The War of 1812

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The primary causes and reasons for America declaring war on Great Britain in 1812

Summary:

The primary causes for America declaring war on Great Britain in 1812 include British restrictions on U.S. trade, impressment of American sailors into the Royal Navy, and British support for Native American attacks against American frontier settlements. These actions infringed on U.S. sovereignty and economic interests, leading to increased tension and ultimately, the declaration of war.

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What were the primary causes for America declaring war on Great Britain in 1812?

There are a few major reasons why the United States went to war with Great Britain in 1812. At the time, France and Great Britain were already at war. Great Britain was going to great lengths to ensure that the United States did not trade with France. The British navy blockaded French ports, which was a huge blow to international commerce. Furthermore, the Royal Navy began the practice of impressing American sailors, which the United States saw as a serious violation of American sovereignty. In 1809, Congress passed the Non-Intercourse Act which prohibited all trade with France and Great Britain as long as they were at war. This brought trade with the two nations to a near standstill and was proving catastrophic to American business interests.

Furthermore, along the northwestern frontier of the United States, tensions with Native Americans were worsening. When the British forts in Canada began augmenting their garrisons with potentially hostile native parties, a fear that the British were encouraging an insurrection across the border intensified. At this point, a group in congressmen known as the War Hawks began arguing that only the removal of the British from Canada would neutralize the Native threat.

As a result of worry about a threat of British supported insurrection coming out of Canada and the continuing violations of America's maritime rights, the United States declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812.

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What were the primary causes for America declaring war on Great Britain in 1812?

The major reason that the United States declared war on Britain in 1812 was that the United States felt disrespected by Britain.  Britain removed American sailors through a practice called impressment.  This was considered a violation of American maritime rights.  American ships were also stopped for having contraband, and American merchants claimed that, as a neutral party, they could trade with whomever they pleased.  The United States also claimed that the presence of British forts on the Great Lakes was a violation of the Treaty of Paris (1783) and that these forts encouraged the Native Americans there to attack American settlements in the region.  There was also a small group in Congress known as the War Hawks who sought to annex Canada while Britain was fighting the Napoleonic War.  While Britain did stop impressing American sailors and ultimately removed the forts, the attempt to annex Canada ended in disaster.  

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What were the reasons for the US declaring war on Britain in 1812?

The first reason why the United States fought Britain in the War of 1812 was to end the practice of impressment against American sailors. The United States traded with Britain and France during the War of 1812, going against blockades in both countries. Britain impressed American sailors onto its ships in order to maintain its own merchant marine. The United States claimed that it was free to trade with whomever it wished, and that British impressment was an insult to American sovereignty.

The second reason was the belief that Britain incited Native American attacks against American settlements in the Great Lakes region. British forts still occupied the area despite the ruling of the 1783 Treaty of Paris and many tribes traded at these forts. The main source of settler/indigenous animosity was white encroachment on Native lands.

Finally, there was a small group in Congress called the "War Hawks" who thought that the United States should annex Canada. It was their belief that the Canadians (who were British colonial subjects at the time) would welcome the Americans as liberators. They thought the period during the Napoleonic War would be perfect for this annexation, as Britain was not paying attention to its Canadian provinces. The Canadians fought off the Americans in their poorly managed invasion, and the British army turned out in force to repel the invading Americans.

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What were the reasons for the US declaring war on Britain in 1812?

The United States went to war against Great Britain in 1812 for the following reasons:

  • the belief (not entirely incorrect) that the British government was supporting, even encouraging, Native attacks along the Northwest frontier. The attempted pan-Indian revolt led by Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa that was finally destroyed as part of the War of 1812 was seen as the product of British machinations. 
  • the impressment of American sailors by the British navy. This practice had been ongoing for some time. Suspecting American ships of harboring deserters from the Royal Navy, British captains would often take American ships by force and force sailors--those suspected of desertion--to serve on British ships. This was part of a larger issue of free trade and freedom of the seas that emerged from the Wars of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars in France.
  • a desire by many Americans to wrest parts of Canada from the British Empire. This was a popular motive among many of the "war hawks," a group of young politicians who clamored for war. These men saw the elimination of  British influence in Canada as the only means to end British meddling on the frontier, and believed it would open the way for further territorial expansion by the young United States, already doubled in size since the Revolution by the Louisiana Purchase. They also saw the first two issues listed above as intolerable affronts to the nation's honor.

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