The War of 1812 was fought between Britain and the United States between 1812 and 1814. The war ended in a stalemate but had many lasting effects in Canada. It guaranteed Canada’s independence from the United States. It also gave Canadians their first experience working together as a community and helped develop a sense of nationhood.
(This article is a plain-language summary of the War of 1812. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry War of 1812.)
The War of 1812 was fought between Britain and the United States between 1812 and 1814. The main cause of the War of 1812 was Britain’s actions during the Napoleonic Wars (1799–1815). First, the British set up a naval blockade to stop supplies from getting to France. This made the Americans angry because they wanted to trade with France. They became even more angry when the British navy began to board American ships. Britain did this because it thought the Americans were continuing to trade with France. They were also looking for deserters from the British navy. A deserter is someone who leaves the military without permission.
In 1807, tension between the Americans and the British rose when a British ship fired on an American ship in the Chesapeake Bay. This event is known as the “Chesapeake Affair.” In May 1811, tensions rose even more when officers on a British ship “impressed” (forced) an American sailor to join the British navy.
British relations with First Nations people was another source of American anger. Britain traded with First Nations people living in American territory. Furthermore, Britain established a good relationship with Tecumseh, the Chief of the Shawnee. During the first decade of the 19th century, Tecumseh united many different First Nations to fight against the US. In 1811, Tecumseh’s forces and the United States went to war. This war is called “Tecumseh’s War.” It lasted from 1811 until 1813.
Around this time, “War Hawks” in the American congress were becoming more popular. The “War Hawks” wanted the United States to go to war with Britain. In 1812, they got what they wanted. On 18 June 1812, President Madison declared war on Britain.
The war lasted for two years. The British side was composed of soldiers from Britain, militiamen from Canada, Métis, First Nations warriors, and a group known as the “Coloured Corps.” Many men in the Coloured Corps had been slaves. Some of the more important battles of the War of 1812 were fought at Fort Detroit, York (now Toronto), Fort George (at the mouth of the Niagara River), Moraviantown (the Chatham-Kent region in Ontario), and Queenston (Niagara-on-the-Lake). Thousands were killed and/or wounded.
The war resulted in a stalemate (meaning no side clearly won). The War of 1812 had many lasting consequences. It guaranteed Canada’s independence from the United States. It also gave the population of British North America (Canada) its first sense of acting as a community. This would help develop a sense of nationhood. Finally, after the war, the United States expanded westward into First Nations territory. As a result, the War of 1812 was disastrous for First Nations peoples.