The Road to War
The War of 1812 began in June of that year when the United States declared war on Britain. The causes were complex, dividing the nation. Broadly, American and British interests clashed at a time when Britain was still fighting its long, global war against Napoleonic France.
"I honestly don't know what we are up to here- we remain always in the same situation-between two fires. One day it seems we will have a war with France, another day with England. Our government is weak and the nation divided over this matter."
-Rosalie Stier Calvert of Bladensburg, Maryland,
in a letter to her father in Europe, November 1, 1809
Since 1803 the British navy had forcibly drafted approximately 6,000 American merchant sailors into its service. This practice of "impressment" violated America's neutrality and the rights of its citizens. The British government's Orders-in-Council also required all neutral trade with Europe to pass via England, in response to French decrees prohibiting neutral trade with Britain. The result was that from 1807 to 1812, Britain and France together seized about 900 American merchant ships.
Many Americans were outraged by the trampling of their national rights. War was an opportunity to win back America's prestige and uphold the legacy of the Revolution.
The British posed a potential obstacle to rich land opportunities on America's western and northern borderlands. War might bring the tempting prize of British Canada, and put an end to British support of American Indian resistance to westward expansion.
FEDERALISTS: the other main party of the day, which declined after the War of 1812 (the modern Republican Party did not form until the 1850s)
DEMOCRATIC-REPUBLICAN PARTY: the forerunner of the modern Democratic Party