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The War of 1812 (1809-1815)

Treaty of Ghent (December 1814)

Hartford Convention (1814)

Treaty of Ghent (December 1814), page 2

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Summary

From 1812 to 1814, Czar Alexander I of Russia was faced the threat of Napoleon's invasion of Russian soil. Alexander had no idea how much longer Napoleon would last, and was unsure of his ability to hold out against the French Emperor. As a result, Alexander did not want Britain distracted, fighting a far-off war against the US. Instead, he wanted Britain focused on helping him fight Napoleon. The Russians had already defeated Napoleon, however, by the time they finally convinced Britain and the US to come to the negotiating table in the Belgian city of Ghent in August, 1814.

John Quincy Adams led the US delegation, which also included Henry Clay, Albert Gallatin, James Bayard, and Jonathan Russell. By 1814, Britain's top negotiator, the Viscount Castlereagh, was too busy with the Congress of Vienna to attend negotiations in Ghent. Less senior diplomats represented Britain.

When the negotiations began, Britain had recently wiped out the American army at Bladensburg. Hopeful about the prospects of the planned invasion of New York and angry over continued American privateering that had resulted in the destruction or theft of massive amounts of British wealth, the British negotiators demanded advantageous terms: more territory for Canada (including a large chunk of Maine, which the British army now occupied anyway), control of the Great Lakes, and the creation of a neutral Indian state to act as a buffer between the US and Canada. US negotiators refused the terms. The Ghent negotiations seemed in vain when suddenly the tide began to turn, and the US won the Battles of Baltimore and Lake Champlain.

With the War now at stalemate, on Christmas Eve in 1814, the Treaty of Ghent two sides signed the Treat of Ghent. The treaty returned US-British relations to the status they had had before the war: neither side gained or lost territory. Issues like the Orders in Council and Impressment were never addressed. In the eleven articles of the treaty, no mention was made of free trade, and no mention was made of Sailor's rights. Albert Gallatin, who had been instructed to secure an end to impressment, wrote back to Madison that Britain's Navy being what it was, they would never agree to this. The Americans decided the return of the status quo was enough.

News of the Treaty of Ghent took a while to reach the US. As a result, Andrew Jackson's men fought the British at New Orleans unnecessarily, after the treaty had already been signed.

Commentary

The US delegation to Ghent, comprised of strong, conflicting personalities like John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay, was bound to be plagued by disagreement and bickering. Henry Clay could be especially difficult to get along with. He had once said, "I would rather be right than President." Adams and Clay could hardly stand each other. Nonetheless, this group had to make peace soon, because despite the American military successes of September 1814, the war was crushing the American economy. Businesses throughout the country, especially in New England, were going bankrupt. Negotiations were not helped by comments in French newspapers in Ghent that described the British as barbarians for their burning of Washington.

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