Answer the following: Is it valid to call the War of 1812 “America’s worst-fought war”? Was the cause of the failure essentially military, or was it an inevitable result of the political disunity over the war’s purposes? Provide support for your stance and “discredit” the opposing view.
The War of 1812 was fought between the United States and England. Ending in 1815 with the Treaty of Ghent, the war did not accomplish any of the issues it was being fought over. For the US, the War of 1812 seemed to just be one failure after another. Although the military suffered a great failure during the war, these were the direct consequence of the failure of the citizens to unite for the causes of the war. Because of these failures, it is quite valid to call the War of 1812 “America’s worst-fought war”.
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When the war began, it was being fought by the Americans to address their grievances toward the British. This seemed like a justifiable cause for a war, however not all of the citizens shared the same sense of unity about the political issues the war was being fought over. The US was quite upset about the continuing impressment of American sailors into the British Navy and the seizures of American merchant trading vessels by the British. Another reason the United States wished to go to war with Britain was because of their dealings with the Indians in the West. The British were not only trading with the Indians, but they were also giving them weapons and encouraging them to attack American settlements.
Along with these reasons, the Americans, now becoming hungry for land, dreamed of capturing British Canada and possibly Florida for the union. Also, the Americans still contained a certain degree of resentment from the Revolutionary War, which they were eager to take out on the British. Even though these were the causes the nation was supposedly fighting for, the entire nation lacked a major driving force to gain restitution for them.
The nation was not really united for the cause, as backcountry farmers didn’t care about what was happening to coastal shipping businesses, as coastal shipping businesses didn’t care about what was happening to the back-country farmers. Everyone was only concerned with their own problems, and not concerned with the problems facing the nation regarding the situations its citizens were enduring. Some would say that the nation really was united for the cause, but with each individual region only caring about its problems, how could the nation be united?
As war always involves fighting between two opposing forces, war always has its consequences, such as a reduction in foreign trade, and the possibility of enemy forces capturing your country. In the War of 1812, many groups had apprehensions to the war at hand. New England didn’t want a war, as it would cut down on their profitable shipping business.
The Southern States were somewhat along the same line as the New England States as Britain bought most of their cotton and tobacco, and a war with Britain would definitely cut off the trade and leave many southern planters with extensive idle inventories of product. The Federalists also had one great apprehension towards the war. At this time, the Federalists were a dying party, partly because of their loss of power in the government, and because of their failing leadership and organization within the party. They feared that citizens of British Canada would infiltrate into the United States.
The Federalists feared these Canadian “Commoners” because they would support the Jeffersonian Republicans if they did come into the United States, not the federalists. The Canadians were common workers, not aristocrats like dying breed who were trying in vain to keep the Federalists as an assertive party in American Politics. Because of these apprehensions toward the war, the citizens were not able to unite and join together to support the war that was going on around them.
Even though the extremely weak military contributed toward the title of “America’s worst-fought war”, it was not the direct source of this title. However, the military did suffer very bad defeats for several reasons. One of the main reasons was that the military was extremely unprepared to go into war. During Jefferson’s presidency, he made drastic military changes that had not yet been rectified by Madison. Jefferson cut the standing army down to a bare minimum, and he weakened the navy. When the war came, these two agencies were still weak and could not be used as an effective fighting force. Besides the forces being weak, the leadership was also weak.
The generals were all leftover from the Revolutionary War and had not had any fighting experience or realized the changes in warfare for twenty years. The citizens also greatly underestimated the power of the enemy. For example, the United States military thought Canada would be extremely easy to take. In actuality, the British forces in Canada held strongly and fought off all three attacks by the Americans. Even when the one general realized that he would need more forces, he attempted to persuade the New York militia to come to help him. Since the New England states were against the war, the militia refused to come. If the citizens had their whole attention focused on the causes of the war, perhaps the militia would have gone and we could have captured Canada.
Because of this lack of enthusiasm, the United States suffered great military losses. Near the end of the War, the Americans were even forced to turn on the defensive strategy from their past offensive strategy. Even though the military incurred great losses during the War of 1812, it was not the sole reason that the war can be correctly called “America’s worst-fought war”, but rather the effect from another more major reason; the lack of political unity for the war’s purpose. The only main reason that the military failed is that they did not have the support of the entire nation unified against a single cause.
Overall, by the end of the War of 1812, both sides had accomplished exactly nothing except destroying little bits and pieces of the enemy. Neither side had settled any of the issues they were originally fighting over, nor had either side technically “won” according to the Treaty of Ghent (1814). The United States did gain some things indirectly from the war though, like another degree of respect from foreign nations and the identification of more war heroes. The war also proved that the Americans were able to survive completely separated from European Affairs. None of these results though were the desired ones from the war. If the Americans would have been able to put aside their regional selfishness and differences, perhaps the War of 1812 would have accomplished more for the United States than it really did.
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