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The War of 1812


At the outbreak of war, United States President James Madison and his advisers had expected the largely American population of Upper Canada to throw off the “British yoke” as soon as the United States Army crossed the border. This did not happen. Lured northward by free land and low taxes, the American immigrants wanted to be left alone. Thus the British and Loyalist elite were able to set the Canadian course in defence of their ties to Great Britain. And the growing belief—more mythic than real—that they, the civilian soldiers, and not the First Nations and British regulars, had won the war helped germinate the seeds of nationalism in the Canadas. Canada owes its present shape to negotiations that grew out of the peace, while the war itself—or the myths created by the war—gave Canadians their first sense of community and laid the foundation for their future nationhood. To this extent, the Canadians were the real winners of the War of 1812. They might have done even better had Sir George Prevost pressed his advantage into New York State, a failure for which he was about to be tried in the House of Lords when he died in 1816.

For the Americans, the outcome was more ambiguous. Since the issues of impressment and maritime rights were not dealt with in the treaty, that motivation for war could be considered a failure, although some isolated victories at sea were indicators of the future potential of American power. Some Americans considered it the worst excuse for war ever. Also, the war was a failure for the war hawks who coveted the annexation of Canada. This proved not to be militarily feasible, despite five separate invasions. The conclusions that the war was a second war of independence or a war of honour and respect are less easy to judge. In fact, the war deeply divided the United States. New England was so opposed to the war that two of its states threatened secession. Madison’s government barely survived, the nation was bankrupt, and its ports were blockaded. As time passed, the war became mythologized and helped usher in the Era of Good Feelings. Major General Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans, which placed him firmly on the road to the presidency, was touted in the United States as the greatest battle of the war.

While the Americans would quickly recover from any setbacks the war might have caused, the same was not true of the real losers in the war: the First Nations. The death of Tecumseh and the defeat of the First Nations at the Battle of the Thames (Moraviantown) rent Tecumseh’s confederacy. Similarly, in the related defeat of the Creek Nation, the hope of halting American expansion into First Nations territory effectively ended, although the First Nations fared somewhat better in preserving their land and culture in Canada. The failure of Prevost to perform a decisive action at the end of the war left no chance for the British to make good on their promise to negotiate a separate nation for their allies. In the end, the British abandoned their First Nations allies in the peace, just as they had several times before.


This piece describes some of the outcomes for each warring nation after the Treaty of Ghent was signed to end in 1814. Users can click to learn more about what the treaty meant for each nation involved, including Great Britain, the United States, Canada and First Nations. Detailed illustrations and maps supports this information.


On the next page:

Turning points

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Quiz :

Where was Tecumseh killed?

Crysler's Farm
Queenston Heights
Battle of the Thames (Moraviantown)