War and Conflict

War of 1812

What caused the War of 1812?

The war between the young United States and powerful Great Britain largely came about because of France. After the French navy was crushed by the British under Admiral Nelson (1758–1805) at the Battle of Trafalgar, Napoleon turned to economic warfare in his long struggle with the British: He directed all countries under French control not to trade with Great Britain. Its economy dependent on trade, Britain struck back by imposing a naval blockade on France, which soon interfered with U.S. shipping. Ever since the struggle between the two European powers began in 1793, the United States tried to remain neutral. But the interruption of shipping to and from the continent and the search and seizure of ships posed significant problems to the American export business: In 1807 Great Britain had issued an Order in Council that required even neutral vessels destined for a continental port to stop first in England; Napoleon countered with the Milan Decree, which stated that any neutral vessel that had submitted to British search be seized.

Back in America, the people of New England, the region most dependent on shipping, nevertheless vehemently opposed entering into war with the British. But the country’s economy was depressed as a result of the interruption of exports, and the U.S. Congress declared war on June 18, 1812. In these days before telegraph and radio, the United States did not know that two days before, on June 16, Britain had withdrawn its Orders in Council, lifting its policy of shipping interference, which had been the chief reason for the war declaration. Thus the two countries engaged in fighting for the next two and a half years. On December 24, 1814, the Treaty of Ghent officially ended the war. But once again, poor communication led to fighting: Two weeks after the treaty was signed, troops in New Orleans, unaware of this event, fought for control over the Mississippi River in the worst battle of the entire conflict. Though both the United States and Great Britain claimed victory in the War of 1812, neither side had gained anything.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy History Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App