War of 1812: An Introduction

James Madison became President in 1809. Newly elected Congressmen were determined to fight for American liberties at home and on the high seas, taking a stronger attitude toward Great Britain or any other country that threatened American rights. Among them were Henry Clay of Kentucky, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, and their supporters, who became known as the War Hawks.

Americans who were pushing westward into the Ohio valley and on toward the Mississippi found another cause of resentment toward Britain. They encountered conflict with Indian tribes who considered the westward surge of settlers an invasion of their lands. The frontiersmen complained that the British in Canada were arming the Indians and inciting the tribesmen to fight the Americans.

The nation listened to the War Hawks, who were determined to go to war with Great Britain. By 1811, they openly demanded an immediate invasion of British North America.

Despite opposition from other members of Congress and protests from various parts of the nation, Henry Clay and his supporters "beat the drums of war." Clay was confident of a victory in a strike across the border. He estimated it would take the American troops no more than four weeks to overrun and hold the important regions of British North America.

Congress ordered the creation of a volunteer army of 50,000 men and declared war against Great Britain. Oddly enough, just five days earlier, Great Britain had revoked the restrictions on American commerce, thus eliminating one of the chief reasons for going to war.

At the beginning of hostilities there were about 7,000 men in the regular forces, commanded by senior officers who were old and inexperienced. Congress had voted for war but was reluctant to fund equipment and supplies. Congress voted down a bill for increasing the size of the American Navy. Volunteer soldiers were badly fed and clothed.

New Englanders disapproved of the war, so they refused to volunteer for military service and withheld financial support.

The British army in North America, a mere 4,450 men, was faced with the staggering problem of defending a border that stretched for a thousand miles to the south and west of Montreal. The undeveloped nature of the land and the lack of proper roads were a severe handicap to the invading Americans.

Source: War of 1812: An Introduction
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