There are many reasons the
United States and Great Britain went to war in 1812. The British,
contemptuous of their former colonies, never truly accepted American
independence. England embargoed U.S. trade with Europe and impressed
-- or more accurately, kidnapped -- their sailors. They sold
guns and weapons to native tribes in an effort to stop western
expansion by the new country. And they dismissed American complaints
with a wave of their snuff-stained handkerchiefs.
As for the angry, ambitious
Americans, who chewed their tobacco rather than sniffed it, they
viewed the territories to the north with a jealous eye. It took
little to convince them that Canadians desired American-styled
democracy rather than British rule. It never occurred to the
Americans that some people might prefer a king to a Congress.
Though all these are valid
reasons for conflict, what cannot be overlooked was that America
had been embroiled in Europe's wars since 1754.
The Seven Years' War was the
first worldwide conflict. Britain with their allies and France
with theirs slaughtered each other across the globe: Europe,
Asia, India, and North America. In the colonies, it was called
the French and Indian War, and it was during this hostility that
Britain won the majority of its spoils. The French were kicked
out, and as a side note, so too were the Acadians -- the future
Cajuns of Louisiana.
Wars were expensive, and Britain
tried to recoup their investment by taxing their colonies. However,
the colonists did not take well to being taxed without representation,
becoming one of the causes of the American Revolution. France
sent ships and funds to help the Americans -- not to defend freedom
but to bedevil Great Britain. France was smarting from the loss
of its colonies and eager for revenge.
America became free, and France
became bankrupt. The French Crown tried to tax its way to prosperity,
and that led to its overthrow. The successful revolutionaries,
when not chopping the heads off their internal enemies, tried
to export their homicidal republic, which led to the next round
of European wars. The French Republic evolved into the French
Empire, and the wars went on.
The United States tried to
remain impartial, but their claim of neutrality was acknowledged
by no one. America and France almost went to war in 1798 over
trade. When in 1806 both Britain and France ordered blockades
of each other's ports, America was caught in the middle. Its
port cities suffered greatly. Warehouses were filled with rotting
food and languishing dry goods. Men were thrown out of work.
So the pressure built. Great
Britain would not let the puny United States trade with Napoleon's
France and refused to recognize American citizenship for former
Englishmen. The naïve Americans thought Canada would be
easy pickings. The native tribes, armed by the British, fought
new settlers from the east.
Finally, Congress heeded President
Madison's call and declared war on Great Britain on June 18,
1812, fifty days after the new state of Louisiana was admitted
into the Union.
The young, arrogant, and overconfident
Americans soon discovered that, while an earnest militia--helped
by a small number of regular Army troops--might win a defensive
war and a new nation's freedom, it was next to useless as a conquering
horde. Invasion after invasion of Canada was attempted, and by
1814, the only thing the United States had to show for it was
the dubious satisfaction of burning York (modern-day Toronto).
And while their new state-of-the-art 44-gun frigates like USS
Constitution won spectacular battles against the renowned
Royal Navy, America had nowhere near enough ships to break a
crippling naval blockade.
Worse for the Yankees, time
had run out. Hubris had been Napoleon's fatal flaw, and his ill-conceived
invasion of Russia signaled his end. In London, the lords of
the Admiralty and the generals in Horse Guards could now turn
their attention to the irritating war in North America.
Great Britain decided it was
time to rein in the upstart Americans for good. Veteran troops
from Wellington's successful Peninsula campaigns would punish
the United States and put an end to their plans of continental
Britain's plan was simple and potentially devastating:
Step one: Avenge York's burning with a raid
on Washington, DC. While America's attention was diverted, attack
from the flanks.
Step two: March south from Canada, cut the
United States off from the Upper Midwest, and establish the Indian
Step three: Bottle up the Americans forever.
To fulfill the third goal,
all that was needed was to take and hold one city: New Orleans.