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The War Of 1812. Essay

985 words - 4 pages

In June of 1812 the United States declared war on Britain. This declaration was the result of almost thirty years of stormy relations between the two nations. It both surprised the British and chagrined many Americans who saw it as a foolish undertaking. This was not because of there being too few reasons to go to war with Britain. It was simply that the United States had deliberately avoided war for so long that when she abandoned her peaceful policy it was unexpected. The United States had, after all, maintained a cautious neutrality through successive administrations since 1789. The potential risks in changing this policy and settling the existing grievances against Britain by force were many. The country was young and untested by war. Its army consisted of little more than six thousand regular troops. Its navy amounted to sixteen vessels of various sizes. Quite simply, its military capability was as low as it had been in over a decade. That the United States chose this time to declare war on a nation that had a navy of six hundred ships and an army of over a quarter of a million men caught many by surprise.The United States objected to many British maritime practices. The British carried out most of these practices in the 1790's during the first period of the war between Britain and France. However, they enforced them much more often after the renewed hostilities in 1803. One reason for the more vigorous execution of these policies was the increasing fear in Britain of an invasion by Napoleon. This fear inspired the British to ignore the rights of neutrals enabling them to prevent any possible aid to the French. The British shipping interests and their supporters also felt the American merchant marine was profiting immensely from the European wars. This growth of American shipping was a threat to British commercial supremacy, to British naval power, and to the safety of the country. Restrictions on American commerce would do harm to France. At the same time it would help the British maritime interests compete with the United States' shippers.Another of the maritime issues was that of impressment. It was the most volatile issue between the two countries. This was because it dealt with sovereignty. Impressment involved the right to search for deserters. It also involved the right of any British officer to make an on-the-spot decision concerning a man's nationality. These same officers had the task of keeping their ships manned. This was difficult in view of the conditions that existed in the Royal Navy at that time. Little food, hard work, and harsh discipline caused British sailors to desert by the thousands. Most of them ended up in America. The United States' merchant marine was quite short of sailors. Its growth required about five thousand additional sailors every year. This increased demand brought a three-fold wage hike to American sailors. This threat to British seapower was more than...

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