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The Napoleonic Wars 1792-1815

Naval Action in the 1812 War

For all discussions relating to the war fought between Britain and the United States of America of 1812-15.

Re: Naval Action in the 1812 War

Postby Senarmont198 » January 30th, 2017, 2:11 pm

No, it relates to the British posts in the Old Northwest.
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Re: Naval Action in the 1812 War

Postby Senarmont198 » January 30th, 2017, 2:15 pm

Perhaps this will help:

From Robin Reilly’s The British at the Gates:

‘Instructions had been sent to Ross, and to Cochrane, some six weeks earlier designating their next task and informing them of reinforcements which would increase the division to nearly 6,000. These reinforcements were augmented by a further brigade, more than 2,000 strong, on receipt of Ross’ report of the capture of Washington. By the time the news of the reverse at Baltimore and Ross’ death reached England the first reinforcements had sailed.’

‘Prevost’s failure at Plattsburgh more than counterbalanced victory at Washington. It was clear that even the addition of 10,000 Peninsular troops could not compensate for overcautious leadership, and although Prevost had been recalled and replaced by General Sir George Murray, it was doubtful if any imperishable achievement could be expected to gain a significant victory. Unlike Ross’ expedition, Prevost’s campaign had been launched with the intention of annexing territory which could be held and used in the negotiations for peace. This object might still be attained in time to influence the American government to submit to the British terms, but it was attainable only in the South.’

‘In Ghent, Gallatin had already guessed British intentions. As he reported to Monroe in August, he believed the British object to be territorial conquest, and he warned the Secretary of State to expect a powerful offensive in the area of Lakes Erie and Ontario, but ‘the true and immediate object is New Orleans.’ Whether this statement was the result of deduction or intelligence received from London is not clear, but it is remarkable that Gallatin was aware of the British plan in advance of the commanders who were intended to carry it out.’-168.

‘The British cabinet nevertheless sought to obtain peace. The news of Washington gave them temporary strength, but Wellington’s dispatches from Paris were gloomy. The government restored under Louis XVIII was feeble and unstable, and there were disturbing signs of a revival of Napoleonic spirit. It was also undeniable that both France and Russia, already unfavorably disposed toward Britain’s increasingly aggressive actions against the United States, would have further cause for complaint if the earlier British terms for a peaceful settlement were published by the American government. The arrival on October 17 of the news of Ross’ death at Baltimore followed on the heels of Prevost’s dispatch reporting failure and retreat. The British government, seeing its hope of acquiring negotiable territory in the North shattered, became more than ever determined to acquire it elsewhere. Bathhurst dispatched an urgent note to Ghent demanding that all territorial settlements in the treaty should be made on the basis of uti possidetis and confidently pinned his faith upon the conquest of New Orleans.’-171.

Three excerpts from the Committee on Foreign Relations: Report on the Causes and Reasons for War, June 1812, which was an official report from the subject committee as to the causes of the war, and as an 'appeal to arms' against Great Britain:

'...After the experience which the United States have had of the great injustice of the British Government towards them, exemplified by so many acts of violence and oppression, it will be more difficult to justify to the impartial world their patient forbearance, than the measures to which it had become necessary to resort, to avenge the wrongs, and vindicate the rights and honor of the nation. Your committee are happy to observe, on a dispassionate review of the conduct of the United States, that they see in it no cause for censure.'

'...More than seven years have elapsed since the commencement of this system of hostile aggression by the British Government, on the rights and interests of the United States. The manner of its commencement was not less hostile than the spirit with which it has been prosecuted. The United States have invariably done everything in their power to preserve the relations of friendship with Great Britain...'

'...This lawless waste of our trade, and equally unlawful impressment of our seamen, have been much aggravated by the insults and indignities attending them. Under the pretext of blockading the harbors of France and her allies, British squadrons have been stationed on our own coast, to watch and annoy our own trade. To give effect to the blockade of European ports, the ports and harbors of the United States, have been blockaded. In executing these orders of the British government, or in obeying the spirit which was known to animate it, the commanders of these squadrons have encroached on our jurisdiction, seized our vessels, and carried into effect impressments within our limits, and done other acts of great injustice, violence, and oppression. The United States have seen with mingled indignation and surprise, that these acts instead of procuring to the perpetrators the punishment due to unauthorized crimes, have not failed to recommend them to the favor of the government.'

'Whether the British government has contributed by active measures to excite against us the hostility of the savage tribes on our frontiers, your committee are not disposed to occupy much time in investigating. Certain indications of general notoriety may supply the place of authentic documents, though these have not been wanting to establish the fact in some instances. It is known that symptoms of British hostility towards the United States have never failed to produce corresponding symptoms among those tribes. It is also well known that on al such occasions abundant supplies of the ordinary munitions of war have been afforded by the agents of the British commercial companies, and even from British garrisons, wherewith they were enabled, to commence that system of savage warfare on our frontiers which has been at all times indiscriminate in its effect, on all ages, sexes, and conditions and so revolting to humanity.'

So it appears that the maritime issues were causes of the war...
On British impressment of American seamen from Donald Hickey's Don't Give Up the Ship!, page 21:

'Based on State Department figures, contemporary American newspapers often reported that 6,257 Americans had been impressed between 1803 and 1812. This figure included some duplications, but it probably omitted other cases that went unreported. Based on various figures provided by the State Department, one might conservatively estimate that 3,000 Americans were impressed from 1793-1802 and 7,000 from 1803-1812. Thus, in all, perhaps 10,000 American citizens were impressed into British service during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars.'
Canada is not mentioned at all in Madison's 'War Message to Congress' in June 1812.

Canada is not mentioned in the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Relations 'Report on the Causes and Reasons for War' previously mentioned.

Canada is mentioned in a letter from Secretary of State James Monroe on 13 June 1812 to John Taylor, mentioning that 'in case of war it might be necessary to invade Canada, not as an object of the war but as a means to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion.'

So, it does seem by these three documents that the conquest of Canada was not a war aim of Madison but as a means to attack the British on land. That seems to be a common sense idea in order to take the war to the enemy and not wait on the defensive. Any idea of 'conquest' would come as an afterthought, not as an initial war aim by the Madison administration.
The repetitive thumping regarding the American attempted conquest of Canada is termed 'the annexation myth' by Donald Hickey in his book Don't Give Up the Ship!-Myths of the War of 1812.

Hickey is one of the leading American historians on the War of 1812 and his works are both readable and based on solid research and common sense and deserve to be read by all interested in the war.

His conclusions, based on his research and expert use of historical inquiry, are interesting and valid, even if you don't agree with them. They are worthy of long and varied discussion.

Regarding 'the annexation myth' Hickey writes, in part, the following (pages 36-39):

'The Lure of Canada'

'In late 1811, as the debates on war preparations were under way in the US Congress, John Randolph of Roanoke, a dissident Republican from Virginia, delivered a speech that was to reverberate through history. 'Agrarian cupidity,' he said, 'not maritime rights, urges the war. Ever since the report of the Committee on Foreign Relations [urging war preparation] came into the House, we have heard but one word-like the whip-poor-whill, but on eternal monotonous tone-Canada! Canada! Canada!'

'Most scholars have stressed the maritime issues, particularly the Orders-in-Council and impressment, caused the war, and this view has the weight of evidence behind it. Whether speaking in Congress, in the newspapers, in the diplomatic docments, or in personal letters, Americans in the years before the War of 1812 devoted far more attention to the maritime issues than to the prospect of acquiring Canada. Ransolphs' argument, however, has never gone away. It enjoyed considerable vogue in the early twentieth century, when its proponents argued that the United States went to war either to get more farmland or to put an end to British influence over American Indians. Even today Randolph's views still has some adherents in the United States and a great many more in Canada.'

'Why has the annexationist myth been so durable? For one thing, Republican leaders at the time talked openly about how easy it would be to conquer Canada. As early as 1810, Henry Clay claimed that 'the militia of Kentucky are alone competent to place Montreal and Upper Canada at our feet,' and shortly after the declaration of war Thomas Jefferson boasted that 'the acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighborhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching.' The notion of quick victory, commented the Boston Yankee in late 1812, 'had taken deep root in Washington...and will not be easily exterminated. It is supposed that the show of an army, and a few well directed proclamations would unnerve the arm of resistance, and make conquest and conciliation synonymous.'

'The idea that the United States could conquer Canada in what John Randolph called 'a holiday campaign' was a colossal misconception...'

'Another reason for the popularity of the annexationist myth is that the US government never clarified its position on Canada during the war. It never said that it would hold any conquered territory as ransom for concessions on the maritime issues, nor did it repudiate the annexationist proclamations issued in 1812 by Brigadier General William Hull on the Detroit frontier and by Brigadier Alexander Smyth on the Niagara frontier. Doubtless the government wanted to keep all its options open in case the British proved more willing to part with Canada than with their maritime pretensions. Doubtless, too, Republican leaders did not want to forestall the annexation of territory if they later concluded that public opinion or public policy demanded it. Indeed, it is hard to imagine the United States voluntarily surrendering Canada if it had been conquered, but that does not mean that the desire for Canada caused the war.'

'...But none of this proves that the United States went to war in 1812 to acquire Canada. The confusion here is over ends and means. henry Clay, a western War Hawk who spearheaded the war movement and supported expansion, put the matter clearly in late 1812. 'Canada was not the end but the means,' he said, 'the object of the War being the redress of injuries, and Canada became the instrument by which that redress was to be obtained.' Republican Thomas Wilson of Pennsylvania made the same point a little differently. The conquest of Canada, he insisted, was neither 'a motive to commence the war or a primary object.' It was instead 'an inevitable consequence.''

'There is another way of looking at this matter. Without the maritime issues, is it likely that the United States would have declared war on Great Britain in 1812 to get Canada? Probably not. However, if the United States had no territorial ambitions, is it likely that it still would have gone to war in 1812 over the maritime issues? Probably so. In short, what drove American foreign policy in this period was not the wish to acquire Canada (as desirable as this might be) but a determination to win recognition for what contemporaries called 'Free Trade and Sailors Rights.'

I recommend that it would be enlightening to read the entire section in the book which I have not placed here as it is too long. However, Hickey's argument regarding 'the annexation myth' and the reason(s) the US declared war against Great Britain in 1812 is logically presented with plenty of primary source evidence presented. It is quite clear from Hickey's presentation that the conquest of Canada was not a reason the US declared war in 1812.

That subject, unfortunately (no matter what is presented to the contrary) keeps coming up on the forum from 'the usual suspects' and I would suggest that the argument has been done to death and it is time to move on. Making referrals to the war in Iraq and the US participation and motives in that was have nothing to do with the War of 1812 and is an invalid analogy. While the US declared war in June 1812, it was British aggressive actions that brought on the crisis and the war. That much is very clear from the evidence.
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Re: Naval Action in the 1812 War

Postby janner » January 30th, 2017, 4:17 pm

Senarmont198 wrote:No, it relates to the British posts in the Old Northwest.


I disagree, whilst he certainly had that territory in mind, the involvement of the Ojibwe in the campaign of 1811 and Madison's use of 'extensive frontiers' is highly suggestive. Whilst I have no desire to get into a debate with Prof Hickey by proxy, he acknowledges that the so-called 'myth' endures because there is data to support it. You have kindly included his passage on Ransolph, as well as some of the statements of the Speaker of the House, Henry Clay, but there were others, such as Felix Grundy.

I suggest that there is simply too much noise about US desires for territorial expansion into the Canadian provinces to portray it as a myth, as Hickey does. Whilst it may not have been a primary cause, it was arguably a contributory cause. It is certainly unsafe to give a emphatic 'no' when considering if Madison also had those provinces in mind.

The problem is, that despite having access to the data, not everyone agree with your interpretation of it. If you do not want to debate this topic anymore then don't :lol:

As an aside, I must have missed the reference to the war in Iraq...
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Re: Naval Action in the 1812 War

Postby Josh&Historyland » January 30th, 2017, 5:42 pm

I must say I think that the evidence provided here shows one side of a debate, and by extension shows there is more that one way to read the evidence, rather than showing a concrete truth. I too am confused by the reference to Iraq.

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Re: Naval Action in the 1812 War

Postby Senarmont198 » January 30th, 2017, 7:17 pm

I used a posting from another forum that I wrote a few years ago on the same general topic. The mention of Iraq, which I should have deleted before posting, was a comment on the other poster's then incorrect analogy of using Iraq with the War of 1812.

My apologies for the confusion.
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Re: Naval Action in the 1812 War

Postby janner » January 30th, 2017, 7:22 pm

No problem, I thought I was having a senior moment :lol:
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