The War of 1812, Andrew Jackson and Slavery
The one thing most people can remember about the War of 1812 is that the U.S. won the war as demonstrated by the Battle of New Orleans. In that battle British troops marched in tight ranks towards some well-barricaded American troops and 2000 or so were mowed down by rifle fire. Hurray for the good old U.S.A. The troops were led by the gallant General Andrew Jackson, the Hero of New Orleans, who later went on to become the first Democratic Party President of the United States of America.
Any longer gloss of the war tends to mention a few more discouraging facts. The peace treaty had already been signed before the Battle of New Orleans, but the news before radio and telegraph traveled slowly. British troops burned Washington D.C. In fact, the only major battle clearly won by U.S. troops was the final one in New Orleans.
What caused the war? Why, those evil Brits. They could not stand the fact that we had wupped them in the American Revolution. They were harassing our merchant shipping and impressing our sailors. It was a war of defense against British aggression. That, at least, is the red-blooded American view.
Before I get to what was really important about the War of 1812, consider the standard British point of view. Feel free to recall that the peace-loving British government conquered a larger empire than any other nation, before or since. The red-blooded British point of view is that they were locked in a war with the evil Napoleon Bonaparte. America was welcome to trade with Britain; we just were not welcome to trade with France. In fact on June 16, 1812 Lord Castlereagh announced that Britain would no longer seize U.S. merchant ships heading to France. As to the impressed U.S. sailors, they had been enrolled in the British Navy and had no right to desert it in time of war, or under their service contracts. Britain did not start the war. The U.S. Congress declared war on June 18, 1812 because it wanted to add Canada to the United States. It was a naked war of U.S. aggression. The British army, what little could be spared from fighting Napoleon's legions, acquitted itself quite well, repelling the U.S. invasion of Candia. Napoleon abdicated the French throne in April 1814. Having failed to take Canada, and having lost France as an ally, the U.S. was eager for peace, resulting in the Treaty of Ghent on December 23, 1814.
Some other facts need to be filled in in order to understand what was really going on in the U.S. when war was declared. Which is why these facts are almost never filled in.
The United States of America had been founded on the principles of slavery and racial inequality after the Somerset Decision of 1772 had threatened to impoverish men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. True, the ending of slavery within the British Empire had then been delayed by economically powerful men who owned stakes in Caribbean sugar plantations. But the gradual abolition of slavery had been made law in Canada in 1793, and the anti-slavery movement in England was quite strong by 1812. Racial inequality also took the form of near total disregard for native American Indian rights, in particular their rights to their ancestral land.
Britain had drawn a line to protect Indian tribes, the Line of 1763. George Washington and other speculators claimed to own what were actually Indian lands that were beyond this line. In the settlement of the Revolutionary War the new U.S. government was given sovereignty over the Northwest Territory, but in fact needed to engage in wars of aggression (now recognized as war crimes) to control the land and allow speculators to sell it to white settlers. Canada did not recognize U.S. seizures of Indian lands. Led by Tecumseh, in 1811 the Indians began fighting to defend their lands and take back the lands already stolen from them in Ohio. Of course to America's ruling class Indians defending their land was savagery, whereas killing Indians to take their land was just good sensible economics. The war of 1812 was a draw for the British, but Tecumseh was killed and the Indian tribes of the midwest defeated.
Even in it most evil days, America has had people who showed a high degree of ethics. In 1812 there was already a substantial minority of Americans who wanted to abolish slavery and treat native American Indians fairly. There were two major political parties at the time, neither of which exists today: the Republicans and the Federalists. Yet the original grounds for division between those parties were wilting away. Both parties were dominated by rich white males. But slave owners were more likely to be Republicans and the rich merchant and manufacturers were more likely to be Federalists.
This ruling, political elite was divided about the war. Most war votes in U.S. history have been unanimous, but in the U.S. House of Representatives the vote was 79 for, 49 against declaring war. The slave state representatives were mostly for the war, but there were some Republicans who were not slave owners who did vote with their political party, for the war.
Andrew Jackson had been a significant, but not prominent, officer in the war, but as the victor in the Battle of New Orleans he came out of the war a national hero. He was a greedy, dishonest man who made his living by speculating in lands stolen from Indians, lawyering, and by running a plantation using Negro slaves. He was elected as the state's first Representative to Congress in 1796. In 1812 Jackson first commanded the Tennessee militia, then was made Major-General of American forces in the South.
Many Indians still lived in parts of the southern United States. Some tribes tried to remain neutral; others fought on the American side. Finding himself desperately short of fighters, Jackson enlisted Cherokee fighters, promising them future protection against more land theft. With them his army defeated the Creeks who were fighting on the British side at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. Jackson's army then marched to New Orleans.
While Canada remained a problem for America's slavers, Florida was more of a problem because it was close to large populations of slaves. While Spain still allowed slavery, the practice in Florida was to free escaped American slaves if they would convert to Catholicism. Jackson led U.S. troops into Florida in 1818 in the First Seminole War. In 1819 the U.S. government purchased Florida from Spain, thus strengthening the cause of the Slave states. Andrew Jackson became the first American governor of Florida in 1821.
The ultimate result of the War of 1812 was the formation of the Democratic Party, a party devoted to the principles of Slavery and Genocide. For more on the history of the Democratic Party see my pamphlet on the subject. As President Andrew Jackson would order the Cherokee Tribe, that he promised to protect in 1814, expelled from their lands.
The key thing to remember about the War of 1812 was not who won the battle of New Orleans. The War of 1812 was about 2 U.S. war aims: taking more territory (Canada and Indian lands) and enlarging the institution of slavery.
Learn more: Internet Biography of Andrew Jackson
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