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The War of 1812

Causes of the war

The War of 1812 was a sideshow of the Napoleonic Wars that raged in Europe for two decades. In an attempt to isolate Great Britain with a blockade after 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte ordered all European ports under his control closed to British ships. Great Britain responded with a series of orders-in-council that required all neutral ships to obtain a licence in England before sailing to Europe. This included American ships, which were engaging in growing trade with Europe, and tensions mounted as the Royal Navy stopped American merchants en route to European ports. Even more vexing to the Americans was the British practice of searching their vessels for contraband and for deserters who had fled the harsh conditions of the Royal Navy. The final straw for the United States in this perceived British arrogance was when British captains impressed, or forced, native-born Americans into service on British ships.

These maritime tensions exploded, literally, in 1807 off the shore of Chesapeake Bay, when the captain of the American frigate Chesapeake refused a British demand to heave to and HMS Leopard opened fire, killing three and injuring 18 of the crew. This attack, known as the Chesapeake Affair, outraged Americans. These and other events at sea played into the hands of a group of Republican war hawks in the United States, whose real motive for war with Britain was the absorption of Canada. President James Madison had been persuaded by his hawkish military advisers that in the event of war, Canada would be easy pickings—that an invasion would, in fact, be welcomed by the Canadians, many of whom were recent emigrants from the United States.

On June 1, 1812, President Madison sent Congress a request for an immediate declaration of war. On June 4, Congress voted 79 to 49 in favour. On June 17, the Senate followed with its approval, 19 votes to 13, and on June 18, Madison signed a declaration of war against Great Britain.


This piece explains some of the causes of the War of 1812, on both the European and North American fronts. A map that users can zoom into supports these explanations.


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Quiz :

What weapon was the most commonly used in battle at that time?