The War of 1812 was fought between the United States and Great Britain from

June 1812 to the spring of 1815, although the peace treaty ending the war was signed in

Europe in December 1814. The main land fighting of the war occurred along the

Canadian border, in the Chesapeake Bay region, and along the Gulf of Mexico; there was
also fighting that took place at sea.

There were many reasons for the Americans to go to war with the British. From
the end of the American Revolution in 1783, the United States had been irritated by the
failure of the British to withdraw from American territory along the Great Lakes, their
backing of the Indians on America's frontiers, and their unwillingness to sign commercial
agreements favorable to the United States. American resentment grew during the French

Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars, in which Britain and France were the two
main countries. In time, France came to dominate much of Europe, while Britain
remained the supreme naval force on the seas. The two countries also fought each other
commercially: Britain attempted to blockade the continent of Europe, and France tried to
prevent the sale of British goods in French possessions. French and British maritime
policies produced several crises with the United States, but after 1803 the difficulties
became much more serious. The British Orders in Council of 1807 declared that anyone
who trades with the French would have their ships seized, and France's Berlin and Milan
decrees of 1806 and 1807 declared that anyone who trades with the British would have
their ships seized by the French. The United States believed its rights on the seas as a
neutral country were being violated by both France and England, but British maritime
policies were resented more because Britain dominated the seas. Also, the British
claimed the right to take from American merchant ships any British sailors who were
serving on them. Frequently, they also took Americans. This practice of became a major
grievance of the Americans.

The United States at first attempted to change the policies of the European
powers by economic means. In 1807, after the British H.M.S. Leopard fired on the

American ship called the Chesapeake, President Thomas Jefferson Congress to pass an

Embargo Act, banning all American ships from foreign trade. The Embargo Act failed to
change British and French policies, but devastated New England shipping.

Failing in peaceful efforts and facing an economic depression, some Americans
began to argue for a declaration of war to redeem the national honor. The Congress that
was elected in 1810 and met in November 1811 included a group known as the War

Hawks who demanded war against Great Britain. These men were mostly from the West
and South. Among their leaders were John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, Henry Clay of

Kentucky, and Felix Grundy of Tennessee. They argued that American honor could be
saved and British policies changed by an invasion of Canada. The Federalist Party,
representing New England shippers who foresaw the ruination of their trade, opposed
war.

Napoleon's announcement in 1810 of the revocation of his decrees was followed
by British refusals to repeal their orders, and pressures for war increased. On June 18,
1812, President James Madison signed a declaration of war that Congress, with
substantial opposition, had passed at his request. Unknown to Americans, Britain had
finally, two days earlier, announced that it would revoke its order.

U.S. forces were not ready for war, and American hopes of conquering Canada
collapsed in the campaigns of 1812 and 1813. The initial plan called for a three-pronged
attack: from Lake Champlain to Montreal, across the Niagara frontier, and into Upper

Canada from Detroit. The attacks were uncoordinated and all failed. In the West, General

William Hull surrendered Detroit to the British in August 1812. On the Niagara front,

American troops lost the Battle of Queenston Heights in October. Along Lake Champlain
the American forces withdrew in late November without seriously engaging the enemy.

American ships won a series of single-ship engagements with British ships, and

American privateers continually bothered British shipping. The captains and crew of the
ships Constitution and United States became renowned throughout America. Meanwhile,
the British gradually tightened a blockade around America's coasts, ruining American
trade, threatening American finances, and exposing the entire coastline to British attack.

American attempts to invade Canada