What Happened During the War of 1812?

The War of 1812 came on the heels of the American Revolution, which may be why so few Americans know much about it, aside from the fact that it was during the war that our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, was written. June 18, 2012 kicks off the bicentennial of “The Second American Revolution” and a number of communities in New York State, especially those in northern and western New York where many of the land and sea battles of the war occurred, are staging special commemorative events to mark the nearly three year war.

On this page you’ll find a series of War of 1812 Minutes produced by WCNY, with the majority of them highlighting the important role the Empire State played in this military conflict. You’ll also find additional information, provided by historians and organizations, which expand the minutes’ messages and also offer suggestions on places you can visit and resources you can use to find out more about what some call “The Forgotten War.” Since the war was fought between 1812 and 1815, well before the advent of photography, most of the images, including those utilized on this page and in the video Minutes, are paintings and drawings, some with amazing, photographic-like detail. One of the most famous images from the War of 1812 is that of Uncle Sam, whose origins can be traced to this war and the activities of a meatpacker in Troy, New York.

This web page also contains links to resources, which will be added to during the course of the Bicentennial. Anyone wishing to have links to their resources should contact education@wcny.org

Why the War of 1812?

Even though the 13 American colonies won the American Revolution, Great Britain had never entirely left North America. The British still could be found on land along the Great Lakes, continued to give support to Native American tribes fighting against the expansion of the western frontier by white settlers, and interfered with American shipping and trade.  Britain was at war with France and both European super-powers would seize cargo from American ships to help with their war efforts. Perhaps worse yet, the British, in particular, would board American ships and impress the sailors, forcing them into service on British naval vessels.

Some Americans felt that these actions threatened America’s sovereignty and honor, while others thought another war with Great Britain would provide an opportunity to capture the lands of British Canada.  On June 18, 1812 President James Madison signed the official declaration of war on Britain. Congress approved it by the closest war vote in American history.  For the first time, the young United States had declared war on another nation. The “Second War of Independence” had begun.

The war was fought from June, 1812 until February, 1815, when the U.S. Senate ratified the Treaty of Ghent officially ending the war. Some say no one really won the war, that the Treaty essentially returned relationships to the pre-war status quo. Others believe the Americans were the victors while the opposite opinion – that the British Canadians triumphed – is also popular. A number of historians make the point that the Native Americans in the affected parts of the country suffered the greatest loss. What is clear is that the relationship between Great Britain and America gradually changed but the boundary lines between the United States and Canada remained intact — and since the War of 1812, peaceful.