Today, the 3000 mile boundary between Canada and the United States is known as “the longest undefended boundary in the world.” But for three years in a row–1812, 1813 and 1814–U.S. armies invaded Canada. When both sides failed to win a clear victory, and the costs of the war kept growing, the two countries decided that peace was the best policy. On June 18, 1812, the United States declared war on Great Britain.
The United States had proclaimed their independence from Britain in 1776–36 years earlier. There were still bad feelings between the two countries. Great Britain was not treating the United States as an equal independent country. British ships were stopping American ships from trading with Europe. British sailors went aboard American ships looking for deserters from the British Navy. If an American sailor could not prove that he was an American, he was taken to work for the British. At the same time, the population of the United States was expanding. Americans wanted to move west into lands held by various American Indian tribes.
Some Americans felt that Britain was encouraging the Indians to fight them and was supplying guns to the Indians. In 1812, Canada was made up of a small number of British colonies just north of the American border. Americans felt that it would be easy to take over Canada; then Canadian land would provide homes for their growing population. Since Americans outnumbered Canadians ten to one, the U.S. government thought that no one in Canada would dare to oppose them. Moreover, Britain was fighting a terrible war in Europe against Napoleon, the Emperor of France, and could not spare any troops to help defend Canada. But, in 1812, Canada had one advantage over the U.S.A.–good leadership.
British General Isaac Brock had served in Canada for ten years. He knew how to inspire both his own soldiers and the ordinary people of Canada to fight for their country. He was a bold and energetic leader who moved quickly to attack American positions before they could attack him. Brock found a valuable ally in the American Indian Chief Tecumseh. Tecumseh had been trying to unite the scattered groups of Indians to fight together against American expansion. He convinced the Indians that their best chance for success was to join the British and Canadians against the Americans. Although both Brock and Tecumseh were killed in battles, their example continued to inspire the defenders of Canada to fight against the American invasions.
Before the end of 1814, all American forces had been driven out of Canada. By 1814, Britain had defeated the French Emperor Napoleon. Now it was the turn of the United States to be invaded. A large British force attacked the heart of the United States, and burned the government buildings at Washington. Another British force attacked the U.S.A. near the mouth of the Mississippi River, but it was defeated at the Battle of New Orleans. Both sides were tired of fighting by this time, and a peace treaty was signed on December 24, 1814.
This agreement restored everything to the way it had been when the war began. Although this really meant that no one had won the war, both sides claimed victory. The Americans felt that they had gained full recognition of their independence. Britain would no longer board their ships, or encourage the Indians to fight them. Canadians felt that they had shown Americans that they wanted to develop their own country in their own way, separate from the United States. But the biggest result of the war was the decision by both countries never to fight each other again.