States. They also felt that states should have their rights.
The British had blocked many ports, so it was hard to get food and other things people needed. People were starving.
Some New Englanders then proposed to form a separate country from the United States if they could not get what they deserved in Congress. In the end, this never happened.
The Canadian invasion
Thomas Jefferson planned to march over to Quebec and take Canada as part of the United States. Canada was still part of the British Empire. In that way, Jefferson planned on the expulsion of Britain from America.
Jefferson was not thinking about expanding the U.S. towards Canadian territory. Expansionism was not a cause for this war.
Laura Secord, Canadian war hero
Laura Secord was a loyalist during the War of 1812. That means she did not want to fight for Britain against the United States.
Nevertheless, Laura heard that the Americans were going to attack British soldiers. Laura set out on her own to warn the Canadians of the attack. She crossed some tough grounds to get there.
American troops met fierce resistance from the locals who were loyal to the British. The U.S. soldiers burnt villages and towns, which didn’t make them popular with Canadians.
Laura has become a Canadian war hero. There is even a chocolate factory that has her name.
The battle of New Orleans
The Battle of New Orleans was on January 8, 1815. The American and British troops were unaware that the peace treaty had been signed in Belgium. Therefore, they fought for many days despite a treaty being made.
The British were about to invade New Orleans when Andrew Jackson called the people to defend the city. Along came soldiers but also aristocrats, freed slaves, Native Americans, and even Jean Lafitte, a French pirate.
Americans won the battle. They killed around 2,000 British troops while only suffering 65 casualties. This battle had no effect on the war, but it did help Jackson become the next American President.
The end of the War of 1812
In 1814, the US and Britain met in Ghent, a town in Belgium. They signed a peace treaty that would end a war. But it would be weeks before people heard about this.
And then Andrew Jackson won the New Orleans battle on January 8th, 1815. But even though he won that battle, the war wasn’t over yet. It officially ended when Madison signed the treaty on February 17th, 1815.
The war had lasted for two years and eight months.
After the War of 1812 ended, little changed for the British and the Americans. The real losers were the Native American tribes that helped the British. They were hurt badly.
Many people in the United States celebrated the victory of the War of 1812. They said it was the second war of independence.
This started an era where people agreed with each other and felt proud of their country. People called it the “Era of Good Feelings.”
The War of 1812 helped to make new great American generals. Four presidents were also made: Jackson, John Quincy Adams, James Monroe, and William Henry Harrison.
The War of 1812 also set up America to move towards the West in later years.
P.S. If you enjoyed what you read and are a teacher or tutor needing resources for your students from kindergarten all the way up to high school senior (or even adults!), check out our partner sites KidsKonnect, SchoolHistory, and HelpTeaching for hundreds of facts, worksheets, activities, quizzes, courses, and more!