History for the Rest of Us

Declaration of War – 1812

Declaration of War – 1812

Jun 19, 2012

Two hundred years ago, the United States declared war on the United Kingdom and Ireland. There were several reasons why the U.S. declared war, some of which are outlined below: Trade Restrictions As an element of commercial warfare in its war with France, Britain had introduced restrictions curtailing trade with the French. These ‘Orders in Council’ were designed to impede French allies as well as neutral countries who were trading with France. There were more than a dozen of these blockade decrees, three of which were particularly offensive to the United States. Support of Indian Nations The British had ceded the Northwest Territory to the U.S. in the Treaty of Paris in 1783. However, the region had been in dispute between the United States and several Indian Nations since 1787. The Indian Nations formed an alliance to block US expansion, and attacks on U.S. citizens in the Northwest Territory began to occur. These attacks, aided by arms provided from Britain, caused tensions to escalate between the two countries. Forced Navy Service In need of additional sailors to man its expanded fleet, the British Royal Navy implemented a policy of impressment (forcing men into the navy without notice). Since Britain didn’t recognize the right of her subjects to become naturalized citizens of another country, the British began intercepting U.S. ships and searching for ‘deserters’ (Naturalized U.S. citizens who were British-born). Disdain for these British policies increased as Britain began stationing ships and performing searches within view of U.S. shores. Message to Congress On June 1, 1812, President James Madison sent a message to Congress detailing the various grievances. In the message he stated, “We behold, in fine, on the side of Great Britain, a state of war against the United States, and on the side of the United States a state of peace toward Great Britain.” He indicated that the actions to be taken lay in the hands of Congress. “Whether the United States shall continue passive…or…shall commit a just cause into the hands of the Almighty Disposer of Events…is a solemn question which the Constitution wisely confides to the legislative department of the Government.” The House of Representatives deliberated for four days and eventually...