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The Cause Of An Insignificant War: War Of 1812

2518 words - 10 pages

The War of 1812 was one of the most insignificant wars in U.S. history which despite its failure to accomplish its strategic goals, the country showed the world that the U.S., military could stand up to the British on land. Bradford Perkins presented a short but brilliant account on the root cause of the war, by offering two thesis’s to support the claim that the land hunger, the loss of commerce, and national honor were the main causes. Right from the start Perkins argued that the war of 1812 was the product of resentment at various British actions which challenged American sovereignty on sea, and on land. He thus tries to explain how the two theories (land hunger and national honor) emerged, and the main issues which led to the cause of the war.
Indeed, many historians would agree that war was necessary, and the U.S. would have to win if it wanted to gain its true independence and be seen as a sovereign power. The Napoleonic wars in Europe made it impossible for Britain to give in to U.S., demands, since they felt the U.S., was in no position to threaten the British Empire with its control of the sea lanes. The issue for America was neutral rights that she felt as a neutral state she should be able to trade with any country including Britain and France. However, Napoleon saw things differently as he consolidated his control over most of Europe by capturing American ships which traded with the British under his Berlin decrees in order to starve the British of food and war materials.
Consequently, in order to avoid any disruption in its trade, survivability, and to forestall any invasion; Britain was forced to issue a similar orders in council-which forbids trade with France unless such vessel stops at a British port and gets a license. The issue for American merchant ships was how to avoid this fiasco. By trading with both countries they risked losing their cargo and vessels to either side; and Great Britain wasn’t going to sit by and watch the U.S. replenish Napoleon’s army. Arguably, this is where the crisis begins, and Perkins explains how the merchant ships tried to go around the orders. First, there was the rule of 1756, in which “trade prohibited by municipal law during peace was prohibited by international law in war” (p.16). Perkins argued that American merchants circumvented the law with the “broken” voyage by gathering their goods from the Indies, then stopping at a U.S. port before moving on to Europe with the same goods. He argued that this strategy by the merchants caused the prize courts to unknowingly rule favorably for American interest (p.17). However, as this trickery became known to the prize courts, the capture of the Essex in 1805, doomed ships and cargo as the rule of 1756, was reestablished by the British.
Perkins argued that the British realized the threat the neutral states posed to its trade monopoly, and that it decided to act in its interest. He pointed out that this same episode almost forced the U.S. to...

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