What were the key issues that led to the War of 1812?

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There were several arguments that were made for going to war with Great Britain in 1812. First there were those who hoped to gain new territory from a war with Britain.  They felt the U.S. could acquire Canada, and its lucrative fur trade, through a war with Britain.  In addition, some hoped to gain Spanish Florida in a war with Britain because Spain was allied with Britain. 

Another argument for war was the impressment of American sailors into the British navy; that is, the British were kidnapping American sailors and forcing them to serve in the British navy. 

Another argument dealt with the fact that American ships were being seized by the British.  The British and French were at war and the British were capturing American ships headed towards France.

Others felt that war with Britain would end the troubles Americans were having with Indians on the frontier.  Many felt that the British were arming and inciting the Native American Indians to attack American settlers.

Finally, some argued that war was necessary to maintain American sovereignty and to restore national honor, both of which had been attacked by the British actions on the high seas and on the American frontier.

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Two primary issues led to the War of 1812. The first was Impressment of American sailors into service on British ships on the pretense that they were deserters from British ships. Ironically, the nation narrowly avoided war with France over interference with American shipping at the same time. American merchants were trading with both Britain and France at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, and thus made no friends on either side.

A second, and perhaps more pertinent reason, was early ideas of Manifest Destiny. A group in Congress, primarily John C. Calhoun and Thomas Hart Benton, were determined to make Canada part of the U.S. They were known as the "War Hawks," and were presumably heard to utter nothing other than "Canada, Canada, Canada!"

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One of the first ostensible reasons for the conflict was the massive restriction of trade the British attempted to enforce on American merchants attempting to trade with France.  The U.S. merchants contested that this was illegal according to international law, the U.K. obviously felt otherwise.

The British Navy had continued to impress U.S. citizens into its navy and the U.S. had serious problems with it.

There were certainly those who felt that the main reason for the war was the westward expansionist ideas and policies being pursued both officially and unofficially by residents of the U.S.

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The War of 1812, or the "Second War of Independence," resulted from certain important issues.  The one common theme among them is that the British not only did not honor America's independence, but the British also felt they had no need to do so.  It was Britain's lack of respect for America's sovereignty that culminated in the war.

The British certainly supplied the Native Americans with weapons and incited them to fight Americans.  They also maintained forts on American territory.  These policies definitely aggravated British-American relations.  Perhaps more inflammatory to British-American relations, however, was the British policy of impressment.  The explanation given below for impressment hits the nail on the head.  The British did indeed attack American ships bound for French ports; however, it did not end with that.  The British ships would take the American sailors and force them to serve on their ships.  While the attacks on American ships outraged many, the impressment of American sailors seemed to violate the very individual freedoms the American victory in the Revolution hoped to guarantee.

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The previous thoughts were well articulated.  I would like to add that the idea of arming Native Americans really pushed the buttons of the Americans.  To them, it seemed like the Revolutionary War all over again.  The Americans had done an effective job of relegating out the Native Americans from political and social forms of power.  The very idea that the British would arm them and encourage them again caused a great deal of zeal and nationalism amongst many Americans, who saw this as another opportunity to defend honor. Leaders like Henry Clay used their political power as ways to ensure that nationalistic policies were advanced.  At the same time, Native American resistance to White Expansion began to become increasingly pronounced.  Leaders like Tecumseh and the Prophet advocated that the emphasis on Native American traditions and ways of life were threatened with White expansion.

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Basically, the issue here was that the United States felt that Great Britain was not honoring its independence.  The US felt that the British were acting in various ways that were unacceptable to an independent nation.  That is why many people call this the second war for US independence.

There are three main things that the British were doing that was upsetting to the US:

  • They kept forts on US territory.  These were in what was then the Northwest -- areas like Ohio and Illinois.  It is not acceptable for a country to have military bases in another country without permission.
  • They were supplying Indians and encouraging them to attack the US.  This was being done at the forts I just mentioned.
  • They were "impressing" US sailors.  This meant that they were stopping US ships on the high seas and forcing sailors to join the Royal Navy.  This meant they were treating US sailors as if they were British subjects.

All of these were things that a country cannot do to another independent country.

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