The War of 1812
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
The Continental system
The war with the United States arose out of Britain's use of her maritime supremacy and the injury to American trade caused by the Continental System, the British Orders in Council, and the virtual suppression of neutral traffic which the Americans attributed to the high-handed tyranny of the nation from which they had separated themselves. The utility of the Orders in Council was always somewhat doubtful, even from the purely British point of view; they fell into abeyance after the death of their most determined advocate Perceval, and in 1812 they were withdrawn. But the mischief was done; the United States had already declared war. As a matter of fact there had never been any reconciliation between the two nations, which still felt towards each other the bitterness engendered by a fratricidal struggle; and in such cases a cool enquiry into grievances is not to be looked for.
US invades Canada - and is repelled
When the war began, just as Wellington and Marmont were facing each other and Napoleon was starting for Moscow, the British Government gave very insufficient attention to the minor contest with the United States, with the somewhat astonishing result that for some time the Americans were uniformly successful at sea. On the other hand, their reversion to the old attempt to capture Canada brought to them complete disaster, since the United Empire Loyalists fought against them with all the animus inspired by the events which had driven them across the St Lawrence from their homes in the south. Canadians remember with a just pride the courage and skill with which their ancestors repelled the invader.
Battle of New Orleans
In the course of time British naval supremacy reasserted itself; but the only memorably creditable performance of British sailors was the famous duel between the Shannon and the Chesapeake, when the Chesapeake was forced to surrender after fifteen minutes of fighting, although the two ships were equallv matched. A British expedition under General Ross won a battle at Bladensburg and burnt Washington; and another British expedition, mainly of veteran troops from the Peninsula, was smashed up at New Orleans in the attempt to storm impregnable entrenchments. Like the battle of Toulouse, this last engagement was a sheer waste, because a treaty of peace between the belligerents had been signed at Ghent a fortnight earlier, on Christmas Eve, 1814.
Consequences of the War
The war was a particularly evil one, first, because it could have been easily averted by a little mutual common-sense and good temper; secondly, because it served no good purpose for either side; thirdly, because it failed to bring out on either side those virtues which are supposed to decay unless stimulated by hard fighting; and, fourthly, because it left an inheritance of extraordinary bitterness between the two great nations of British race, a tradition of hostility and distrust which was scarcely allayed even when the nineteenth century was drawing to its close. In one single respect, however, the British Empire may be held to have benefited, because that war made impossible any such rapprochement between the Canadians and their southern neighbours as might have tended to sever Canada from the British Empire.