UPSC IAS exam preparation - Major events in World History - Lecture 3


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The American Revolution
and the war of 1812

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1.0 Introduction

The first human settlement in America dates to about 13,000 B.C. (15,000 years ago) when the Paleo Indians migrated from Asia to the mainland.  Some, such as the pre-Columbian Mississippian culture, developed advanced agriculture, grand architecture, and state-level societies. In 1507, the German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller produced a world map on which he named the lands of the western hemisphere "America" after the Italian explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci

After the early explorations by Christopher Columbus and early settlements by the Spanish conquistadors, the land became a theatre  for European colonization in the 16th century. The final phase of the colonial struggle was between the British and the French with the British finally reigning supreme. The native Indians had supported the British.

With extremely high birth rates, low death rates, and steady settlement, the colonial population grew rapidly. Relatively small Native American populations were eclipsed. Excluding the Native Americans, who were being conquered and displaced, the 13 colonies had a population of over 2.1 million in 1770, about one-third that of Britain. Despite continuing new arrivals, the rate of natural increase was such that by the 1770s only a small minority of Americans had been born overseas. The colonies' distance from Britain had allowed the development of self-government, but their success motivated monarchs to periodically seek to reassert Royal authority. 


The thirteen colonies that became the USA were originally colonies of Great Britain. By the time the American Revolution took place, the citizens of these colonies were beginning to get tired of the British rule. Rebellion and discontent were rampant. For those people who see the change in the American government and society a real revolution, it was essentially an economic one. The main reason the colonies started rebelling against 'mother England' was on the issue of taxation. This was considered necessary by the British due to the huge costs they had incurred in winning the war of colonialism against France. The British tried to pass major laws to govern, tax and collect revenues.

2.1 The Navigation Acts

The English Navigation Acts, which were passed in the 17th and 18th centuries, restricted foreign trade by England's colonies to force colonial trade to favour only England and stop colonial trade with the Netherlands, France, and other European countries. The first law was passed in 1651, was renewed in 1660 and 1663, and subsequently subject to minor amendment. These Acts formed the basis for British overseas trade for nearly 200 years. The Navigation Acts, while enriching Britain, caused resentment in the colonies and contributed significantly to the buildup of the American Revolution. The Navigation Acts required all of a colony's imports to be either bought from England or resold by English merchants in England, no matter what price could be obtained elsewhere. The act was set to expire in 1763, but in 1764 the British renewed it as the Sugar Act which placed a tax on sugar imported from the West Indies. The Sugar Act represented a significant change in policy: whereas previous colonial taxes had been levied to support local British officials, the tax on sugar was enacted solely to refill Parliament's empty treasury.

2.2 The currency and the Quartering Act, & the Stamp Act

The British angered American colonists with the Quartering Act, which required the colonies to provide barracks and supplies to British troops. The Quartering Act was passed in June 2, 1765, against the wishes of the colonists.

The Quartering Act was an indirect tax for the colonist. Under the law, the colonist had to give quarters, food, and transportation to the British soldiers.  The British forced the colonist to accept it because they were protecting the colonists from the French.  The colonists did not consider the French a threat and did not like the idea of paying for the British protection.

The Stamp Act was sponsored by George Grenville and it took effect on November 1, 1765.  It was the first direct tax imposed by Britain on its American colonies.  The Act was created to help cover the cost of maintaining troops in the colonies.

Under the Stamp Act, all printed materials and commercial documents as well as printed material including, newspapers, pamphlets, bills, legal documents, licenses, almanacs, dice and playing cards, were taxed and had to carry a special stamp. Thus for the first time in the 150 year old history of the British colonies in America, Americans had to pay tax not to their own local legislatures in America, but directly to England.

The American colonists opposed the Act not because they could not pay the tax, and because it violated the new principle of "No taxation without representation". In defense, Grenville claimed that the colonists were subject to "virtual representation". He and his supporters argued that all members of Parliament - no matter where they were originally elected - virtually represented all British citizens in England, North America, or anywhere else. To the colonists, the idea of virtual representation was a joke. The Stamp Act paved the way for the American Revolution. The colonists strongly protested and resisted the Stamp Act and it was repealed on March 18, 1766.

2.3 The Declaratory Act

Though the British Parliament eventually conceded and repealed the Stamp Act in 1766, which overjoyed the colonists, quietly, it also passed the Declaratory Act to reserve Britain's right to govern and "bind" the colonies whenever and however it deemed necessary.

The Declaratory Act proved far more damaging than the Stamp Act had ever been, because it emboldened Britain to feel that it could pass strict legislation freely, with few repercussions. It was during the aftermath of the Declaratory Act, from 1766 to 1773, that colonial resistance to the Crown intensified and became quite violent.

2.4 The Townshend Acts

The Townshend Acts refer to a series of four acts passed by the British Parliament in an attempt to assert what it considered to be its historic right to exert authority over the colonies through suspension of a recalcitrant representative assembly and through strict provisions for the collection of revenue duties. The British American colonists named the acts after Charles Townshend, who sponsored them.

The Suspending Act prohibited the New York Assembly from conducting any further business until it complied with the financial requirements of the Quartering Act (1765) for the expenses of British troops stationed there. The second act, often called the Townshend duties, imposed direct revenue duties - that is, duties aimed not merely at regulating trade but at putting money into the British treasury. These were payable at colonial ports and fell on lead, glass, paper, paint, and tea. It was the second time in the history of the colonies that a tax had been levied solely for the purpose of raising revenue. The third act established strict and often arbitrary machinery of customs collection in the American colonies, including additional officers, searchers, spies, coast guard vessels, search warrants, writs of assistance, and a Board of Customs Commissioners at Boston, all to be financed out of customs revenues. The fourth Townshend Act lifted commercial duties on tea, allowing it to be exported to the colonies free of all British taxes.

The acts posed an immediate threat to established traditions of colonial self-government, especially the practice of taxation through representative provincial assemblies. They were resisted everywhere with verbal agitation and physical violence, deliberate evasion of duties, renewed nonimportation agreements among merchants, and overt acts of hostility toward British enforcement agents, especially in Boston. Such colonial tumult, coupled with the instability of frequently changing British ministries, resulted in repeal - on March 5, 1770, the same day as the Boston Massacre - of all revenue duties except that on tea, lifting of the Quartering Act requirements, and removal of troops from Boston, which thus temporarily averted hostilities.

2.5 The Tea Act

The Tea Act, passed by Parliament on May 10, 1773, would launch the final spark to the revolutionary movement in Boston. The act was not intended to raise revenue in the American colonies, and in fact imposed no new taxes. It was designed to prop up the East India Company which was floundering financially and burdened with eighteen million pounds of unsold tea. This tea was to be shipped directly to the colonies, and sold at a bargain price. The Townshend Duties were still in place, however, and the radical leaders in America found reason to believe that this Act was a manoeuver to buy popular support for the taxes already in force. The direct sale of tea, via British agents, would also have undercut the business of local merchants.

Colonists in Philadelphia and New York turned the tea ships back to Britain. In Charleston the cargo was left to rot on the docks. In Boston the Royal Governor was stubborn & held the ships in port, where the colonists would not allow them to unload. Cargoes of tea filled the harbor, and the British ship's crews were stalled in Boston looking for work and often finding trouble. This situation led to the Boston Tea Party.

2.6 The Coercive Acts

The British were shocked by the destruction of the tea in Boston Harbour and other colonial protests. To the British, the colonial actions were clearly undermining their authortiy in the colonies, which had to be maintained at all costs. The British parliament gave its speedy assent to a series of acts that became known as the "Coercive Acts"; or in the colonies as the "Intolerable Acts"
  1. The Boston Port Bill became effective on June 1, 1774. The King closed Boston Harbour to everything but British ships.
  2. The Quartering Act was established on March 24, 1765. The King sent lots of British troops to Boston. The colonists had to house and feed the British troops. If the colonists didn't do this for the British troops, they would get shot.
  3. The Administration of Justice Act became effective May 20, 1774. British Officials could not be tried in colonial courts for crimes. They would be taken back to Britain and have a trial there. That left the British free to do whatever they wanted in the colonies and to the Colonists.
  4. Massachusetts Government Act became effective on May 20, 1774. The British Governer was in charge of all the town meetings in Boston. There would no more self-government in Boston.
  5. The Quebec Act was established on May 20, 1774. This bill extended the Canadian borders to cut off the western colonies of Connecticut, Massachusettes and Virginia.

3.1 The Boston Massacre

The colonists had some degree of success in their protests against the Stamp Act. Non importation agreements, the first amongst which was in 1766, were strengthened. Although initial opposition to the Townshend Acts was less extreme than the initial reaction to the Stamp Act, it eventually became far greater. The nonimportation agreements, for example, proved to be far more effective this time at hurting British merchants. Within a few years' time, colonial resistance became more violent and destructive. To prevent serious disorder, Britain dispatched 4,000 troops to Boston in 1768. Boston had only 20,000 residents at that time. 

The Boston Massacre was a street fight that occurred on March 5, 1770, between a "patriot" mob, throwing snowballs, stones, and sticks, and a squad of British soldiers. The riot began when about 50 citizens attacked a British sentinel. A British officer, Captain Thomas Preston, called in additional soldiers, and these too were attacked, so the soldiers fired into the mob, killing 3 on the spot (a black sailor named Crispus Attucks, ropemaker Samuel Gray, and a mariner named James Caldwell), and wounding 8 others, two of whom died later (Samuel Maverick and Patrick Carr).

A town meeting was called demanding the removal of the British and the trial of Captain Preston and his men for murder. At the trial, John Adams and Josiah Quincy II defended the British, leading to their acquittal and release. Samuel Quincy and Robert Treat Paine were the attorneys for the prosecution. Later, two of the British soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter.

The Boston Massacre was a signal event leading to the Revolutionary War. It led directly to the Royal Governor evacuating the occupying army from the town of Boston. It would soon bring the revolution to armed rebellion throughout the colonies.

3.2 The Boston Tea Party

This action, part of a wave of resistance throughout the colonies, had its origin in Parliament's effort to rescue the financially weakened East India Company so as to continue benefiting from the company's valuable position in India. The Tea Act (May 10, 1773) adjusted import duties in such a way that the company could undersell even smugglers in the colonies. The company selected consignees in Boston, New York, Charleston, and Philadelphia, and 5,00,000 pounds of tea were shipped across the Atlantic in September.

Under pressure from Patriot groups, the consignees in Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia refused to accept the tea shipments, but in Boston, the chosen merchants (including two of Governor Thomas Hutchinson's sons as well as his nephew) refused to concede. The first tea ship, Dartmouth, reached Boston on November 27, and two more arrived shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, several mass meetings were held to demand that the tea be sent back to England with the duty unpaid. Tension mounted as Patriot groups led by Samuel Adams tried to persuade the consignees and then the governor to accept this approach. On December 16, a large meeting at the Old South Church was told of Hutchinson's final refusal. About midnight, watched by a large crowd, Adams and a small group of Sons of Liberty disguised as Mohawk Indians boarded the ships and jettisoned the tea. To Parliament, the Boston Tea Party confirmed Massachusetts's role as the core of resistance to legitimate British rule. 

The Tea Party had mixed results: some Americans hailed the Bostonians as heroes, while others condemned them as radicals. Parliament, very displeased, passed the Coercive Acts in 1774 in a punitive effort to restore order. Colonists quickly renamed these acts the Intolerable Acts.

3.3 Committees of Correspondence

In 1772, Samuel Adams of Boston created the first Committee of Correspondence, which was primarily an exchange of ideas in letters and pamphlets among members. Within a few years, this one committee led to dozens of similar discussion groups in towns throughout the colonies. Eventually, these isolated groups came together to facilitate the exchange of ideas and solidify opposition to the Crown. The Committees of Correspondence proved invaluable in uniting colonists, distributing information, and organizing colonial voices of opposition.

3.4 The First Continental Congress

In response to the British Parliament's enactment of the Coercive Acts in the American colonies, the first session of the Continental Congress was convened at Carpenter's Hall in Philadelphia in 1774. Fifty-six delegates from all the colonies (except Georgia) drafted a declaration of rights and grievances and elected Virginian Peyton Randolph as the first president of Congress. Patrick Henry, George Washington, John Adams, and John Jay were among the delegates. From 1774 to 1789, the Continental Congress served as the government of the 13 American colonies and later the United States.

The purpose of their assembly was two-fold:

First, they wanted to establish the fact that their central government was rapidly degenerating into an unrestrained tyranny. After 150 years, the authorities of all of "Great Britain", had begun to violate the rights of the Englishmen in the colonies. The first gathering in Philadelphia seemed a necessity after eleven years of earnest effort to express their concerns to the government through the given legal right to Petition for Redress (remedy) of grievances. This long-standing right had been in place and freely exercised since 1215, as the law given to the people of Britain through the Magna Carta. With government officials refusing to listen or respond to the petitions, the 1774 gathering was a natural, necessary next step in the path to Liberty.

Second, these representatives wanted to discuss and discern what meaningful steps the free people of the thirteen British colonies might take, within the law, to remedy the situation and end the government's use of arbitrary power and oppression. 

It's important to note that the delegates did not go to Philadelphia to declare their independence. They did not go there to separate from Great Britain. They did not intend to seize anything from the government or to "distrain upon or assail" the government in any way. There was no predetermined outcome. Their assembly in Philadelphia was solely intended to determine what non-violent, legal action the Delegates could recommend to bring the central government back under the law.

In October 1774, one month after convening the Continental Congress, the delegates settled on just such a course of action - an early model of civic action in America that was consistent with the spirit and the letter of the law.

The Continental Congress delegates also decided that until the Coercive Acts were repealed, a stronger system of nonimportation agreements, including a new boycott of all British goods, should be organized and administered throughout the colonies. Patriotic colonists argued that the purchase of any British-produced goods - especially those goods made from American raw materials - only perpetuated the servile relationship the colonies had to London under the system of mercantilism.


4.1 The Battle of Lexington and Concord

The Battle of Lexington and Concord was made up of two battles that began on April 18th, 1775. British troops were sent to Concord to capture John Hancock and Samuel Adams, but both men had been warned about the British attack. The night of April 18th, Paul Revere rode through Concord warning everybody about the British attack. So when the British came in to take and attack the rebels, the Minutemen, Americans who were"ready to fight in a minute", were waiting to attack at Lexington. The Americans were withdrawing when someone fired a shot, and the British troops started to fire at the Minutemen. The British then charged with bayonets. Nobody knows who shot first.

"Don't fire unless fired upon. But if they want a war let it begin here" said Captain John Parker, commander of the Minutesmen.

The British killed many Minutemen and wounded many more in this Battle at Lexington. The rest of the Minutemen scattered into the woods.

After this fight, the British found out that Hancock and Adams had escaped. So the British marched towards Concord looking for ammunition. As the British went to look at a nearby farm for weapons, they ran into a group of minutemen at Concord's North Bridge. There was a big fight, and the Minutemen made the British retreat. The Minutemen tried not to let the British retreat, but the retreat was successful.
The Battles of Lexington and Concord were battles that took many lives. By the end of the day, British troops had lost 273 soldiers, while the Colonists lost only 94. Eighteen of these Colonists had died during the battle at Lexington. The Revolutionary War had begun.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, a famous poet, called the Battle of Lexington "the shot heard 'round the world," because this battle began the Revolutionary War.

4.2 The Second Continental Congress

The Second Continental Congress was convened a few weeks after the Battle of Lexington and Concord to decide just how to handle the situation. Delegates from all thirteen colonies gathered once again in Philadelphia and discussed options. The desire to avoid a war was still strong, and in July 1775, delegate John Dickinson from Pennsylvania penned the Olive Branch Petition to send to Britain. All the delegates signed the petition, which professed loyalty to King George III and beseeched him to call off the troops in Boston so that peace between the colonies and Britain could be restored. George III eventually rejected the petition.
The Congress declared -

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness".

Despite their issuance of the Olive Branch Petition, the delegates nevertheless believed that the colonies should be put in a state of defense against any future possible British actions. Therefore, they set aside funds to organize an army and a small navy. After much debate, they also selected George Washington to command the militia surrounding Boston, renaming it the Continental Army. Washington was a highly respected Virginian plantation owner, and his leadership would further unite the northern and southern colonies in the Revolution.

The hopes of the colonists for reconciliation failed in June 1775, when the Battle of Bunker Hill was fought outside Boston. Although the British ultimately emerged victorious, they suffered over 1,000 casualties. This prompted the British officials to take the colonial unrest far more seriously than they had previously. The engagement led King George III to declare officially that the colonies were in a state of rebellion. Any hope of reconciliation and a return to the pre-1763 status quo had vanished.

4.3 Comparison of British and American strengths in the war

British strengths: When war erupted in 1775, it seemed clear that Britain would win. It had a large, well-organized land army, and the Royal Navy was unmatched on the sea. Many of the British troops in the Revolutionary War were veterans who had fought in the French and Indian War. On the other hand, the Americans had only a collection of undisciplined militiamen who had never fought before. The American navy was small and no match for the thousand ships in the royal fleet. The state of the army did improve after George Washington whipped the Continental Army into a professional fighting force, but the odds still seemed heavily stacked in Britain's favor.

American Strengths: Nonetheless, the Americans believed that they did have a strong chance of success. They had a lot at stake: unlike the British, they were fighting on their home turf to protect their own homes and families. Perhaps most important, they were also fighting a popular war - a majority of the colonists were patriots who strongly supported the fight for independence. Finally, though most Americans had no previous military experience, their militia units were usually close-knit bands of men, often neighbors, who served together in defense of their own homes. They elected their own officers - usually men who did have some military training but who also knew the territory well. This native officer corps was a great source of strength, and as a result, American morale was generally higher than morale in the Royal Army.

4.4 The Declaration of Independence

The main event of 1776 was not to come on the battlefields.

In January 1776, just as it became clear in the colonies that the King was not inclined to act as a conciliator, Thomas Paine's pamphlet Common Sense was published. Paine, who had only recently arrived in the colonies from England, argued in favor of colonial independence, advocating republicanism as an alternative to monarchy and hereditary rule. Common Sense introduced no new ideas, and probably had little direct effect on Congress's thinking about independence; its importance was in stimulating public debate on a topic that few had previously dared to openly discuss. More than 1,00,000 copies of this pamphlet were sold.

On 7th June a motion to declare independence came before Congress. After a series of debates, Congress postponed their final decision until 1 July, but also appointed a committee to draft a declaration in case one was needed. This committee, dominated by Thomas Jefferson, finished the draft on 28 June, just in time for Congress. By this point all the states apart from New York had approved independence although Pennsylvania was also unconvinced. Congress finally approved a slightly modified declaration on 2 July. On 4 July 1776 the Declaration of Independence was signed and approved by the Congress, although New York did not sign until 15 July.

The Declaration of Independence was a momentous event. It gave a clarity to the American cause that it had previously lacked, and that the British were never to gain. It played a part in convincing foreign powers to help the rebels, overcoming a fear that a reconciliation between Britain and the colonies could cause any intervention to backfire. It also made any hopes of a peaceful settlement much less likely - independence once declared could not easily be surrendered.

The part of the resolution relating to declaring independence read:

Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

4.5 The turning point

After numerous battles, the turning point in the war came in 1777 at the Battle of Saratoga in upstate New York. When American forces won, their victory encouraged France to pledge its support for the United States in the Franco-American Alliance of 1778. A year later, Spain followed suit and also entered the war against Britain. Spain, hoping to see Britain driven out of North America, had tacitly supported the Americans by providing them with munitions and supplies since the beginning of the war. Their entry as combatants took pressure off the Americans, as Britain was forced to divert troops to fight the Spanish elsewhere. Finally, the Netherlands entered the war against Britain in 1780.

Meanwhile, support in England for the war was low. In Parliament, many Whigs (a group of British politicians representing the interests of religious dissenters, industrialists, and others who sought reform) denounced the war as unjust. Eight years of their carping, combined with the Royal Army's inability to win a decisive victory, fatigued the British cause and helped bring the Revolutionary War to an end.

4.6 The end to the war and the Treaty of Paris

Fortified by the Franco-American Alliance, the Americans maintained an impasse with the British until 1781, when the Americans laid siege to a large encampment of British forces under Lord Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. Scattered battles persisted until 1783, but the British, weary of the stalemate, decided to negotiate peace.

In London also political support for the war plummeted after Yorktown. British Prime Minister Lord North resigned in March 1782. In April 1782, the Commons voted to end the war in America. Preliminary peace articles were signed in Paris at the end of November, 1782; the formal end of the war did not occur until the Treaty of Paris (for the U.S.) and the Treaties of Versailles (for the other Allies) were signed on September 3, 1783. The last British troops left New York City on November 25, 1783, and the United States Congress of the Confederation ratified the Paris treaty on January 14, 1784.

Britain negotiated the Paris peace treaty without consulting her Native American allies and ceded all Native American territory between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River to the United States. Full of resentment, Native Americans reluctantly confirmed these land cessions with the United States in a series of treaties, but the fighting would be renewed in conflicts along the frontier in the coming years, the largest being the Northwest Indian War.The British would continue to support the Indians against the new American nation especially when hostilities resumed 29 years later in the War of 1812.

The United States gained more than it expected, thanks to the award of western territory. The other Allies had mixed-to-poor results. France made some gains over its nemesis, Great Britain, but its material gains were minimal and its financial losses huge. It was already in financial trouble and its borrowing to pay for the war used up all its credit and created the financial disasters that marked the 1780s. Historians link those disasters to the coming of the French Revolution when the Bourbon dynasty was overthrown and killed by the common people. The Dutch clearly lost on all points. The Spanish had a mixed result; they did not achieve their primary war goal (recovery of Gibraltar), but they did gain territory. However in the long run, as the case of Florida shows, the new territory was of little or no value. Mysore’s Tipu Sultan’s fall at the hands of the British in 1799 is closely linked to the French upheavals.


The tensions that existed between the United States and Britain that originated from the American Revolution did not stop with its conclusion.

The division of land after the Revolution did not leave everyone satisfied. The loss of the Ohio River valley, housing vital fur trade routes, displeased Canadian and British merchants. It also served home to a large Amerindian population, a large part of which supported the British during the American Revolution and now argued for an Indian state to be created south and west of Lake Erie. The British certainly welcomed this idea, because not only would it help the fur trade (if a permission was granted), but it would also serve as a barrier to Upper Canada - both for American armies and the large flow of American immigrants.

The Americans, meanwhile, felt that British support of the Amerindians was a threat to their expansion and the policy of converting Indians to farmers, giving up their hunting lands for American use. A large part of the American population was afraid of the Amerinidans being incited by the British and massacring their settlements (the alleged brutality of Amerindians was almost legendary). The American fear was worsened by the arrival of a new leader, Chief Tecumseh, who pressed for the unification of the tribes.

American shippers took advantage of the hostilities in Europe to absorb the carrying trade between Europe and the French and Spanish islands in the West Indies. By breaking the passage with a stop in a U.S. port, they evaded seizure under the British rule of 1756, which forbade to neutrals in wartime any trade that was not allowed in peacetime. In 1805, however, in the Essex Case, a British court ruled that U.S. ships breaking passage at an American port did not circumvent the prohibitions set out in the rule of 1756. As a result the seizure of American ships by Great Britain increased and in the following year Great Britain instituted a partial blockade of the European coast. Napoleon, the French emperor retaliated by ordering that all European ports under his control be closed to British ships. He later extended this policy to neutral ships who have entered a British port before arriving at the continent. Britain replied with a series of Orders in Council. These required all neutral ships to acquire a license in a British port before they could sail to Europe.

Britain had a more powerful navy, but American economy depended on trade with Europe, and there had been instances of high-level government contact between France and the United States. Hence, the British order adversely impacted American trade.

By 1812 British ships had captured almost four hundred American vessels, some within sight of the U.S. coast, severely disrupting with American export trade. Often, Americans were conscripted to serve on British ships.

6.0 America declares war

On June 1, 1812, President James Madison sent a message to Congress recounting American grievances against Great Britain, though not specifically calling for a declaration of war. After Madison's message, the House of Representatives deliberated for four days behind closed doors before voting 79 to 49 (61% in favor) the first declaration of war, and the Senate agreed by 19 to 13 (59% in favor). The conflict began formally on June 18, 1812, when Madison signed the measure into law and proclaimed it the next day. This was the first time that the United States had declared war on another nation, and the Congressional vote would prove to be the closest vote to formally declare war in American history.

In London on May 11, an assassin had killed Prime Minister Spencer Perceval, which resulted in Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool coming to power. Liverpool wanted a more practical relationship with the United States. On June 23, he issued a repeal of the Orders in Council, but the United States was unaware of this, as it took three weeks for the news to cross the Atlantic. On June 28, 1812, HMS Colibri was despatched from Halifax under a flag of truce to New York. On July 9, she anchored off Sandy Hook, and three days later sailed on her return with a copy of the declaration of war; the British ambassador, Mr. Foster; and consul, Colonel Barclay. She arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia eight days later. The news of the declaration took even longer to reach London.

7.0 The theatres of the war and the summary

The war was conducted in three theatres:
  1. At sea, principally the Atlantic Ocean and the east coast of North America
  2. The Great Lakes and the Canadian frontier
  3. The Southern States
The war began with an American attack on Canada. This was to serve two purposes
  1. to gain land and 
  2. to cut off British supply lines to Tecumseh's Indian confederation, which had long troubled the US. 
The initial battles in Canada were not as easy as the War Hawks hoped, and the inexperienced American soldiers were pushed back rapidly. In fact, only by virtue of clutch naval victories by Oliver Hazard Perry on Lake Erie and Thomas Macdonough on Lake Champlain was a serious northern-front invasion of the United States, including New York, prevented. 

Tecumseh was a Native American leader of the Shawnee and a large tribal confederacy (known as Tecumseh's Confederacy) which opposed the United States during Tecumseh's War and the War of 1812. General William Henry Harrison's forces did manage to kill Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames in 1813, in the midst of a decisive victory against the British General Isaac Brock's smaller force.

On the Mid-Atlantic coast, British troops landed in the Chesapeake Bay area in 1814, and marched towards Washington. US General William Winder made an attempt to stop the British forces, commanded by General Robert Ross, at Bladensburg. The US troops were badly routed. The city of Washington was evacuated, and the British burned the Capitol and the White House, along with most of nonresidential Washington.

The British pressed onward, and Admiral Cochrane sought to invade Baltimore. General Ross was killed as his forces advanced towards the city, and their movement stalled. Cochrane's forces bombarded Fort McHenry, which guarded Baltimore's harbor, but were unable to take it. This event inspired Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer detained on one of Cochrane's ships, to write the Star-Spangled Banner. Unsuccessful at Baltimore, Cochrane's damaged fleet limped to Jamaica for repairs, and made preparations for an invasion of New Orleans, hoping to cut off American use of the Mississippi River.

However, by mid 1814, the War of 1812 was turning out to be tougher fighting than either side expected. Britain, caught up in the costly Napoleonic Wars, began to look for a way to extricate itself from its American commitment. In the Belgian city of Ghent, American negotiators (including John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay) met with British diplomats. After considerable bickering, the negotiators signed the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814, officially ending the war. The treaty returned US-Britain relations to the same status as they had been before the war. The US neither gained nor lost any territory. No issues were resolved.

The war was officially over, but news traveled slowly across the Atlantic Ocean. In New Orleans, Cochrane landed the British troops, who were still waiting for their replacement commander for Ross, General Packenham, to arrive from Britain. On January 8, 1815, Andrew Jackson's ragtag army soundly defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans. Even though this battle had been fought unnecessarily (the treaty was already signed) the US celebrated wildly, manifesting an upsurge in American nationalism.

Although the war had sheltered New England manufacturing from British competition, New England merchant shipping had been seriously hurt, and a group of Federalists met at the Hartford Convention in late 1814 to discuss their grievances. A few talked of secession from the Union, but most just wanted to make it hard for the US to declare war or impose embargoes in the future. When the news of the treaty from Ghent arrived, it made the Federalists look silly, or even treasonous. The Hartford Convention spelled the end of the Federalist Party.

7.1 Important battles of the 1812 war

  1. Fort St. Joseph and the Capture of  Michilimackinac (Mackinac) (July 17)
  2. Fort Malden or Amherstburg and the Capture of Detroit (August 16)
  3. Queenston Heights and the Death of Brock (October 13)
  1. Prescott and the Capture of Ogdensburg (February 22)
  2. Capture of York (April 27)
  3. Battle of Fort George (May 27)
  4. Battle of Stoney Creek (June 6)
  5. Battle of Beaver Dams (June 24)
  6. British Defeat on the Detroit Frontier - the Battle of Lake Erie (September 10) and the Battle of the Thames (October 5)
  7. The Failed American campaign against Montreal, the Battles of Chateauguay (October 26) and Crysler's Farm (November 11)
  1. The Battle of Chippawa, July 5, 1814, Lundy's Lane, July 25, 1814
  2. The Siege of Fort Erie, August 4 - September 21, 1814

Wedged between the Revolution and the Civil War, the War of 1812 has been called America's forgotten war.  One group of historians argues that the war was a complete waste of resources and lives. First, it was unnecessary. When Britain failed to meet James Madison's demand that it revoke the Order in Council declaring American commercial vessels subject to interception and seizure, Congress declared war. Within a week of the declaration, however, Britain did suspend the provocative order - and the cause for war was thus eliminated. With just a bit more patience, or more efficient communication, these historians argue, the war could have been avoided entirely.

[ The American Civil War, was a civil war fought from 1861 to 1865 in the United States after several Southern slave states declared their secession and formed the Confederate States of America (the "Confederacy" or the "South"). ]

They also argue that the war was inconsequential. After three years of fighting and nearly 6000 American casualties, the United States and Great Britain agreed to a treaty that resolved none of the substantive issues that had prompted the war. In fact, the argument over trade policies and maritime rights that preceded the war persisted well into the 1820s, almost as though the war had never occurred at all.

However some historians and analysts emphasize the role of a new form of nationalism that emerged in the decade preceding the war. The congressional elections of 1810 returned an unusually large number of freshmen representatives. Elected primarily from the West and the South, these first-year congressmen brought a more assertive, bellicose American nationalism with them to Washington, D.C. The British maritime policies that had angered many Americans for years had little direct impact on the lives of these politicians or the people they represented. But shaped by a different experience, and animated by a different set of sensibilities, they expressed less patience than easterners with Britain's disregard for American maritime rights. And therefore these "War Hawks" demanded that America defend its national honor.

A third interpretation of the War is that it emanated from a power struggle within British politics. This interpretation emphasizes the role that New England Federalists played in inadvertently bringing about the war. While Republican Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison tried to force British recognition of American commercial and maritime rights through commercial pressure, Federalist opposition undermined their efforts. New England Federalists' evasion of Jefferson's Embargo of 1807 forced Congress to repeal the embargo before it had a chance to place any real pressure on the British economy. Moreover, Federalists' persistent and highly visible resistance to Republican policies encouraged an uncompromising and increasingly hostile stance from British policymakers.

The most complete analysis would draw from all three of these schools of thought.  To really understand the War of 1812, it is not only the impact of War Hawks and Federalists that needs to be analysed but also the British policies that led to the international dispute. The response of Republican presidents to these policies between 1801 and the outbreak of war in 1812 could have been different. Most important, we must explore the role of James Madison. As Thomas Jefferson's secretary of state, and then as president, Madison largely set the foreign policy course that led America to war. While the War Hawks elected to Congress in 1810 provided the votes Madison needed to secure a declaration of war, and while the Federalist opposition to Republican policies added a layer of complexity to foreign and military policies during these years, this was the primarily James Madison's war. 



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PT's IAS Academy: UPSC IAS exam preparation - Major events in World History - Lecture 3
UPSC IAS exam preparation - Major events in World History - Lecture 3
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PT's IAS Academy
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