The War Hawks also clamored for a new war against Britain, citing Britain’s impressment of U.S. sailors, seizure of American ships and cargos, and refusal to withdraw troops from the Louisiana Territory. The War Hawks also hoped that victory in a new war would win Canada—and perhaps even Florida, if Spain tried to help Britain—for the United States. Although President Madison hoped to avoid war, he eventually caved to pressures from the War Hawks and requested that Congress declare war against Britain in June of 1812.

The War of 1812

In many ways, the war went badly for the United States. As a result of Jefferson’s belief in frugal government, the U.S. Navy had been pared down to only a few gunboats, and the Army was similarly meager. Though American forces had some success in the Northwest, they were unable to push through the British blockade of the eastern ports or prevent the burning of Washington, D.C., in 1814. For most of 1814, the war remained a stalemate.

The Hartford Convention

The War of 1812 did not have nationwide support: the South and West supported it, but the New England states, whose economies depended on shipping with Europe, voted against the war in Congress and protested loudly against it once it began. In fact, five of the New England states were so fervently opposed to the war that they convened a secret meeting in Hartford, Connecticut, to discuss secession from the Union.

After several weeks of discussion, delegates at the Hartford Convention nixed the idea of secession and instead decided merely to petition Congress to redress a list of grievances. First, they wanted the U.S. government to compensate New England shippers for lost profits. Second, they wanted to amend the Constitution so that the states could vote on important decisions that affected the entire Union, such as admission of new states or declaration of war. Third, they wanted to change the executive office so that each president could serve only one term and no two consecutive presidents could come from the same state (primarily out of frustration that most presidents had come from the South). Finally, they wanted to strike the three-fifths clause from the Constitution.

The Treaty of Ghent

Unfortunately for the Hartford delegates, their petition arrived in Washington too late, just after news broke that the war had ended. Britain and the United States, weary of being stuck in a costly conflict that was more or less a stalemate, had signed the Treaty of Ghent to end hostilities. The treaty essentially stipulated that neither side had gained or lost any territory, and it made no mention of impressments or the illegal seizure of ships. For obvious reasons, none of the Hartford Convention’s demands were granted.

The Battle of New Orleans

Oddly, the most famous battle of the War of 1812 was fought two weeks after the peace treaty was signed. General Andrew Jackson, who had not yet received word of the treaty, led U.S. troops to a resounding victory in early January 1815 at the Battle of New Orleans.

Popular pages: The Constitution (1781–1815)