The War of 1812: America's 2nd War for Independence
The American Revolution did not completely secure the safety and freedom of the United States of America. The United States was a vulnerable nation during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The primary concern for the new nation was survival. Enter the French Revolution. The French Revolution had a significant impact on the economic and foreign policies of the United States. The United States, in particular Northeastern merchants, relied upon trade to both England and France for their economic survival. A war between these two countries would place the United States in quite a precarious position. This issue came to a head in
1793 when the new French Republic faced off against the mighty British Empire. In 1778 the United States created an alliance with France in order to secure French assistance in the American Revolution. That alliance bound the United States to assist France in defending any and all of its territories, in particular the French colonies in the West Indies. When war broke out between England and France there was an imminent threat that the United States would be drawn into the conflict by a British attack on the West Indies. In order to navigate this crisis President Washington declared the United States neutral with the Neutrality Proclamation of 1793. The young nation was simply to weak to become embroiled in the political and military affairs of Europe. This policy angered all parties involved, especially the French, and set the stage for 15 eyears of violence between the United States, France, and Great Britain.
The tension between the United States and Great Briatain increased over the course of the first decade of the 19th century. Great Britain refused to relinquish control of its military and trading outposts on the Northwest borders of the United States (modern Day Canada in the area of the Great Lakes). The United States engaged in numerous battles, such as the Battle of Fallen Timbers, with the Native Americans of the Miami Confederacy. These native warriors were supplied with British weapons and material via Canada and the Great Lakes. This was a direct afront to the security and stability of the United States. A second threat to the sovereignty of the United States came on the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. In an attempt to strangle the French
West Indies the Royal Navy (Great Britain) began a policy of seizing US merchant vessels, cargo, and sailors that were attempting to trade with France and its colonies. To resolve this confict President Washington sent John Jay to England to negotiate a settlement with the British. The treaty, commonly referred to as Jay's Treaty, was extremely controversial. Many in the US, Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans, believed that the concessions made in the treaty were creating a distinct Anglo-American alliance. Most importantly, the treaty did not resolve the issue of "impressment". Jay's Treaty not include any stipulation that would ensure that the British would not continue with the practice in the future. Also, many feared that the British would not honor their agreement to remove their Forts and Trading outposts on U.S. soil and to stop supplying the native tribes that were attacking U.S. frontier settlements. Regardless of the
domestic controversy, the Treaty provoked an angry and violent response from the French. The French proceeded to seize American merchant vessels. Thus, the United States was now dealing with naval threats from both Great Britain and France.
The next years brought on an uneasy peace in the Atlantic Ocean. The United States continued to trade with both France and Great Britain due to its policy of neutrality. However, what appeared to be an economic and political windfall for the young nation - the Louisiana Purchase, soon turned into a potentially catastrophic situation for the U.S. France and Great Britian were dependent upon the United States for a variety of natural resources that were vital to the success of their Empires. Thus, one would assume that America was a key ally for each country. There in lies the problem. The United States was supplying both countries. Therefore, the goal of each country became destroying America's ability to trade with the other. The stated
foreign policy of "neutrality" was designed to protect the young nation. Yet, now that same policy was placing America in harm's way. As a result, President Jefferson enacted the Embargo Act of 1807 to force Great Britain and France to respect the sovereignty of American merchants and sailors. The embargo was a resounding failure. The embargo was designed to place pressure on Britain and France. Instead, it created an economic nightmare for President Jefferson. Over the course of the 15 month embargo the fragile U.S. economy border on the point of collapse. In order to avoid a complete economic meltdown the embarge was lifted and the United States continued to be caught between the warring powers of Europe.