On this day in 1812, President James Madison signed a declaration of war after the Senate and House of Representatives vote in favor of the conflict with Great Britain.
The decision to go to war again with the former enemy was neither simple nor wanted. Many congressman were opposed to fighting another war with an enemy they had previously fought just twenty years before. England’s actions, however, could not be ignored.
In addition to enacting an economic blockade of France, impressing American sailors into the British Royal Navy, and supporting hostile Indian tribes against the Americans, the British were aggressively agitating for another armed conflict on several other fronts. Little did they remember, however, that once the ire of their former colonists was ignited, the fire of the American spirit was difficult to extinguish.
At the beginning of the War of 1812, the Americans cause appeared hopeless. Invasions into Canada proved unsuccessful. When Napoleon Bonaparte’s Empire collapsed in 1814, many military resources were suddenly available to the British to use as they wished. Even more devastating to the Americans was the destruction of the nation’s capital, Washington D.C. Seizing the opportunity, the British wreaked havoc on the country’s headquarters, by demolishing the White House, and other important government buildings.
The conflict turned swiftly in favor the Americans; nevertheless, in September 1814 when Thomas MacDonough’s naval ships won a surprising victory at the Battle of Plattsburg Bay. The retreating British forces quickly surrendered.
Negotiations for the last US-British peace treaty were concluded on December 24, 1814 in Belgium, known as the Treaty of Ghent. According to the treaty, all territory would be returned to the United States and the US-Canadian border would be established.
As communication was sparse and often unreliable, British forces in the Gulf Coast were not as yet aware of the peace treaty. And in fact, on January 8, 1815, nearly three weeks after the Ghent Treaty was penned, the British ardently fought the Americans but suffered a devastating loss at the Battle of New Orleans.
The famous battle would not only seal the fate of British rule in America, but also make legend of the name of the famous commanding general: Andrew Jackson. As the commander of the greatest victory of the war, Andrew Jackson would be hailed a national hero and be forever known for his fierceness in battle. The British would sail back home, having experienced the final bitter taste of American spirit and zeal.