The War of 1812
The coming year will be the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812. It is a much neglected war in the United States Britain and Canada. It is largely forgotten; when it is referred to it is debated as to who really won or lost it.
It was a war of aggression by the United States initiate by a Republican government. Since the end of the Revolutionary war the Americans has eyed the remnant of British North America as ripe for the taking. Both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams believed that Canada could be easily annexed to the United States. By the time of Madison's Presidency the idea of manifest destiny was growing so that many Americans came to believe it was the United States God given right to hold reign over all of North America. Anger of British interference on US and French trade was the excuse to for war.The United States declared War against Britain in 1812. It was to be a "cakewalk" (to use a current term).
Aging Generals, from the Revolutionary War were dusted off to lead militia in their attack of the Canada's; Upper (Ontario) and Lower (Quebec). They proved to not to be very effective against the better lead British defense force, Canadian volunteers and native allies. Sir Isaac Brock
ably lead the British and colonial forces while Tecumseh lead the native allies.
British North America was successfully defended at Detroit, Niagara, Kingston and the border for Quebec.
Who won the war? The Americans claim to have won it on the basis of defeating the British Navy when it tried to take Louisiana. This battle was won after the war was officially over
with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent.. The British felt they won because the has successfully rebuffed the invasion of the Canadas. and the nuisance presence they had in the mid-Atlantic states including the attack on Washington where they burned down the White House. The Canadian settlers celebrated that they successfully protected their farms and villages and remained under British parliamentary rule that they viewed as superior to American republican rule. Even the French Canadians lead by French officers, such as Charles de Salaberry,
preferred the British to the Americans. They had come to accept British rule and many of their elite served in the British military. In Upper Canada there were many settlers who were United Empire Loyalists who fled to Canada as a result of being on the losing side of the Revolutionary War. They rejected being part of the United States a second time. It seem the only ones who did not win were the First Nation's people under their leader Tecumseh
They had come to believe that the British would guarantee them a territory (country of their own). The were betrayed. Not being party to the peace treaty they were not well defended by the British. Their territory was taken over by the Americans. Some relocated to Canada where generally they were better treated. As I have mentioned in a previous post Manitoulin Island was repopulated at this time by the groups which came to be known as the Three Fires Council
: Potawotami, Ojibwe and Otawa. A similar migration has occurred after the Revolutionary War when the Six Nations Reserve
was settled by Iroquois from all tribes in the Iroquois Confederacy and other tribes who had supported the British side in that conflict Joseph Brant was their much admired leader. This pattern of resettlement of people from the US territory became an historic pattern (fugitive slaves, draft dodgers, discouraged American Liberals,) which persists today.
I recently watched the PBS documentary on the War of 1812.
It is a very interesting history lesson from the American point of view. I understand a Canadian documentary of the War is under development in Canada for the coming year. I watched the PBS documentary on my computer ( you can view it here
still.) The documentary features two participants, one an American Kentucky militiaman, William Atherton, and a British soldier, Shadrach Byfield Both of these men survived the war and wrote accounts of their experience in it. I located these text on the Internet Archive and read them. Here they are: the one by Atherton
and the one by Byfield
. for those interested in reading original texts I recommend them.
I was particularly interested in Atherton's account. He was a fiercely proud Kentuckian and a loyal American. He was capture by the Potowatomi Indians in Michigan. He was in fact adopted by them. He came to respect them and spoke of some kindness shown him while sharing in their harsh life style. He came to leave them and surrender to the British who treated him as a prisoner of war. Such prisoners were harshly treated often with lack of sufficient food, heat or shelter. British prisons were dreadfully sparse, cold, vermin infected places where treatment was often harsh. Atherton came to recall that his treatment under the Potowatomi was so much better that under the British. After the war he was released. He was taken with others into Vermont and released with no food, adequate clothing or money to find their own way home. For him it would be a trek of 1,000 miles. He often got little or no help along the way. He particularly speaks badly of how he was treated in New York State where he says there were many Tories who were not particularly supportive of the American War against British North America. In fact, they traded goods across the border during the war. Atherton was often told the food the British got in Lower Canada was often food from the United States. One such American trader was Francis Duclos,
He had been a hero of the Revolutionary War who now betrayed the US by passing on intelligence from Federalists (who opposed the war) to the British in Canada. It seems the border even back then was only casually respected by those who lived along it.
He finally made it back to his beloved Kentucky and lived out the rest of his life as a Methodist minister.
Our present Conservative Canadian government has made it know they are going to celebrate, in a very public way, the bicentennial
of the War of 1812 in the coming year. I have mixed feeling about this. On the one hand I think this history is interesting and important to know but on the other hand I fear the Conservatives will treat it in an shallow and exagerated patriotic way making more of its' significance than it warrants. (They already have show themselves to be such patriots) This kind of flag waving leave me uncomfortable. They will be spending money on monuments and battle sites as well as educational efforts. It will be interesting to see how they treat it. I think they will try to make of it a great Canadian War that helped shaped Canada as a Nation. I am not so sure this is the case. It was a British War to begin with. Canadians fought to defend their farms and homes as well as defending the rule under Britain. They learned, if they did not know it already, that they were not Americans more so than they were Canadians, after all they were loyal British subjects.
Canada has emerged as a country gradually. The war of 1812 may have had something to do with it but what welded the country together as a Nation is best understood a Canadas successful involvement in WWI, It was the heroic and successful battles fought by Canadians as a distinct Corp within the British military, symbolized in the Vimy Ridge battle, that say Canada gain a great sense of nationhood. It would be, 1948, before the Canadian passport
reached its final form..
It will be amusing to follow the Canadian and American's different handling of the history of the War of 1812 this coming year. One thing that I think we can both celebrate is that in this 200 years Canada and the United States have been peacefully neighbours along a very long border. We have our differences but we always find ways to working them out without resorting to violence. There are few countries in the World who have accomplished this for this length of time.