June 18, 2012

200 years ago today, who won the War of 1812?

We like to think we did, but...
[F]or some Canadians, the war is a seminal conflict and its commemoration an important event. Richard Merritt remembers being fed cookies and tales of Canadian heroics in 1812 by "elderly aunts" in Niagara-on-the-Lake, next to Fort George....

Presentation boards inside a former Fort George barrack aim to tell the history from all perspectives. But as he read of America's "overwhelming" numerical advantage and its "shameful retreat" from Fort George, Jim Auker, from Elkhart, Ind., thought: "There's a dig." The presentation's conclusion: "The United States did not succeed in conquering Canada or achieve the 'final expulsion of England from the American continent'."

78 comments:

Fen said...

Geez. It wasn't even the Canadians that won the war. It was the Brits.

This is like listening to a Al Bundy boast about winning his 4th Grade football game.

Really? 1812? Thats all you got?

DADvocate said...

Those of us from Tennessee prefer to remember Ole Hickory going down to New Orleans and kicking some butt. The beginning of Tennessee being known as the Volunteer State.

MadisonMan said...

At this time in 1812, no one knew who won the war because it wasn't over yet -- it had just started.

DADvocate said...

Johnny Horton - The Battle of New Orleans.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50_iRIcxsz0

MadisonMan said...
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Hagar said...

The war of 1812 was not with Canada, and it was not about Canada.

And for the Brits it was mainly a minor irritation. They had much larger fish to fry at the time.

Seeing Red said...

The History Channel's reenactment was great I really enjoyed it.

Didn't Mark Steyn once point out that the 18th century belonged to America but the 19the century would belong to the Canucks?


Still waiting.

Beldar said...
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BarryD said...

"The war of 1812 was not with Canada, and it was not about Canada."

True. It was with Britain, over trade restrictions, blockades, and sundry other things like Brits taking sailors we considered American Citizens to be forced into British Naval service.

Beldar said...

Big picture: They burned the White House and proved that the British Empire controlled not only the high seas but any coast they so chose; we won the last land battle in a shocking-to-the-world demonstration that American colonials could both out-think and out-fight the British Army in a conventional battle; but in the end, the war was a draw whose strategic consequences favored the British, and the Canadian perspective is correct: The U.S. "did not succeed in conquering Canada or achieve the 'final expulsion of England from the American continent.'"

Original Mike said...

So we say we won, they say they won. Only one way to settle this, Canada; we attack at dawn.

LarsPorsena said...

54 40 or fight!

Rick said...

I lived at Fort Niagara in 1956-1957 when my dad was stationed there. It was idyllic for a kid. Our large quarters faced the Niagara river and we had a view of Fort George across the river. The winters were cold.

Sorun said...

"Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?"

gerry said...

They still have that silly monarchy...and why?

edutcher said...

There was a long-held belief that, if given half a chance, the Canucks would rather be free men than subjects.

Richard Montgomery, Benedict Arnold, and Daniel Morgan tried it in the winter of '75, too.

And the Canucks are still subjects in a lot of ways, although Mr Harper is The Blonde's favorite Prime Minister because he's done up there what we need done down here.

Shanna said...
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holdfast said...

The Battle of New Orleans was American militia vs Brit Regulars. The Americans won.

Most of the "British" troops in the Niagara campaign were Canadian (or proto-Canadian) militia, and Indians. They won.

The lesson: Don't f*ck 19th century with North American militiamen.

holdfast said...

@educher:

Given a choice between Elizabeth II and King Putt I, I'll take Lizzy any day.

Christopher said...

The Americans, including Thomas Jefferson, thought conquering Canada would a walk in the park. Wrong--especially earlier in the war, our armies collapsed. Meanwhile our tiny Navy managed early victories against the Brits, tactically probably not a big deal but psychologically a trauma. Eventually the royal navy's numbers bottled a lot of us up, but we turned back the British tide on Lake Champlain and American privateers were wreaking all kinds of havoc on British shipping. In the larger scheme of things all of this was a sideshow to the Brits, but it was a very expensive sideshow and not worth the expense. Good thing, too, because we might not have been able to support the war debt for another year, and we if had, we might not have been able to hold onto New England, where secessionist sentiment was growing. It was a close-run thing in a lot of ways.

Given the superpower status of Britain, it looks like most Americans felt like they won. We didn't succeed in ending the Royal Navy's outrageous impressment of (tens of thousands of) sailors, either by war or by treaty, but if I recall my history correctly, that practice ended after the war (at least as applied to American shipping) and there was less call for it after Napoleon flailed for the last time.

Jackson's great and bloody defense of New Orleans took place after the peace treaty was signed--slow communications.

BarryD said...
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Paddy O said...

We sure took care of Mexico a few decades later, though, didn't we?

Won't see that Spanish influence in the states, that's for certain!

Took care of those traitors in the South too a decade after that, thus ending slavery and the racial problems it brought.

Those Germans and Japanese in World War II got the what for, as well. Won't be seeing them influencing Asia or Europe anytime soon.

"America, winning wars curiously since 1812."

sonicfrog said...

Who was the winner of the War of 1812????

Dolly Madison!

Without that war, we probably wouldn't know about her. Her actions during the Bitish invasion of the White House made her a legend!!!! :-)

Plus, she makes a mean cup-cake!!!!

TosaGuy said...

The Battle of New Orleans was fought shortly after the peace accord was signed. No one in North America knew it has been signed at the time of the battle.

If the British had won that battle, you can bet that would have kept New Orleans.

A British New Orleans would have altered American history significantly by retarding growth in the Louisiana Purchase and the Ohio River Valley. All American commerce in the Midwest would have flowed through the Great Lakes instead of being split between the lakes and the Mississippi River.

With that in mind, the British would have leaned hard on American interests in the Great Lakes, which can easily be bottled up at a few strategic points.

Bottom line: The U.S. won the war because it didn't lose and, as a result, was left free to expand.

BarryD said...

the Canadian perspective is correct: The U.S. "did not succeed in conquering Canada or achieve the 'final expulsion of England from the American continent.'"

Uh, I don't believe that the US was looking to conquer Canada. Canadian territory is very close to some major US cities, and AFAIK Canada claimed the Great Lakes as British colonial territory in 1812. This would have had a major impact on those sailors and trade routes. A dispute over this territory, and concerns about American military security along the northern border do not equate to the goal of conquering Canada.

So, while it is true that, during the War of 1812, the US did not conquer Canada, it also did not conquer Peru or Japan. If Peru or Japan held a bicentennial celebration of their not being conquered by the US in 1812, we would think that's awfully funny. I'm not sure that the Canadian perspective is much closer to reality.

tim maguire said...

We didn't win it on the battle field (our biggest victory came after the war was over), but we won it at the peace table.

We got what we wanted--and what better way to assign a winner?

EMD said...

did not succeed in conquering Canada

Now, who would want to go and do something as stupid as that?

Michael K said...

Jefferson brought on the war in large part because of his ineffectual policies. First, he blocked construction of a navy, then he responded to the British high handedness with the Embargo Act, referred to in New England as the "O grab me act." That is what led to threats of secession.

Our present president seems to favor similar polices.

AllieOop said...

The Hessians.

Dan in Philly said...

Who cares?

David said...

Beware, Canadian Brothers.

"It's not over until we win."

My grandparents came from Canada. I am a Canadian-American, the least pampered minority group in the nation.

Chip Ahoy said...

it also did not conquer Peru or Japan.

Why be silly? Okay, I know why, I'm silly all the time. In case some reader's silly-bouncer isn't functioning without coffee, the US didn't invade Peru or Japan to pursue its grievance with England and so neither Peru nor Japan felt a need at that time to defend themselves from and successfully repulse a U.S. invasion.

Wiki answers why the US invaded Canada during the War of 1812

Hagar said...

My understanding is that the peace settlement after the Revolutionary War left a number of obligations on the United States, especially with regard to land speculation in the southeastern states, and the "war hawks" thought that while Britain was fighting for its life against the French empire would be a good time to start another war to get out from under those restrictions on their activities.

Tarkwell Robotico said...

Besides having the greatest trade relationship in the history of humankind, Canada and the United States have another amazing feature to their incredible friendship:

We are the only two countries in the world who fought a war against each other and both genuinely feel like we won it.

And 200 years later, we are building a bridge between Detroit and Windsor where more trade flows that between all of the US and all of Britain.

We are your biggest supplier of foreign oil and you give us unfettered access to your comedy clubs (Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Martin Short, Lorne Michaels, John Candy - RIP) and concert halls (Shania Twain, Celine Dion, Guess Who, Neil Young, Bryan Adams, Barenaked Ladies, Nickelback, Leonord Cohen).

Not to mention that there's nothing like taking a vacation in exotic United States where they do strange things like sell gas by the gallon and look at you strangely when you order your pizza "all dressed".

Larry J said...

During the War of 1812, British troops burned Washington DC.

And to think, we've never had the descency to thank them.

Chip Ahoy said...

My British friends find the American flag a harsh symbol. This surprises me because I find their flag particularly harsh. All pointy and spiky aggressive conquering Empire controlling and harsh. They find their flag lovely and our flag harsh and I am the reverse.

And that forced me to think about it for a long time. They did come over here to kick our asses twice. I thought. That's scary. They burned our capitol! That was my view.

Now I see the British flag as a propeller rotating backwards. And when the British flag is hung backward so that the propeller rotates forward, I spot that mistake a mile away and it's a grievance. I'm surprised to see it hung wrongly so often in Photos. Do Google search for British flag and notice usually one or two examples will be flying backward.

Mitch H. said...

We remember having won it because the Indians (Shawnee and Creeks, primarily) lost it. If you look at it strictly from a Eurocentric point of view, it was a failed American war, but not a outright defeat. If you look at it from the view-point of the frontier, it was an American triumph, securing the new territories and beginning the expulsion process east of the Mississippi.

Clyde said...

The truth is that we have just about all of the North American continent that isn't frozen tundra or burning desert, from sea to shining sea -- and we have our share of those as well.

edutcher said...

holdfast said...

@educher:

Given a choice between Elizabeth II and King Putt I, I'll take Lizzy any day


Liz don't call the shots. The PM do and Cameron hasn't been another Thatcher.

William said...

Losing a war is not such a definitive event. Nobody has ever been more thoroughly defeated in a war than Germany, but it's now the dominant power in Europe. You can make the argument that the US lost or, at least, did not win the War of 1812. Nonetheless, the fact remains that the USA is the dominant power on the North American continent.....Just let those canuck fucks try to lay a pipleline on our sacred land, and we'll show them what for. Let them choke on their own oil. Obama has not forgotten the lessons of 1812.

Alex said...

I think the Brits were much more concerned with Napoleon in 1812.

Alex said...

William - Germany losing WW2 was definitive for the rest of Europe and world Jewry.

edutcher said...

Paddy O said...

We sure took care of Mexico a few decades later, though, didn't we?

Won't see that Spanish influence in the states, that's for certain!


No interest in eliminating "Spanish influence" in the Mexican War. We wanted clear title to Texas and, if we could get them, the Santa Fe country and San Francisco Bay.

Still have those. Spanish culture was a bonus.

Took care of those traitors in the South too a decade after that, thus ending slavery and the racial problems it brought.

The Civil War didn't end slavery?

Those Germans and Japanese in World War II got the what for, as well. Won't be seeing them influencing Asia or Europe anytime soon.

We defeated the political systems running them. That was the goal.

Right now, Germany is a better friend than Britain and France.

And Japan is as pacifist as anyone could want.

America, winning wars curiously since 1812.

The Limeys have had sense enough to let us alone since then.

JAL said...

Mmmmm.

The article made me wonder if Richard Merritt and I are related. After the Revolutionary War, in which we had ancestors in the same family fighting on both sides, the Tories (losers) high tailed it to Canada, the others hung out in Westchester. Merritts, all of them.

I'll have the Family Historian and Geneologist check this guy out.

{waves} at "cousin" Richard.

Sigivald said...

Hagar: Try telling a Canadian that. Like Fen said, it is all they got.

(At least in the contra-US field; in military valor, they have plenty, like both World Wars.)

(Paddy O'blathered:
Took care of those traitors in the South too a decade after that, thus ending slavery and the racial problems it brought.

Those Germans and Japanese in World War II got the what for, as well. Won't be seeing them influencing Asia or Europe anytime soon.


Uh huh. Well, turns out the Civil War did end slavery, though nobody ever suggested that it magically ended or would end "racial problems".

And as for the Krauts and Japs, neither of them have invaded anyone since then, and both of them in fact still have giant complexes about even thinking about military adventure, and both have firmly rejected any form of Fascism or Militarism.

So that worked out pretty well, blather about some unspecified "influence" aside. The goal of the Second World War was not to stop Japan and Germany from "influencing" their surroundings in a peaceful manner via trade and/or democratic politics, but to stop them from invading their damn neighbors.

Worked out pretty damned well.)

Chip Ahoy said...

My father has Canadian relatives, aunts and uncles. Had. He explained how his family got here to the US and there in Canada. He went back and forth. The decision for the Canadian portion came down to one woman and her reason for choosing Canada over the US was, "I will not be buried under an American flag."

¿

!

So there's that. Two sisters and one brother lived together their whole lives unmarried in a house in Edmonton. The picture I have is the ladies are both quite fat and sit on the porch and drink a fifth every day. I do not know what a fifth is. Whiskey. Canadian. Dad drinks a blend. (go figure) The man was thin and tool-related and that is all I know. The last woman died when I was with my parents so that's how I learned about those three siblings and that they did nothing but save, they all lived quite long and the savings was considerable and left all of that including tools, which honestly is like bringing Newcastle to Newcastle, to my dad and when I asked why that happened because he does have sisters, the answer was because Dad was the only one who bothered going back and forth.

So. I have a moral here to this anecdote. If you have fat relatives who do nothing but sit on the porch all day and drink whiskey and live to ripe old ages by doing that, it would be a good idea to have a visit with them here and there, show them that you think about them and that you care. Maybe.

rcocean said...

We didn't get stuck with Quebec - so we won

Paddy O said...

Worked out pretty damned well.

And that, Sigivald and educher, was my point about the war of 1812.

Chip Ahoy said...

Dad explained when he visited his Edmonton relatives but now grown and wearing his blue American Air Force uniform, his relatives up there were filled with pride. They took him around and showed him off pridefully and bought him drinks all over the place. Drinks figure prominently it seems with these Canadian anecdotes.

Chip Ahoy said...

NORAD

AllieOop said...

My Ontario relatives always told me that we weren't the only Americans! I kept telling them, no you are Canadians. They were insistant that they were Americans just because they shared a continent with us. Sheesh.

Tim said...

Who won the War of 1812?

Pretty much the Russians, after Napoleon retreated from Moscow with his army a mere fraction of its invading size.

Tim said...

"My Ontario relatives always told me that we weren't the only Americans! I kept telling them, no you are Canadians. They were insistant that they were Americans just because they shared a continent with us. Sheesh."

Canada. It's not a nation.

It's simply an address.

traditionalguy said...

The Ontario guys see Mexico, The States, and Canada as the 3 parts of the North American Continent.

I guess we are only a buffer State between them and Mexico.

rcocean said...

Poor Canada, so far from God, so close to Detroit.

BarryD said...

Chip Ahoy, the US invaded Canada as part of its military operations.

That does not translate to "tried to conquer Canada." Neither does the US' invasion of Pakistan to take out Osama Bin Laden translate to "tried to conquer Pakistan."

Dutch Canuck said...

The US Government of 1814-15 had a compelling interest in wrapping up the war: things weren't going well for Napoleon, and the British would no longer be so distracted.

If the war had lasted another three or four months longer than it did, the Duke of Wellington, having dispatched Napoleon for good at Waterloo, would be free to bring his battle-hardened troops to British North America and put an end to any lingering American pretentions.

Jefferson made a big mistake shuttering most of the Navy and drawing down the army. His successor, Madison, then picked a fight with the largest empire in the world. Almost lost it all. Didn't make that mistake twice.

As for whether or not anyone wanted to conquer Canada, here's what Jefferson had to say to Congress:

"The acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighborhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching, and will give us the experience for the attack on Halifax, the next and final expulsion of England from the American continent." He made it clear that if the Americans won, they wouldn't be vacating any conquered territory.

You guys did all right; you got Dolly Madison and Andrew Jackson as your 1812 heroes, plus a national anthem; we have Laura Secord, Tecumseh and Isaac Brock, along with a whole string of forts around the Great Lakes.

Shame about the Indians though. As it turned out, this was really their last shot (with British help) at permanently halting unfettered westward expansion of the Americans.

john said...

The Canadian monument to the War of 1812
was modeled after the masterfull recon by Sarge and Bucket O' Soldiers in Toy Story .

Dutch Canuck said...

Oh, and my New Brunswick-born wife reminded me: Britain captured a chunk of Maine during the war, and didn't give it back until 1818. As a result, some of my wife's ancestors became US citizens as a result of the return of the territory to status quo ante bellum.

Christopher said...

I don't have my histories handy but I do.seem to recall not a few Americans did indeed aim at "conquering Canada," partly because of some of the strategic issues mentioned above but also because they genuinely thought it would be so easy.

The Indian issue was a major reason the Americans negotiating at Ghent were willing to give up requiring a formal end to impressment, which had been the American non-negotiable. The Brits had tried to reserve some territory as some kind of permanent Indian territory, which would have been a troublesome buffer from the American perspective. The Brits in the end mumbled something vague about the issue that everyone understood would be irrelevant. This was no small issue since the Indians had allied with the Brits against the Americans (after getting screwed, for the most part, by various French and American maneuvers heretofore including through the French and Indian War.)

Cedarford said...

Aside from Canada and New Orleans and the mildly consequential Naval battles...the real impact of the War of 1812 was on the Native America confederacies that allied with the Brits as a way to resist American expansion.
Most famously with Tecumseh and his Confederation....they lost. And after the War of 1812, were considered a defeated enemy and paid with bad treaties and relocations. Andy Jackson made them pay long after the War.

They backed the wrong side in the Brits and Canadians..

rcocean said...

"Shame about the Indians though. As it turned out, this was really their last shot (with British help) at permanently halting unfettered westward expansion of the Americans."

Are you an American Indian or just another SWPL?

Dutch Canuck said...

Oh, and you also supposedly got the White House out of the deal. Before it got torched by the British (and repainted with whitewash to cover the scorch marks), it was known as the Executive Mansion.

Wiki calls this a "myth", but during a restoration of the South Portico, they found the black scorching of the sandstone under a zillion layers of whitewash.

This reminds me that Americans are much better at preserving and transmitting their history than Canadians. About 20 years ago in Toronto, an old industrial lot was cleared for new construction. While digging around, they found what they believed to be the foundations of the very Parliament buildings that the Americans had burned down -- the act that prompted the retaliatory burning of the White House -- and the collective reaction of our current political class was, "Yawn, that was a long time ago, who cares?"

No funding for an archaeological survey was forthcoming, so construction proceeded. The former parliament of Upper Canada became a Porsche dealership, and that dealership is slated to be demolished and replaced with a condo tower. Yay Canada!

Blue@9 said...

Hate to say it, but I think we lost.

Yes, it was started over grievances on the sailors and what-not, but the US was excited to fight because they wanted to bring Canada into the fold. They thought the Brits would back down once we captured a few cities.

But yeah, the invasion failed, our capital was burned, and our government was on the run. Even with the victory in NO, the whole affair was a strategic loss for us.

Jay Cuenel said...

Long time lurker attempting to surface. Apologies.

( Imagine deep, sonorous voice in posh Brit accent, PBS style.)

Connections and timelines and things both sides prefer to forget.

Louisiannna Purchase, April 1803 $15 million US(200-250 million today) paid for Napoleon's battleships and marines and the musket ball that killed Nelson at Trafalgar in Oct 1805. Yes, the Royal Navy held a grudge and was rather shockingly careless about US sovreignty after.

On the other hand, funding Napoleons ambition to conquer Europe is not high on the list of US foreign policy successes.
The burning question is will Washington repeat history today as farce and fund the French attempt to conqueor Europe with the Euro and bureauocracy?

Dutch Canuck said...

@rcocean:

"Are you an American Indian or just another SWPL?"

I don't know what SWPL means.

Are you a commenter with a point, or just another snarky hipster?

Michael K said...

"the real impact of the War of 1812 was on the Native America confederacies that allied with the Brits as a way to resist American expansion.
Most famously with Tecumseh and his Confederation....they lost. And after the War of 1812, were considered a defeated enemy and paid with bad treaties and relocations. Andy Jackson made them pay long after the War. "

This is very true although the real tragedy for the Iroquois, the civilized tribes that could have adapted to European settlement (They had mills to grind corn and glass windows) is their alliance with the French in 1754-1763. Dartmouth was founded in 1749 to educate the children of Indians and settlers. There was a real chance for a mixed society until then.

The plains Indians were far more primitive and could not have adapted but the Iroquois and the Cherokee could have done so. There was no chnace that white immigration would ever have stopped but Jefferson wanted to bar white migration beyond the Mississippi. Had the Indians been more friendly, this might have worked but hostility and atrocity wasn't going to work.

LarsPorsena said...

The most far-reaching effect of the War of 1812 was the clearing of the British from the Midwest and Upper Midwest allowing WI, a few generations later, to rise as the center of all blogging.

Smilin' Jack said...

The United States did not succeed in conquering Canada...

But we should have, and now it's time to finish the job. Border crossing delays are a damn nuisance...just make Canada the 51st state already.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Tim @ 1:00 and Lars @ 3:21 are now tied for the Gold. Back to you, Bob.

rcocean said...

Instead of invading Canada we should be inviting them to invade us. I think New England, Michigan & Minnesota would be happier in Canada.

It'd be a win/win for everyone.

Mitch H. said...

They thought the Brits would back down once we captured a few cities.

It's my understanding that the only settlements even approximating a city in Canada at the time would have been Montreal and Quebec, IIRC they were both under ten thousand inhabitants.

The plains Indians were far more primitive and could not have adapted but the Iroquois and the Cherokee could have done so.

The Cherokee fought on the American side during the War of 1812, or more properly, the Creek War. Jackson's army included several hundred Cherokee at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. One of the things that most infuriates about that flinty son of a bitch was how he kept knifing his Indian allies after he didn't need them anymore.

BarryD said...

For those who quote Jefferson, do note that he was President only until March 4, 1809. Therefore, whatever his bellicose talk about taking over Canada might have been, it does not mean that the War of 1812 was an attempt to conquer Canada. He had no say in the matter.

Blue@9 said...

The burning question is will Washington repeat history today as farce and fund the French attempt to conqueor Europe with the Euro and bureauocracy?

Only if they sell us another huge parcel of land in the continental US.

It's my understanding that the only settlements even approximating a city in Canada at the time would have been Montreal and Quebec, IIRC they were both under ten thousand inhabitants.

Yeah, but that would have ended the war.

Chris said...

Instead of invading Canada we should be inviting them to invade us. I think New England, Michigan & Minnesota would be happier in Canada.

Hell, no, we won't go!!!

Ski U Mah!!!!

Revenant said...

My impression of the War of 1812 is that the conclusion wasn't so much "one side win" as "both sides realize the war is a dumb idea and call it quits".

Left Bank of the Charles said...

No less than the Duke of Wellington stated that the Canadians side had failed to win anything: "I think you have no right, from the state of war, to demand any concession of territory from America."

John Lynch said...

That was a stupid war lost by all sides. The UK did not need to be fooling with the US while it was fighting Napoleon, and the US didn't need to lose a war with the British.

The only winner was France, and even they probably would have benefited more from trade with the US rather than suffering from the blockade imposed by the British.