The Treaty of Ghent

A sword, surveyor's equipment, and other items used by 1815 soldiers
Swords and ammunition bags were crucial military equipment in 1815, but surveyor's gear was also important for reconnaissance, map-making, and engineering projects like building bridges for troop movement.

On December 24, 1814, British and American representatives who had been meeting in Belgium signed the Treaty of Ghent, the agreement that would end the War of 1812. Did that mean that the Battle of New Orleans, fought on January 8, 1815, was unnecessary? A tragic waste of life caused by the lack of quick communication in those days?

The war was not over when the treaty was signed on December 24. The treaty specifically stated that fighting between the United States and Britain would stop only when both governments ratified the treaty (in the case of the United States, that meant approval by Congress). Congress ratified the treaty on February 15, 1815.

The British had not asked for an immediate end to fighting because they were worried that the United States might still ask for revisions. In fact, the British official who brought the treaty to the United States also brought a copy of the British ratification and had instructions to stop hostilities only if the United States ratified the treaty with no changes. What this meant was that fighting had to continue.

So what if the British had won the Battle of New Orleans and captured the third most important port in the United States? Would the treaty have been re-negotiated?

Probably not. The treaty said that land captured during the war, including any land captured between the signing and the ratification, would be returned to its original country of ownership. By this time, too, the British were more interested in making sure of their claims in Canada than in starting a new colony in Louisiana. But since the best defense is a good offense, the British wanted to continue treaty negotiations from a strong position, and so continued their attacks on American land to make sure that the Americans would agree to peace.

From muskets to tactics, from upcoming events to historical people and places, you can find out more about the War of 1812 at the links below.

Last updated: December 3, 2021

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