The Lasting Impact of the War of 1812

The Lasting Impact of the War of 1812

Posted on February 27 by admin
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Today’s guest blog post is from Richard Feltoe, author of the Upper Canada Preserved – War of 1812 series. Richard gives us some reasons as to why the War of 1812 is so important to Canadian and American history, and how it has helped shaped Canada/US relations over the past 200 years.

Richard Feltoe:

From some perspectives, the War of 1812-1815 might be seen as the point when the current form of North America was decided. Before that war, the empires of Europe, including Great Britain, were focused upon the threat posed by Napoleonic France and thereby had effectively relegated the United States to an upstart former British colony with pretentions of grandeur. The United States, on the other hand, saw itself as a collective of quasi-independent states, each with their own political and economic biases and ambitious to prove themselves as powers under the overall United States banner, but collectively, strongly influenced by a cadre of ultra-nationalists who were determined to establish a trans-American “Empire” from the frozen north to the Caribbean and westward as far as their ambitions would take them – irrespective of who stood in their way.

Following a bloody and costly war, Britain saw the United States as a legitimate (if troublesome) country that had to be reckoned and dealt with as a potential future threat to British interests in North America. Consequently, in order to satisfy the Americans, it was forced to officially negotiate borderlines and alter its treaty obligations with its Native allies; while receiving in turn pacts on naval military restrictions on the Great Lakes, economic trading issues, and colonial land rights issues. However, this also required Britain to invest heavily in the infrastructure of defensive garrisons and military forces to protect those same assets and establish a distinct non-American “Dominion”.

Similarly, bankrupted and exhausted  by the war, the United States was forced to recognize that northern expansionism against British North America would not be an option for the forseeable future. It therefore turned its attention west and south, leading to the subsequent campaigns against the Native nations of the interior and the Spanish/Mexican empire in the far west, before the domestic schism of the looming Civil War became the primary focus of its attention.

For the colonials of British North America, the post-war stage was set for a protected development under the Union Jack and not the Stars and Stripes, leading to a distinctive identity that was neither American, nor British, but “Canadian”.

Unfortunately, the real losers in this war were the North American Native nations, who lost virtually everything as the British successively abandoned or ignored their earlier treaty obligations. While the Americans proved themselves masters at concluding and then breaking any treaty that stood in the way of America’s “Manifest Destiny”.

Richard Feltoe was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and holds a degree in economics from the University of London. He is the curator and corporate archivist for the Redpath Sugar Museum and is active as a living history reenactor, re-creating the life of a Canadian militia soldier from the War of 1812. His other publications include The Flames of War and The Pendulum of War. He lives in Brampton, Ontario.