The War of 1812: 200 Years Later

Joe Lantagne ’16

The War of 1812 is often overlooked in history books as a minor war, but in reality it had far reaching consequences. Professor Pilkington and Professor Barrus presented a history of the war with Professor Pilkington walking the audience through the war and Professor Barrus discussing the far-reaching consequences of the war.

Professor Pilkington opened the presentation with a history of the war. The war started due to tensions flared from British boarding American trade ships and forcibly taking American citizens (believed to be British deserters) in order to help them in their war against Napoleon. The Senate declared war against the British in 1812, one of five total wars officially called by Congress, and what followed was a disorganized campaign into Canada, which resulted in the American troops being forced into the defensive. Washington D.C. was burned during the war, but the British troops who burned the capital were defeated in Baltimore. Eventually a peace was brokered in Ghent, Belgium. But before the news of the treaty came to American soil, Andrew Jackson had an amazing victory at the Battle of New Orleans.

The Treaty of Ghent may have made a peace, but it did not change anything. The basic terms of the treaty were that everything went back to the ‘status quo.’ The grievances that caused the war were not addressed at all. So why did this war matter at all? Professor Barrus offered an interesting argument. The war actually shaped American foreign policy and domestic policy in years to come. Firstly, the war solidified America as an independent nation. Until this war the world thought America would never last, but the new country just stood up to one of the world’s major powers at the time and fought to a stalemate. Next, the new vigor that American citizens got from this war encouraged growth towards the West sparking a war with Mexico and can ultimately be extrapolated as a cause for the Civil War. Also, Britain realized that America was going to stay in the world, so the two nations learned to start getting along. The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 is a result of this war. The policy was purely American, but was actually an agreement with Britain that European powers should stop interfering with the Western Hemisphere. The British Royal Navy, the largest navy in the world at the time, actually largely enforced the policy.

In the end, this little forgotten war did more for our nation than most realize. It helped give our nation a boost at a much-needed time in our history and helped pave the way for America to become one of the most important countries in the modern world.

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