War of 1812 Discussion

Okay, before you set loose the lynch mob, at least let me explain why I'm making this thread: I'm making it because there hasn't really been a thread made to actually specifically discuss the War of 1812 itself, rather than a POD based on or around the War of 1812; there has been lots of discussion and debate about the OTL War of 1812, but this is scattered across multiple threads.

Some generic discussion points:

What were the causes of the war? Was it unfair British impressment of US merchant ships or was it US refusal to cooperate with the British in their anti-slavery policy? Did the US see this as an opportunity to take Canada and deal a great blow to a Britain that was preoccupied with a war against France? Did the British take their eye off the ball in North America after the French threat in North America disappeared?

What were the war aims of the US? Taking Canada or stopping British impressment? What were the war aims of the UK? Was the conquest of the United States ever part of any British war aims? What were both the UK's and US's primary and secondary war aims?

What was the result of the war? Was it a British or US victory? A stalemate? Were the results on a strategic or tactical level different from each other? How badly could the war have realistically gone for either side? Should the burning of the White House be seen more as a symbolic victory rather than a significant victory? Or should it count as a major British victory?

Lot's of questions, much to discuss.

Enjoy.
 
My opinions:

1) It was certainly a war the US wanted more than the UK. The US was ambitious in its youth (which is not to say they weren't ambitious after that...;)), saw Canada as "easy pickin's", and had just enough justification on the issues of naval impressment, trade embargoes, and the failure of the British to yield Northwestern forts as promised in the 1783 Paris treaty. The UK, on the other hand, was engaged deeply in the Napoleonic campaigns (at this juncture, Wellington was fighting in the Peninsular campaigns in Spain), its Navy blockading France (and incidentally hindering neutral American shipping from trading with both Britain and France), and their position in Canada not very strong (though, as it would turn out, the US ability in 1812 to prosecute war in Canada was not much better than Britain's would have been in).

2) Primary US war aims: Get Canada, ???, Win international respect!. Secondary war aims: as above.
Primary UK war aims: Don't lose Canada.
Secondary war aims: See if we can't get these impudent whelps to shut their damn mouths; maybe get that Maine boundary settled in our favor, and get them out of Louisiana.

3) The result of the war was pretty much a draw. The US attempts at Canada failed miserably for any number of reasons, mainly that the US Army was unprepared for the task (though Harrison did do well to get the British out of Detroit, alongside Perry's victories in Lake Erie), but Britain's own invasion from Canada was turned back at Plattsburgh, their strike at Baltimore was repulsed, and New Orleans was a resounding American victory. Given that the two nations were at the bargaining table before New Orleans (and signed the peace treaty several weeks beforehand), it is safe to say that both sides realized the war was a folly. It certainly could have been worse for the US, as Plattsburgh, Baltimore and New Orleans could have ended in defeat instead of victory, though it would probably still only see the US forced to surrender the portions of Maine already taken by the British and return Louisiana to Spain. It also could have been better by a long shot for the US; with a better trained and larger regular force that didn't need to rely on the militias to fill out their ranks, maybe taking Canada, as Jefferson put it, would have been little more than a matter of marching. As well, better leadership and basic tactics would've made Bladensburg not the site of an abject defeat, but possibly a victory that would've kept the nation's capital from going under the torch.

Washington's burning was however, IMO, little more than symbolic, since at the time it was barely more than a collection of the few federal buildings and offices established for the new US government; losing it hurt practically nothing except pride. Its importance to the war does seem to be overinflated, but the morale lost as a result COULD have been a blow in later events, should Baltimore have also fallen. Baltimore was the primary target in the invasion; it was a major US port, and it was believed by the British to be a haven for US privateers harassing British ships. Likewise, it was on a north-south communication line along the coast, and its capture would effectively split the US in two.
 

MacCaulay

Banned
My opinions:
Washington's burning was however, IMO, little more than symbolic, since at the time it was barely more than a collection of the few federal buildings and offices established for the new US government; losing it hurt practically nothing except pride. Its importance to the war does seem to be overinflated, but the morale lost as a result COULD have been a blow in later events, should Baltimore have also fallen. Baltimore was the primary target in the invasion; it was a major US port, and it was believed by the British to be a haven for US privateers harassing British ships. Likewise, it was on a north-south communication line along the coast, and its capture would effectively split the US in two.
When Pike (who in my opinion doesn't have NEARLY enough AH written about him) and his forces struck into the Niagara peninsula, they burned the Customs House at York, later Toronto. The British were responding in kind, though definitely on a larger scale.
Col. Zebulon Pike was killed after the attack on York by a powder magazine that exploded. He died when a rock flew through the air and landed on him. LANDED ON HIM. If I were to pitch that as an alt.hist POD, people would think I was nuts.
Just like if I were to pitch the idea that the American Navy, possessed of a half dozen frigates and no ships-of-the-line, could fight the Royal Navy pound-for-pound in just about every engagement of the war, or that the Americans would build a fleet on Lake Erie out of nothing to take back control.
Or that the British would burn down the American capitol without a fight. Or that the final and grandest battle of the war would take place after the war ended. That war was just one unexpected turn after another.

I've always been of the opinion that the War of 1812 is one of those wars that has an 'alternate history-ring' to it. There are a few wars that in my mind had that ring of unreality to them, like they were something we'd pitch on this board: the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, and the Falklands War tend to spring to mind.
 
It could be speculated that without the War of 1812, Canadian nationalism would have taken longer to develop (I personally believe it would have come sooner or later).
 
Yup, fairly common comment amongst Canadian historians that 1812 was the Canadian War of Independance. Without it they would have been happy to join the US eventually or have Quebec go its own way or what have you.

As you can probally expect I see the war as a British victory.
America just used impressment as a cassus beli to try and go for a landgrab in Canada. They probally figured Britain wouldn't be too bothered about defending or better yet they would try but have the Canadians rise up against them in a ARW round 2.
Britain didn't want the war, it was forced on them.

It was like the Falklands war or the many other wars of the type. Amongst the defender not loosing anything is a victory and for the aggressor not gaining is a defeat.

What I don't get is the way the Americans make such a big deal about New Orleans. If you mention that Britain won the war they come to 'Ah but New Orleans, 200 Americans beat 2000 Brits!!!11' (or some such).
It doesn't matter though. By virtue of not loosing Canada any attacks Britain made on America were superflous. It would be nice if we'd gained something but to do so would just be pushing things even more in our favour.

Britain never had any intention of conquering the US- we had learned in the years since its independance it was far more profitable not having to pay for its upkeep.
 
the War of 1812 was a complete draw, and one of the most useless wars in history. Neither side gained anything out of it.
If you have to pick a winner, I'd say the US got more out of the war than the Brits did.... they gained the symbols of the White House (thanks to the Brits burning DC), and the words to the National Anthem... plus, the Brits stopped impressing US sailors (mainly because with Napoleon defeated, they didn't need to anymore). Or, if you take the really long term view of it, both sides won.... it was the last war fought between the two nations, and they moved from foes to close trading partners and eventually military allies....
 

Larrikin

Banned
Winners and losers

the War of 1812 was a complete draw, and one of the most useless wars in history. Neither side gained anything out of it.
If you have to pick a winner, I'd say the US got more out of the war than the Brits did.... they gained the symbols of the White House (thanks to the Brits burning DC), and the words to the National Anthem... plus, the Brits stopped impressing US sailors (mainly because with Napoleon defeated, they didn't need to anymore). Or, if you take the really long term view of it, both sides won.... it was the last war fought between the two nations, and they moved from foes to close trading partners and eventually military allies....
Any way you parse it with reality the USA lost Madison's War. They failed to achieve any of their goals, had their capital selectively torched, and all they accomplished out of it was ensuring that they would never get Canada. US history books to the contrary, it was nothing but a minor aggravation for the Brits, which they fought with both hands behind their backs. The great US frigate victories were all against inferior ships, and the whole [ound for pound thing is a myth brought about by different methods of rating the ships. As US 44 gun frigate was about the equivalent of a Brit 52 rated ship, and by using USN nomenclature those victories were against 28s, 32s, and 34s.
 
I see no reason to believe that slavery was a factor in the war, as slavery would not be outlawed in British territory for another twenty years while the US agreed with and helped enforce the end of the African slave trade.

The US undoubtedly lost the war as none of the reasons for which the US went to war, by two votes in the Senate, were achieved while the British achieved all of their original goals.

The British were far less successful when they upped the ante but the main issue in the war was whether or not the US would take part or all of Canada, and the answer was clear.

Technically the US achieved the minor goal of ending the impressment of American sailors but I see this as irrelevant. The moment the Napoleonic Wars had ended there was no further need for the British to worry about keeping the RN up to manpower requirements and thus the issue of impressment inevitably died away.
 
I see the war as more of a draw than anything else. Both sides lost something, and both sides gained something.
However, in the wider scope, the US gained a lot in terms of the international scene. They not only maintained thier country against the greatest imperial power of the era, they also managed to defeat them in a couple places, New Orleans foremost among them. We gained some respect from the other nations, which ultimately led to the United States becoming the superpower it is today.
Also, without the Siege of Fort McHenry, we wouldn't have the song "The Star Spangled Banner", which IMO is a damn cool song even if it weren't our anthem.
 

Larrikin

Banned
Swings and round abouts

I see the war as more of a draw than anything else. Both sides lost something, and both sides gained something.
However, in the wider scope, the US gained a lot in terms of the international scene. They not only maintained thier country against the greatest imperial power of the era, they also managed to defeat them in a couple places, New Orleans foremost among them. We gained some respect from the other nations, which ultimately led to the United States becoming the superpower it is today.
Also, without the Siege of Fort McHenry, we wouldn't have the song "The Star Spangled Banner", which IMO is a damn cool song even if it weren't our anthem.
The US got nothing, except a major hit to their economy. In terms of international prestige, it meant nothing, because everybody else knew that England was extremely heavily involved in sticking it to Napoleon. The win at New Orleans would have turned into a defeat in the rematch if the peace hadn't already been signed.

All the US got out of it was an unsingable anthem for talentless celebs to butcher at the Superbowl.

The first major piece of US international prestige was when they went after the Barbary pirates in the Med and tamed them. Which was a great piece of work.
 
Yup, fairly common comment amongst Canadian historians that 1812 was the Canadian War of Independance. Without it they would have been happy to join the US eventually or have Quebec go its own way or what have you.
I've been going about this the wrong way! :(

Was joining the US a common sentiment before the war?
 
I've been going about this the wrong way! :(

Was joining the US a common sentiment before the war?
Not particularly. I think what he meant is that lacking an 1812 for the English speaking portions of Canada some of it may drift into the US instead of forming up as one dominion.

IOTL the Maritimes were rather upset because they would have preferred a continued unrestricted reciprocity with the US (read they were completely tied into the New England economy and knew it) rather then union. As such Canada's first separatist party the Anti-Confederates of Nova Scotia won 36/38 provincial and 18/19 federal seats in the 1867 elections post-Confederation but Britain wouldn't let them leave.

In Newfoundland the Anti-Confederates won in 1869 and stopped Confederation until after World War 2.

Ontario and Quebec would probably stick together, but I could see the Maritimes drift into the US lacking the War of 1812.
 
Ontario and Quebec would probably stick together, but I could see the Maritimes drift into the US lacking the War of 1812.

I'm not sure they'll become part of America just because they have a free trade agreement with us.

I mean, Canada is part of NAFTA, yet we don't hear Doctor What arguing for the union between our two nations.
 
The US got nothing, except a major hit to their economy. In terms of international prestige, it meant nothing, because everybody else knew that England was extremely heavily involved in sticking it to Napoleon.
The US also smashed Tecumseh and other British Indian allies in the Northwest.
 

MacCaulay

Banned
The US also smashed Tecumseh and other British Indian allies in the Northwest.
As a matter of fact, weren't we already fighting something like the Third major Indian war in 1812, as I recall, that was why the Tennessee militia was so battle hardened. They'd been fighting the Red Sticks for months, and the Cherokees before that.
 
I'm not sure they'll become part of America just because they have a free trade agreement with us.

I mean, Canada is part of NAFTA, yet we don't hear Doctor What arguing for the union between our two nations.
More likely that they eventually form there own Maritime Union to effect their own policies with regards the US ( the British Acadian Confederation). Though the Canadas might interfere, in much the same way they did with NFLD scuttling any moves to a preferential arrangement with the US within the Empire. I think Britain would prefer a union of all its colonies over in North America at some point so that its influence viz the US remains paramount. So they might work diplomatically to encourage that union anyway and discourage any union with the US. Besides...Halifax..will be a major RN base until the turn of the century. They will not want to lose that if they can.
 
It was a draw. The only result of the war was a return to the status quo. Neither side gained anything or lost anything.... no territory, no lopsided treaties... nothing.
 
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