The War of 1812

Essay Question: The War of 1812 was essentially a war to protect the United States’ position in world trade. Yet the commercial interests in New England opposed it, and the agricultural regions of the South and the West favored it. Trace the historical reasons for this polarization of opinion.


The American-British war of 1812 to 1815 was the first war that the United States participated in after gaining independence. Since 1789, America had kept a policy of neutrality and successive administrations had kept in line with this policy until 1812. Due to a combination of many maritime, economic and political factors, the James Madison administration found itself squeezed of options and this led to the declaration of the war in 1812. In analyzing this paper, I will seek to analyze the root causes of the war as well as the reasons for the polarization of the opinions between the southerners and the New England interests.


The immediate government preceding the war was the Jefferson administration. This administration had allowed the American military to stay idle in a time of international conflicts that also affected the commercial interests of American merchant ships. Due to this neutrality policy, it was clearly visible by the time Madison took over that the use of only economic channels to achieve national goals were not working again for the United States of America.

The War of 1812

The war of 1812 was a culmination of long lasting philosophical differences between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Their differing opinions went on up to the period of the war of 1812 that led to a win by America and subsequent defeat of the federalists.

Alexander Hamilton was the first secretary to the secretary of the United States. He was very critical in his duties and within his first year as the secretary of the treasury, he introduced some very disturbing reports that lead to a financial revolution in the United States, among them were the first report on public credit and the report on the manufactures.

These reports attracted massive criticism from the secretary of state Thomas Jefferson and the speaker, James Madison. While Hamilton was in favor of federalism, Jefferson was a staunch anti-federalist. Their continuing conflicts between them in United States politics helped to start what some historians call the first party system in America. Hamilton founded the Federalist Party while Jefferson helped form the democratic Republican Party. In addition, Hamilton helped to form the bill of rights through the ten amendments that were made to the United States constitution. The United States executive branches of government as well as the entire judiciary (through the judiciary act of 1789) were drafted against the criticisms of Jefferson and others. The ideological differences between Hamilton and Jefferson went on even into president Adams administration. They differed on the issue of the ‘French crisis’ which was sometimes referred to as the ‘quasi-war’., they also differed strongly on the issue of the alien and seditions act as well as the naturalization act that was meant to target French-Irish immigrants that seemed supportive of the democratic-republicans to which Thomas Jefferson was strongly affiliated to. In retaliation, Jefferson and James Madison sponsored the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions, which allowed states to interpose and in practice nullify federal actions. Through the Washington and Adams administrations, the government had become too strong on the guidance of federalists led by Alexander Hamilton. Through Jefferson’s idealism and his association with the average American, and his increasing attacks on what he called ‘federalist tyranny’, Jefferson was able to change the political landscape to win the 1800 general elections.

In 1808, James Madison succeeded Jefferson as the president of the United States. Behind the scenes, the so-called Jeffersonian’ and the federalists still had their influence on the state. Their main difference arose from the issue of war with Britain that begun in 1812. This war was highly supported by the democratic-republicans (Jeffersonian) and strongly opposed by the federalists

The War of 1812

(Hamiltonians). The aftermath of the war, (a win for Americans) dealt a great blow to the federalists and this marked the start of the federalists decline as a political force in United States politics.




The British French war that broke again in 1803 was one of the causes of the American declaration of war against Britain. Due to fear within the Great Britain of a French invasion under napoleon caused the Great Britain to ignore the rights of neutral countries in order to prevent them from giving any military aid to France. In addition to this, British shipping merchants were skeptical of the fact that the American shippers were profiting more from the ongoing European wars. This profit was deemed a threat to British commerce, naval power as well as being a threat to British national security. Thus there was need to impose restrictions on American shipping practices that would have the effect of curtailing the French as well.


The issue of impressments was one of the most critical. This is because it covered two areas of concern. The first was on international law and the other was one human rights abuses. Impressments involved the search for deserters. Due to increased activity of the American merchant ships combined with the issue harsh treatment of British sailors, many British sailors were seeking greener pastures within the United States. The issue of what constituted sovereignty in this case was hard to determine especially in the case where the was involved in the high seas.

The War of 1812


One of the reasons that led to the declaration of war against the British was interference with American commerce. Due to continuing rivalry between England and France, there came a time that all ships headed to France were supposed to first dock in a British port pay some money and then proceed. This act angered American traders since they saw this as a new form of dependence on Britain, which they were not ready to bear.

In addition to this, the Chesapeake affair and the orders-in council also influenced this decision.


Economic reasons also played a part in the ensuing problem. After the introduction of the embargo act, many American merchants lost their sources of livelihood. This loss of livelihood mostly affected New England. Due to this loss many sailors were against the war since they held the opinion that if this war went on they were to lose much more. On the other side of the table, southerners who were mainly, farmers supported the war. This is because they were also aware that Britain’s last foothold within the continent was in Canada. Thus, they wanted the government to declare war against Britain so that they could have a chance of invading the fertile soils of Canada as well as evicting Indians sympathetic to the Spaniards.


The win by America caused America to be recognized as a world power. This win in addition caused the American foreign policy to be amended.

The War of 1812


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