A Critical Look at the War of 1812 A just war is one that is declared in order to right a wrong that has been done – not one to promote random aggression towards another country; wars should promote peace. A war is just when it is waged after diplomatic attempts are made at reconciliation. The War of 1812 is a war that not many people are very familiar with, but those who are, acknowledge that it was a very controversial war. The War of 1812 was a just war because the US would have suffered without it, it was merely a diplomatic conflict, and they were capable of winning. Impressment was a huge problem for American sailors. The British were continually seizing people from ships to recruit into their navy, without any proof that the soldiers were, in fact, British citizens. between 3,800 to 10,000 American soldiers were being impressed into the British army leading up to the War of 1812, which, from a foreign policy perspective, is not even slightly ok. Sailors were being forcibly put into an army that they had no responsibility to be a part of, only because the British did not distinguish between American and British sailors. Not only were ships being seized and soldiers taken into the British navy, but they took many American trading ships as well, continually setting up barricades around Europe to prevent the US from trading with French-allied nations. This stopped the already failing American economy from being able to get back on its feet. After the Embargo Act, the US’s economy was destroyed, and with the British interfering with American trade, they had little hope of getting it back to where it once was. The US was at risk, not only in trade and at sea, but at their own borders.
The British had very good relations with the Native Americans at the western border of the US’s territory. This alone wasn’t cause for worry, but the British began to supply the Native Americans with more modern weapons, such as guns. Many Americans believed that the British were secretly encouraging the Native Americans to kill citizens and raid settlements along the western US border. This instilled fear within the hearts of many American citizens, creating an uneasiness in the country that needed to be put to rest. The United States needed to act, so they did. They tried negotiations with the British. In 1806, James Monroe and William Pinkney met to negotiate with Great Britain, resulting in the Monroe-Pinkney treaty. This treaty never made it to the Senate because it failed to deal with the British impressment, which was one of the major issues that needed addressing. The Embargo Act of 1807, a form of peaceable coercion, strongly backfired. The US tried diplomacy for a third time, with the Non-Intercourse Act of 1809 under President Madison, which also failed. Negotiations with the British made no headway; it was futile to keep trying to talk because the British did not want to listen. President Madison didn’t decide to declare war on Britain to take their land, or promote any aggression. The War of 1812 was merely diplomatic; President Madison wished to let the British and the rest of the world know that America was not going to let anyone push them around. By declaring war, it was the US’s way of showing that they could stand up for themselves. It may have been a bit risky, but through groups that supported the war like the War Hawks, it was clear that it’s what a majority of the people wanted. Something had to be done to stop the British from pushing the US around just for trying to remain neutral.
Going from a statistical standpoint, the Americans had no hope of winning the War of 1812. The United States had only 7,000 men in their army, many of whom were serving only their state, and not the country as a whole. The British had 250,000 of their own soldiers, as well as roughly 5,000 Canadian and Native American soldiers on their side. In addition, they had a navy that was 500 ships strong, against the US’s total of 3 fully dressed battleships. Going solely on the numbers, the War of 1812 was a completely hopeless effort. What President Madison knew, however, was that the British were currently in a large scale conflict with Napoleon and his forces in their homeland of Europe. The bulk of their troops would not be leaving Europe, and Madison and his advisors knew that. Furthermore, about two-thirds of the Canadian population had migrated from the United States; Madison and many others believed they would join the US’s side in the conflict if they were to invade Canada (which was under control of the British at the time). The circumstances and timing of the war was perfect for the United States – they actually had a chance at winning. Though a very controversial conflict in American history, it’s clear that the United States of America was justified in declaring war on Great Britain, starting America’s “forgotten war.” The war was justified because it attempted to end suffering, it had diplomatic reasoning, and it was possible for the US to win.