Monday, July 9, 2012
The Bicentennial of the War of 1812
The War of 1812 is an often overlooked conflict in American history. Sometimes called the Second American Revolution, it was in fact noteworthy for that which did not happen. The United States was not defeated by Great Britain or forced to cede territory but did not realize its primary war aim of the conquest of Canada. Indeed, the War of 1812 was probably the most important factor preventing the absorption of Canada by the United States, for the war fostered Canadian nationalism while simultaneously heightening nationalism in the United States. Fortunately for both sides, it was a small war in human cost, paling in comparison to the vast losses of the French Revolutionary Wars, the Napoleononic Wars, and the American Civil War.
In addition to its impact on Canadian and American nationalism, the war is important from a number of other standpoints. The U.S. Navy firmly established its reputation from the very beginning of the war, and this led to substantial increases in the size of the navy afterward. The U.S. Army, on the other hand, began the war poorly trained and saddled by inept leadership, but by war’s end professionalism had taken hold, and the U.S. Army was able to compete with the British Army on an equal basis. The experience of war also demonstrated the importance of the nascent United States Military Academy at West Point, which had been established only a decade earlier and whose graduates greatly distinguished themselves in combat. With the cutoff in British manufactured goods and military demands, the war also hastened the Industrial Revolution in the United States.
Politically, the conflict advanced the fortunes and reputations of individuals such as Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison, both future presidents. It also contributed directly to the demise of the Federalist Party, the end of the first two-party system, and the inauguration of the so-called Era of Good Feelings.