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Some Different Perspectives on who "won" the War of 1812

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  • Jim Yaworsky
    May I suggest in our look at who won the War of 1812, that we recognize that great nations rarely act for simple reasons, because they have so many special
    Message 1 of 9 , Feb 19, 1999
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      May I suggest in our look at who "won" the War of 1812, that we recognize that great nations rarely act for simple reasons, because they have so many "special interest groups" and competing priorities trying to dictate their policies. So perhaps we should be breaking down the "who won" issue in to smaller pieces.

      Some illustrations:
      1) Bonaparte "won" the War of 1812, 'cause he definitely had a hand in stirring up Anglo-American trouble, and when the War broke out, British resources were diverted from the Spanish campaigns. 41st & 49th regiments (and Sir Isaac Brock: would he have gotten such a nice monument if he was killed leading a brigade or division at Salamanca, I wonder?) were supposed to be rotated out of The Canadas & join Wellington's army, instead, they were kept back, and more regiments were diverted in to North American operations in 1813 as well. 2 battalions of Royal Marines had been operating along the north coast of Spain under Admiral Popham, cooperating with Spanish guerrillas in disrupting the main French supply route in to northern Spain, these battalions were diverted to operations along the American east coast, etc., etc. How significant were these diversions? Hard to say, of course. But if they had any effect at all (and they must have had some effect) then Boney came out ahead of the game.
      2) Privateers of whatever ilk, whether Nova Scotians or New Englanders, came out all right from the war for the most part. Were they patriots, or fine examples of free enterprise seizing opportunities for high-risk but high-reward gain? Probably each man in these operations had his own particular agenda...
      3) Honest working men in all countries involved lost, as markets were shut off, and economies suffered. The U.S. economy, particularly in the New England states, suffered from the British blockade but trade is a two-way street & I suspect in 1812, a lot of U.S. trade would have gone to Britain and vice versa...
      4) Civilians living in all the combat zones lost property, and sometimes their lives. Troops stole, raped, plundered, vandalised, and burned. They spread sickness. The economy of Upper Canada - especially the Western District (modern Essex, Kent, & Lambton counties in southwestern Ontario), parts of the American frontier zone in Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois - and the Niagara region (both sides of the river) suffered much destruction.
      5) Some civilians made a lot of money out of meeting the needs of the warring forces.
      6) The border drawn after the American War of Independence followed the Great Lakes, which from the perspective of someone looking at a large-scale map makes a lot of sense: major geographical barriers make for clear dividing lines. But a lot of people on each side weren't too happy about this, for reasons that, from the perspective of the individual involved, make sense. As a resident of Ontario, I was incensed to learn that the Americans thought the border should be drawn along the Ottawa River to Georgian Bay: all of southern Ontario would have fallen in to the U.S.! Yet looking at a map of North America from the perspective of someone living on the Atlantic Coast (and that's where most Americans lived in 1784...and 1812 too) then I have to admit southern Ontario does jut down rather far in to the heart of the continent: if you draw a line west from Northern Maine i.e. where British & American territory met on the Atlantic, then the Ottawa river line starts to look downright reasonable. Of course, in the Upper Country at the end of the Revolution, the Brits and their indian allies thought, with some reason, that they were in control of the ground; so the feeling that the border should have dipped down from Lake Erie then followed the Ohio River to the Mississippi makes sense & it starts to look like British negotiators were idiots for taking the Great Lakes as the boundary & giving up all of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. In 1812, the British Indian Department and other influential British policy makers, like Isaac Brock, Administrator of Upper Canada as well as commander of British armed forces in the colony (i.e. head of both military and civilian affairs...) thought that this area might be won back (a large part of it was still just "bush" at the time) and an Indian buffer state set up between British and American territory.
      So...
      As a modern Canadian, we defended our border. As a canadian of 1815, I might be disappointed that the Indians got screwed ultimately.
      As a Brit policy maker in London, focussed on Boney & Spain, I found the war of 1812 a very irritating distraction, felt like Brother Jonathan "stabbed me in the back" by taking advantage of the European situation to attempt to steal Canada, and was happy enough that the Canadas were defended & brother Jonathan taught a few lessons like Washington burned etc.
      As a Brit policy maker in Upper Canada, I might have been kind of disappointed that the Indian thing didn't happen, but overall probably pleased to have survived U.S. invasion.
      As a brit policy maker in Lower Canada, I might have been kind of glad the Froggies there didn't cause any trouble!
      As an American of 1812 and a modern American, the nefarious aspirations of certain british and Indian leaders to take away Michigan and chunks of Indiana & Illinois for the Indian buffer state were defeated, and the ignorant savages made to understand that they couldn't expect to roam around millions of acres of prime real estate: the march of civilisation was inevitable. The Indian menace in the Old Northwest was permanently settled.
      And I think it's fair to say that even if the Americans had been forced to give the Indians parts of the mid-west in 1812, this would have merely postponed the inevitable and we'd be studying the "War of 18**-whatever" as well... which would have certainly ended with the Indians getting whupped & perhaps a successful American invasion of Upper Canada to boot...
      7) The brit negotiators at ghent were not as well informed or as focussed & were not of a similar class of talent as their American counterparts & quite frankly were far more concerned with what was going on at Vienna than North America: the need to assist Austria in rehabilitating Bourbon France in to the Balance of Power, and thwarting Alexander of Russia and his Prussian pawn required a disposable British Army, so it had to be freed up from playing around on the other side of the ocean. And in fact, news of the Treaty of Ghent did have a significant impact at Vienna. See Rory Muir's study, "Britain and the Defeat of Napoleon" of a few years back for a great analysis of the grand strategic/political dimensions of the War of 1812 as it impacted on European affairs as far as the British government was concerned. Clausewitz tells us that warfare is just politics carried on by other means... and this conflict was certainly not an exception. So maybe the bozo Brit negotiators "lost" the war for the Anglo/Canadian/Indian alliance, in that they gave up more than they had to - or, the excellent American negotiators won more at the negotiating table than the U.S. perhaps had the right to expect (New Orleans was not a factor in the negotiations and besides the Brits certainly had the resources even after New Orleans to make things very miserable for the U.S.). Once again, it's all from your specific perspective.
      8) The indians definitely lost the war, but then again, they faced an impossible task. Even a Tecumseh or a Bonaparte can't avoid being ground up if the size of the opposition is large enough and determined enough to accept the losses of a war of attrition.
      9) It is a documented fact that not only large segments of the U.S. population, but of the population of not just Lower Canada but Upper Canada too took little or no part in the war. Shepherd, in Plunder, Profit & Paroles (that's not the name of the book but it's close) documents the rather poor turnout of the majority of the Upper Canadian population. Sorry, fellow Canadians, but while a minority of Canadians did indeed join the fencible units etc & played a valuable role, it was the british regular forces who undeniably formed the backbone of the defence. For example, the Incorporated Militia of Upper Canada was supposed to be (8, or was it 6?) battalions strong, but only enough men volunteered to form one battalion. That battalion covered itself in glory at Lundy's Lane etc. but its personnel were in the minority looking at the size of the Upper Canadian population. When the Americans captured York (Toronto), they paroled the militia defenders: they were allowed to go home on a promise not to fight again unless properly exchanged. The U.S. forces remained in York for about a week and were staggered to discover a steady stream of Upper Canadians pouring in to the town from miles away to "surrender" & sign a parole so they wouldn't be liable for militia call-up again. In Upper Canada in 1812-1815, getting crops in to the ground was usually considered more important than anything else! We are talking about a self-sufficient almost subsistence economy where the hardy pioneers had to fend for themselves... or starve! So perhaps the average Upper Canadian of 1816 simply couldn't have given two squirts of raccoon shit who won the war!
      10) Lots of professional soldiers would probably have considered that they personally "won" the war, in that they advanced their careers by seizing the opportunities presented to distinguish themselves. Did they really care what the war was all about? Le Couteur started out quite prepared to despise the Americans, but when he met some face-to-face, he discovered... he liked them & had a lot in common with them (Shakespeare & all that, plus professional career soldiers...) - still, it didn't stop him attempting to distinguish himself in action whenever possible, in an effort to get his name in despatches, or whatever... Contrary to current views of the majority of persons that war is bad (unless, perhaps, we're working over towel-heads), in 1812 war was considered a rather normal state of affairs & a career in the army was more fun and potentially rewarding if there was some shooting going on. The "other side" were not considered to be ogres, by and large (indians and Kentuckians excepted...), but just a bunch of fellows working on their careers, too!
      11) The U.S., Britain, and Canada all lost the war of 1812, not just the indians. Many fine men were killed in what was essentially a needless conflict. Humanity lost, because who knows what those casualties might have accomplished had they lived, and then there is lost generations of potential descendants to consider too. Personally, whenever I read of casualties from any of the sides incurred in the War of 1812, whether in battle, sickness, or accident, I am saddened. After all, none of the participants in this war were exactly evil Nazi stormtroopers. Despite having a whole "fresh" continent open to develop, evidently it still wasn't big enough for some of the politicians so the fight over who got what, even though they were fighting over what was essentially undeveloped bush, had to go on. A plague upon the whole bunch of them (i.e. - politicians!) says I - and I'm a lawyer!

      I could go on like this for quite a while longer. The point is, it is simplistic to say "the canadians know they won, the americans think they won, the brits don't know or care who won, and the indians lost": while you can construct arguments that such an assessment might have some elements of truth in it, it nevertheless is more of a cute joke and a crude oversimplification than a statement which pays careful consideration to analysing all of the parameters of these very complex issues.
      One can approach the issue from the perspective of the 20th century or that of the participants at the time; one can look at what people thought they were fighting for. If an American was fighting to stop the British from pushing the U.S. around, and could look at the end of the conflict as showing the British would not attempt to push the U.S. around any more, then why would that American care whether the Brits were holding the Upper Mississippi and the U.S. was holding southwestern Ontario, or who won the most battles & inflicted the most casualties etc etc etc.? As far as that american was concerned, the U.S. won, and that would be a valid and reasonable opinion to hold.
      If the British government didn't want to fight the U.S. in the first place & just wanted the war to go away as soon as possible, and that's what happened, then how can you say the British government "lost"? Maybe they could have really gotten much more nasty & they didn't play the cards they had in the fall of 1814 with the ruthless and single-minded intention of really pasting the U.S. that they might have been able to do - but that was never their aim.

      I do think that this discussion, because it is bringing out all sorts of interesting facts & viewpoints, is a lot of fun. As a Canadian, I still put my faith in the Queen, but I also like my American neighbours & I certainly don't intend to get upset or insulted over anything anyone on this List might say about who won or lost the War of 1812 - there's been a few other intervening events since then, like WW's 1 & 2, that have created bonds of friendship & respect between us all that are rather stronger than hurt feelings from 1812-15, I would think!

      Jim Yaworsky, reenactor (i.e. part-time pretend member) of: 41st British R.of F. infantryman, Caldwell's Rangers (Canadian fencible unit) and late-war U.S. regular infantryman...( i.e. I'm doing everybody but the savages! Guess this means I personally won!!!)
    • IX Regt.
      ... Jim, Many thanks for your analysis, I enjoyed it a lot, but have to say that I still don t think I m ever going to the hang of what it was really about.
      Message 2 of 9 , Feb 20, 1999
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        >From: Jim Yaworsky <yawors1@...>
        >
        >May I suggest in our look at who "won" the War of 1812, that we recognize that
        >great nations rarely act for simple reasons, because they have so many "special
        >interest groups" and competing priorities trying to dictate their policies. So
        >perhaps we should be breaking down the "who won" issue in to smaller pieces.
        >
        >I do think that this discussion, because it is bringing out all sorts of
        >interesting facts & viewpoints, is a lot of fun. As a Canadian, I still put my
        >faith in the Queen, but I also like my American neighbours & I certainly don't
        >intend to get upset or insulted over anything anyone on this List might say
        >about who won or lost the War of 1812 - there's been a few other intervening
        >events since then, like WW's 1 & 2, that have created bonds of friendship &
        >respect between us all that are rather stronger than hurt feelings from 1812-15,
        >I would think!
        >
        >Jim Yaworsky, reenactor (i.e. part-time pretend member) of: 41st British R.of
        >F. infantryman,

        >( i.e. I'm doing everybody but the savages! Guess this
        >means I personally won!!!)
        >
        Jim,

        Many thanks for your analysis, I enjoyed it a lot, but have to say that
        I still don't think I'm ever going to the hang of what it was really
        about. Just a feature of the age when it was necessary to wars
        occasionally, maybe that's it!

        P**
        >
        >
        >
        >------------------------------------------------------------------------
        >Have you seen our new web site? http://www.onelist.com
        >------------------------------------------------------------------------
        >The War of 1812: In Europe, thousands fought over the fate of hundreds of square
        >miles: in North America, hundreds determined the fate of THOUSANDS of square
        >miles...

        --
        IX Regt.
      • Rob Taylor
        Jim interesting point you have raised. I wonder though if we should break it down into many smaller facts like this, I use hockey to explain what I mean ...
        Message 3 of 9 , Feb 20, 1999
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          Jim interesting point you have raised. I wonder though if we should
          break it down into many smaller facts like this, I use hockey to
          explain what I mean ...

          The team your playing scores 6 goals on your goaltender in the first
          six shots,...which takes only five minutes of the first period...you
          pull the goalie in exchange for your backup... He comes in and
          stonewalls the other team the rest of the game... your first line
          scores two goals but the other lines come up empty. So let's break it
          down ... you lose 6-2 but the back-up goalie played great! so he wins,
          your first line scored 2 goals so they win because the other lines on
          your team did'nt score. The other team that scores 6 goals in the
          first five minutes of the game did'nt do much for the rest of the
          game...hmmm not bad but they could have played better eh? And the fans
          in the stands... well they don't know what to think, things started
          bad but near the end things were looking up. The Ref, did'nt have to
          call a single penalty so no one booed him all game, he must feel good
          about that eh? (lol) The arena box office overflowing with ticket
          sales ect. ect. ect.

          I guess one could break things down into many, many little side
          issues but like i said at the beginning I wonder if we should.

          For people outside of Canada feel free to change the sport.
          Rob Taylor
          Upper Canada







          ==
          War of 1812 Website: http://members.tripod.com/~war1812/
        • Jim Yaworsky
          Jim interesting point you have raised. I wonder though if we should break it down into many smaller facts like this, I use hockey to explain what I mean ...
          Message 4 of 9 , Feb 20, 1999
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            Jim interesting point you have raised. I wonder though if we should
            break it down into many smaller facts like this, I use hockey to
            explain what I mean ...

            The team your playing scores 6 goals on your goaltender in the first
            six shots,...which takes only five minutes of the first period...you
            pull the goalie in exchange for your backup... He comes in and
            stonewalls the other team the rest of the game... your first line
            scores two goals but the other lines come up empty. So let's break it
            down ... you lose 6-2 but the back-up goalie played great! so he wins,
            your first line scored 2 goals so they win because the other lines on
            your team did'nt score. Etc etc etc

            I guess one could break things down into many, many little side
            issues but like i said at the beginning I wonder if we should.

            Rob Taylor
            Upper Canada

            Jim responds: actually, I think you have reinforced the point I was trying to make.

            A war that rages over an entire continent is obviously more complicated than a hockey game, or even a baseball game [ ;.)] The "team", whether that of the U.S. or that of the Anglo-Canadian-Natives, hardly has the clearly-defined goals and expectations of a sports team; and instead of a single coach, you have inter-allied & inter-service rivalries to contend with, etc etc etc.

            But even allowing for the vastly more complicated nature of a war as opposed to a hockey game, your analysis of what went on at the hockey game actually was far more informative to me than just saying "team "a" won, 6-2"....
          • Rob Taylor
            Jim wrote A war that rages over an entire continent is obviously more complicated than a hockey game, or even a baseball game [ ;.)] The team , whether that
            Message 5 of 9 , Feb 20, 1999
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              Jim wrote
              A war that rages over an entire continent is obviously more
              complicated than a hockey game, or even a baseball game [ ;.)] The
              "team", whether that of the U.S. or that of the
              Anglo-Canadian-Natives, hardly has the clearly-defined goals and
              expectations of a sports team; and instead of a single coach, you have
              inter-allied & inter-service rivalries to contend with, etc etc etc.

              Maybe more complicated but the goals of the U.S. were clearly defined,
              to take Canada and this would be victory much in the same way one wins
              a game. I'm surprised you did not catch my meaning.

              Jim wrote
              But even allowing for the vastly more complicated nature of a war as
              opposed to a hockey game, your analysis of what went on at the hockey
              game actually was far more informative to me than just saying "team
              "a" won, 6-2"....

              And a large part of it had nothing to do with the games final result,
              which was the point I was trying to make. I'll put in better terms
              next time.
              ==
              War of 1812 Website: http://members.tripod.com/~war1812/
            • Jim Yaworsky
              From: Rob Taylor Rob wrote but the goals of the U.S. were clearly defined, to take Canada and this would be victory much in the
              Message 6 of 9 , Feb 20, 1999
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                From: Rob Taylor <niagara_falls_98@...>

                Rob wrote
                "but the goals of the U.S. were clearly defined, to take Canada and this would be victory much in the same way one wins a game. I'm surprised you did not catch my meaning."
                Jim now replies: actually, I did take your meaning, but from what I'm hearing from our U.S. friends, and from what I've read, the goals of the U.S. were a lot wider than just taking Canada, and some of those other goals were more important to them...and in their opinion, were achieved. Hence, they legitimately are of the opinion that they won!
                Jim wrote: But even allowing for the vastly more complicated nature of a war as opposed to a hockey game, your analysis of what went on at the hockey game actually was far more informative to me than just saying "team "a" won, 6-2"....
                Rob replied: And a large part of it had nothing to do with the games final result, which was the point I was trying to make. I'll put in better terms next time.
                Jim now replies: actually, again, I understood the point you were making, I guess the point I was making was that I still found the "large part of it [that] had nothing to do with the game's final result" to be very interesting & perhaps helps explain why the game turned out the way it did; from a reenactor's point of view, we're supposed to be recreating conditions in the war, 'cause we don't know how it's going to turn out yet, so it's this "other information" that is perhaps more useful to us than the "final score".
                Lest anyone think me not a loyal Canadian, from my personal perspective, I think we won the war, because the survival of the British colonies so they could evolve in to Canada was the most important result of the War - to me. But this doesn't mean that we can't attempt to understand & respect the U.S. perspective & recognize that it too is valid.
              • Rob Taylor
                ... perspective, I think we won the war, because the survival of the British colonies so they could evolve in to Canada was the most important result of the
                Message 7 of 9 , Feb 20, 1999
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                  Jim wrote:
                  > Lest anyone think me not a loyal Canadian, from my personal
                  perspective, I think we won the war, because the survival of the
                  British colonies so they could evolve in to Canada was the most
                  important result of the War - to me. But this doesn't mean that we
                  can't attempt to understand & respect the U.S. perspective & recognize
                  that it too is valid.

                  Rob wrote:
                  Yes Jim I will agree with that also, and I am attempting to
                  understand & respect the U.S. perspective. I just as of yet have not
                  understood it with the facts I have uncovered ... but I will continue
                  to look.
                  ------------------------------------------------------------------------
                  > New hobbies? New interests? Sign up for a new ONElist community.
                  > http://www.onelist.com
                  >
                  ------------------------------------------------------------------------
                  > The War of 1812: In Europe, thousands fought over the fate of
                  hundreds of square miles: in North America, hundreds determined the
                  fate of THOUSANDS of square miles...
                  >

                  ==
                  War of 1812 Website: http://members.tripod.com/~war1812/
                • Paul W. Schulz
                  ... From: IX Regt. To: WarOf1812@onelist.com Date: Saturday, February 20, 1999 3:39 AM Subject: [WarOf1812]
                  Message 8 of 9 , Feb 20, 1999
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                    -----Original Message-----
                    From: IX Regt. <ixreg@...>
                    To: WarOf1812@onelist.com <WarOf1812@onelist.com>
                    Date: Saturday, February 20, 1999 3:39 AM
                    Subject: [WarOf1812] Re: Some Different Perspectives on who "won" the War of
                    1812


                    >From: "IX Regt." <ixreg@...>
                    >
                    >
                    >>From: Jim Yaworsky <yawors1@...>
                    >>
                    >>May I suggest in our look at who "won" the War of 1812, that we recognize
                    that
                    >>great nations rarely act for simple reasons, because they have so many
                    "special
                    >>interest groups" and competing priorities trying to dictate their
                    policies. So
                    >>perhaps we should be breaking down the "who won" issue in to smaller
                    pieces.
                    >>
                    >>I do think that this discussion, because it is bringing out all sorts of
                    >>interesting facts & viewpoints, is a lot of fun. As a Canadian, I still
                    put my
                    >>faith in the Queen, but I also like my American neighbours & I certainly
                    don't
                    >>intend to get upset or insulted over anything anyone on this List might
                    say
                    >>about who won or lost the War of 1812 - there's been a few other
                    intervening
                    >>events since then, like WW's 1 & 2, that have created bonds of friendship
                    &
                    >>respect between us all that are rather stronger than hurt feelings from
                    1812-15,
                    >>I would think!
                    >>
                    >>Jim Yaworsky, reenactor (i.e. part-time pretend member) of: 41st British
                    R.of
                    >>F. infantryman,
                    >
                    >>( i.e. I'm doing everybody but the savages! Guess this
                    >>means I personally won!!!)
                    >>
                    >Jim,
                    >
                    >Many thanks for your analysis, I enjoyed it a lot, but have to say that
                    >I still don't think I'm ever going to the hang of what it was really
                    >about. Just a feature of the age when it was necessary to wars
                    >occasionally, maybe that's it!
                    >
                    >P**
                    >>
                    >>Don't feel to bad neither did most of those who actually fought it. Only a
                    few politicians ever know all the reasons why, and that applies to any war.
                    As we a reenacting simple soldiers may be we should stick with that as
                    thinking like apolitician will induce headaches and lead to eventual brain
                    damage.
                    Paul W. Schulz
                    >>
                    >>------------------------------------------------------------------------
                    >>Have you seen our new web site? http://www.onelist.com
                    >>------------------------------------------------------------------------
                    >>The War of 1812: In Europe, thousands fought over the fate of hundreds of
                    square
                    >>miles: in North America, hundreds determined the fate of THOUSANDS of
                    square
                    >>miles...
                    >
                    >--
                    >IX Regt.
                    >
                    >------------------------------------------------------------------------
                    >We have a new web site! http://www.onelist.com
                    >------------------------------------------------------------------------
                    >The War of 1812: In Europe, thousands fought over the fate of hundreds of
                    square miles: in North America, hundreds determined the fate of THOUSANDS of
                    square miles...
                  • mmathews@xxxx.xxxxxx.xxxx.xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
                    ... (snip excellent analysis) My compliments, nicely stated. Michael Michael Mathews -- ITV Specialist Winona State University Voice: (507) 285-7585 Fax:
                    Message 9 of 9 , Feb 22, 1999
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                      >From: Jim Yaworsky <yawors1@...>

                      (snip excellent analysis)

                      My compliments, nicely stated.

                      Michael

                      Michael Mathews -- ITV Specialist
                      Winona State University
                      Voice: (507) 285-7585 Fax: (507) 280-5568
                      ------------------------------
                      "Loyalty to pertified opinion never broke a chain
                      or freed a human soul" -- Mark Twain
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