Who were the winners, losers in War of 1812?

May 24, 2012 By John Curry

 Lynn Martin, left, of Stittsville is with her brother Ron Dale, dressed in period costume, who was the guest speaker at the May meeting of the Goulbourn Township Historical Society last Saturday, May 19, talking about the War of 1812.

John Curry, Metroland
Lynn Martin, left, of Stittsville is with her brother Ron Dale, dressed in period costume, who was the guest speaker at the May meeting of the Goulbourn Township Historical Society last Saturday, May 19, talking about the War of 1812.
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EMC news – The British, the Americans and the Canadians can all claim victory in the War of 1812. The only real losers were the First Nations.

This was the assessment given by War of 1812 historian Ron Dale in response to a question about who won the War of 1812 at his presentation dealing with the War of 1812 and how to conduct research pertaining to it at the Goulbourn Township Historical Society May meeting on Saturday afternoon, May 19 at the Stittsville Legion Hall.

But even Mr. Dale, who is the 1812 Bicentennial Project Manager for Parks Canada and was from 1992 to 2006 the superintendent for Parks Canada of the Niagara National Historic Sites, admitted that who won the War of 1812 is a question that will be debated well into the future.

“That’s an issue that will keep historians arguing with each other for generations and generations,” he said.

He did, though, give his assessment of this question from the viewpoint of each party in the war.

Mr. Dale said that the Americans firmly believe that they won the War of 1812, choosing to forget about battles such as those at Queenston Heights and Chateauguay and instead remembering naval victories on Lake Erie. The Americans also chose to remember the British failure to capture Baltimore and the British defeat at New Orleans

He pointed out that the Americans entered the War because they wanted the British to stop impressing American seamen on the high seas. Indeed, this issue was resolved before the War began although the Americans did not find out about this until several weeks into the War.

The Americans, though, continued with the War because the idea of capturing Canada appealed to them.

Mr. Dale noted that the War did impoverish the United States but it also served to reaffirm American sovereignty on the international scene. The War also made the Americans realize that they needed a strong navy and a professional army, a feeling which led to the establishment of armed forces military academies.

“In a way it’s a victory for the Americans,” Mr. Dale said about the War of 1812.

But then he put forward the British position and concluded that they also could be considered winners of the War.

He said that the aim of Britain in this War was to end it as quickly as possible while also defending British North America. Initially, the British also insisted that the Americans guarantee a sovereign First Nations area, although this fell by the wayside.

Mr. Dale said that the British attacks on Baltimore and New Orleans were all carried out to try to force the Americans to negotiate the end of the War.

He said that British could be considered to have won the War since it did end in only a few years.

Mr. Dale also said that Canadians could be considered winners of the War.

All Canadians wanted to do in the War was to defend their homeland and this was accomplished.

He noted that before the War of 1812, the various provinces in British North America were basically unconnected groups. But the War of 1812 gave them all a common enemy, the United States. This built an anti-American feeling into the Canadian psyche, Mr. Dale said, while also leading Canadians to embrace the British monarchy.

Mr. Dale said that Canada would not have been established by Confederation in 1867 as a constitutional monarchy had it not been for the War of 1812. Canada probably would have drifted eventually to union with the United States had the War of 1812 not happened, he said.

The First Nations were losers in the War of 1812, Mr. Dale said, especially because of a change in attitude toward them by the British. Up until the War of 1812, First Nations were considered sovereign nations with whom the British formed military alliances. Following the War of 1812, the attitude shifted with the British looking upon the First Nations not as military allies but more as wards of the state. This shift in attitude meant that the First Nations emerged from the War of 1812 as losers.

In response to a question, Mr. Dale told the story of James Prendergast, a soldier of the 100th Regiment of Foot, who also happens to be an ancestor of his.

“This guy was an incredible hero,” he said in telling about his War of 1812 exploits which included capturing American gunboats on the Richelieu River and also capturing American artillery at the Battle of Chryslers Farm in 1813 and then turning the artillery on the Americans.

In his presentation, Mr. Dale told about various sources where information can sometimes be found about War of 1812 soldiers. These include Muster Rolls, Pension Records and Upper Canada land petition records. He also pointed to publications such as the book “Soldiers of the King” which lists the soldiers in the militia who saw active duty in the War of 1812. Other sources include Library and Archives Canada, local museums and libraries, appropriate websites and fellow researchers.

Mr. Dale, who grew up in Stittsville and attended South Carleton High School, explained that his interest in history began on family Sunday drives when he was 12 years old to the newly opened Upper Canada Village and, more importantly, to the nearby Chryslers Farm battle field where he was told that Canadians defeated the Americans.

He admitted that this exposure to the Chryslers Farm battle field was got him interested in history in the first place, leading to his 37 year career with Parks Canada’s National Historic Sites. He has written several publications including “The Invasion of Canada: Battles of the War of 1812.”

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1 Response to Who were the winners, losers in War of 1812?

  1. Bob Campbell says:

    I know that in the spring of 1812, President Madison recommended invading Canada; the US congress and senate approved; and a common sentiment at the time was that capturing Canada would be “a mere matter of marching.” A lovely alliteration, that! But in retrospect, pure baloney. In balance, I think it’s abundantly clear that the US failed in their objective, thus Canada won and the US lost.

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