The War of 1812 is a significant event for the United States of America (America) that introduced much of the reforms characterizing the status quo. It placed much emphasis on respect for American sovereignty and diplomacy – with emphasis on respecting America’s diplomatic rights, the sanctity of American political unity and American economic development. On the other hand, it places heavy weight on controversial American expansionist effort on British Canada and Spanish Florida. Nevertheless, the War is a necessary one due to its positive consequences to the development of America as a nation.
America saw several opportunities to expand its territory during The War of 1812. During the Napoleonic Wars between the British and French, the British Empire forbade America to conduct trade with France in a bid to weaken the French war effort. This violated America’s position of trade neutrality.1 In United States History: To 1877, Nelson Klose and Robert Jones stated that America declared war because the British Empire initiated “a) the seizure of American ships and other interference with American trade and b) the impressment of American seamen.”2 The two further contended that British incitement of Indians (led by Tecumseh and the Prophet) in the Northwest Territories prompted America to go to war and annex British Canada and Spanish Florida – two of the British Empire’s strongholds.3 However, America’s main objective in conquering those territories is to confront the British forces into war; the territories were not the reason for starting the War. In The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict, Donald Hickey clarified that “the desire to annex Canada did not bring on the war. Rather it was maritime issues – particularly the Orders in Council and impressment.”4 Reginald Horsman further emphasized on that point in The Causes of the War of 1812, saying, “The conquest of Canada was primarily a means of waging war, not a reason for starting it.”5 The same context fits into the successful American invasion of Spanish Florida. Andrew Jackson believed that Pensacola, an area in Spanish Florida, is the center of “British operations in the region.”6 Thus, the annexation attempts of America in the War of 1812 are not the main objective of the war. Those moves only served as an instrument for America to destabilize attacking British forces.
The War is a necessary one because it gave due respect to American sovereignty and diplomacy. It also highlighted the ability of America’s maritime operations. Klose and Jones noted that “1) The War won British respect for the fighting ability of American seamen and the ability of American diplomats.”7 A notable consequence of the War was the passage of the American Congress’ “Act for the Gradual Increase of the Navy” into law, which further strengthened the maritime forces of America.8 The British Empire’s denial of America’s right to naturalize British defectors was widely considered as an insult to American sovereignty; the aftermath of the War gave America better respect in that position.9
Consequentially, the American political atmosphere enjoyed a long-lasting internal and external communion after the War. Klose and Jones pointed out “5) The war increased the American spirit of nationalism and overcame disruptive forces of sectionalism.”10 When the War ended, Americans felt jubilated at their apparent victory, ushering a period of unity between Democratic-Republicans and Federalists called the Era of Good Feelings.11 In terms of international relations, America mended its differences with the British Empire and built amicable ties together.12 From that period, America started to rise as a major political power.
Impediments to American trade with the British Empire and France during the War resulted to the rise of manufacturing activities, which spearheaded economic growth in place of stagnating trade activities. Klose and Jones remarked that “6) Trade interruptions before and during the War forced a significant growth of American manufacturing.”13 Hickey further justified that “the development of manufacturing and a permanent increase in the defense establishment” led America to become economically powerful.14
In sum, the War of 1812 is a necessary war, for it presented great prospects that elevated America into a great nation. Whereas controversies on expansionist intentions are a matter of ambiguous debates, the significance of long-term effects that contributed to America’s development remains invaluable to this day. American expansionism was not the War’s objective. Rather, it was just America’s way of defeating the British Empire. After the War, American sovereignty and diplomacy was given due respect, American political divisions progressed towards unity and the American economy advanced as it moved away from heavy reliance to trade towards manufacturing activities.
Black, Jeremy. America as a Military Power: From the American Revolution to the Civil War. Connecticut: Praege, 2002.
Heidler, David, and Jeanne Heidler. The War of 1812. United Kingdom: Greenwood Press, 2002.
Hickey, Donald. The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict. Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1995.
Hickey, Donald. “The War of 1812: Still a Forgotten Conflict?” The Journal of Military History 58, no. 3 (2001): 741-769.
Horsman, Reginald. The Causes of the War of 1812. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1962.
Klose, Nelson, and Robert Jones. United States History: To 1877. New York: Barron’s Educational Series, Inc., 1994.
Phillimore, Robert. Commentaries upon International Law. Pennsylvania: T. & J.W. Johnson & Co., 1857.
Toll, Ian. Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006.
Wilentz, Sean. The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln. New York: Horton, 2008.