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How Britain Won the War of 1812

How Britain Won the War of 1812: The Royal Navy's Blockades of the United States, 1812-1815

Brian Arthur
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.cttn33s5
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  • Book Info
    How Britain Won the War of 1812
    Book Description:

    Named one of the 20 Notable Naval Books of 2011 in the US Naval Institute Proceedings Magazine, May 2012. The War of 1812 between Britain and the United States was fought on many fronts: single ship actions in the Atlantic; a US invasion of Canada, which the Canadians heroically resisted; the burning of the new US capital, Washington, by the British, the President's house subsequently painted white to hide the fire damage; and an unsuccessful attack by the British on New Orleans. The war is usually seen as a draw. However, as this book demonstrates, it was in fact a British victory. The United States achieved none of its war aims, and the peace, concluded in December 1814, met Britain's long-term maritime needs. This book reassesses the war, showing how the British achieved success through an effective commercial maritime blockade which had devastating consequences on the vulnerable, undeveloped US economy. Neutral vessels were included - one of the causes of the war had been the United States' objection to British interference with US ships in Britain's war with Napoleonic France - and Britain's refusal to concede this point enabled the strategy of commercial maritime blockades to be reused by Britain to good effect in subsequent wars, including those of 1914-18 and 1939-45. BRIAN ARTHUR gained a PhD at the University of Greenwich in Britain, following research in the United States which was completed with the aid of a Caird North America Fellowship from the National Maritime Museum in London.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-001-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. LIST OF TABLES
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. [Maps]
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  7. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xv-xv)
  8. NOTE ON US DOLLAR/POUND STERLING CONVERSION RATES, 1803–1815
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  9. FOREWORD
    (pp. xvii-xx)
    Andrew Lambert

    AFTER TWO CENTURIES of almost complete neglect British historians have finally turned their attention to the Anglo-American War of 1812, the ‘other’ war that raged alongside the later stage of the Great War against Napoleonic France. While little more than a distracting, annoying side-show for the British, the American war threatened the security of Canada, a large imperial territory with important timber and shipbuilding resources, the economic livelihood of the West Indian colonies, and the balance of power on the North American continent. In order to defeat the American invasion of Canada Britain needed a strategy that would be cheap,...

  10. PREFACE
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
  11. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-5)

    CAREFUL STUDY OF THE WAR OF 1812 between Britain and the United States began almost as soon as conflict ended in February 1815. Described then in America as a ‘second war of independence’, the war remains both important and controversial. From the outset, each study tended to concentrate on particular aspects of the war. In 1817 William James, a British lawyer-turned-historian, was meticulous in refuting some of the more extravagant contemporary American naval claims in his Full and Correct Account of the Chief Naval Occurrences of the Late War.² Since then, almost every separate action has been minutely dissected and...

  12. CHAPTER 1 CONVOYS AND BLOCKADES: THE EVOLUTION OF MARITIME ECONOMIC WARFARE
    (pp. 6-26)

    BY THE EARLY NINETEENTH CENTURY maritime blockade was the offensive arm of economic warfare, used against an enemy in conjunction with the convoy protection of a nation’s own overseas trade. The term ‘offensive blockade’ was used to describe the interception of an enemy’s merchant, transport or naval vessels, usually on their entering or leaving harbour. Defensive economic warfare involved the gathering of merchant vessels to sail as convoys under the armed protection of as many warships as could be spared. Belligerents with sufficient naval means were increasingly expected to impose a policy of ‘stop and search’ on all vessels found...

  13. CHAPTER 2 WAR AT A DISTANCE: CONSTRAINTS AND SOLUTIONS
    (pp. 27-45)

    IF THE ROYAL NAVY WAS TO IMPOSE the hardships of economic warfare on the enemy, its new war would generally have to be fought across the Atlantic. There, its main North America base at Halifax, Nova Scotia, was almost 2,500 miles from London or Liverpool and over 600 miles from New York, the United States’ major port and commercial centre. As shown by Map 1, it would need bases at St John’s, Newfoundland, and St John, New Brunswick, to contribute to the defence of Canada. It would also have to use its base in Bermuda, itself 650 miles from the...

  14. CHAPTER 3 FROM BUSINESS PARTNERS TO ENEMIES: BRITAIN AND THE UNITED STATES BEFORE 1812
    (pp. 46-63)

    THE TREATY OF PARIS, securing the independence of the United States from Britain in September 1783, had been preceded by a British Order in Council of 2 July that year, changing the terms under which Americans had traded as colonial Britons.² It was thought by some that Britain’s major trading partners were about to become foreign trading rivals. John Holroyd, Lord Sheffield, argued in his influential pamphlet that to allow the Americans any trading advantages for which they no longer qualified could threaten Britain’s long-term commercial and maritime supremacy.³ Conversely, the West India Committee, lobbying Parliament on behalf of the...

  15. CHAPTER 4 THE UNITED STATES BLOCKADED: ADMIRAL WARREN’S ‘UNITED COMMAND’, AUGUST 1812–APRIL 1814
    (pp. 64-106)

    The British application of naval and commercial blockades to the eastern seaboard of the United States suffered a series of setbacks at the outset, due in part to the pre-emptive action of Commodore John Rodgers of the United States Navy. Rodgers left New York harbour, unhindered by the Royal Navy, on 21 June 1812, three days after Madison’s declaration of war on Britain. He sailed in USS President, a large American frigate, nominally of 44 guns, intending to cruise in squadron strength.² President was in company with the United States, also rated 44, the smaller frigate Congress, 36, the sloop...

  16. CHAPTER 5 BLOCKADES AND BLUNDERS: VICE-ADMIRAL COCHRANE’S COMMAND, APRIL 1814–FEBRUARY 1815
    (pp. 107-130)

    VICE-ADMIRAL SIR ALEXANDER COCHRANE wrote a formal acceptance of command from the Asia at Bermuda on 1 April 1814.² Much was expected of Warren’s successor, although some of his earlier senior officers had found him difficult. Ten years earlier Lord Keith had called him ‘a crackheaded, unsafe man … one with others who endeavoured to stir up dissensions in the fleet’.³ Conversely, Robert Dundas, Lord Melville, First Lord of the Admiralty, was a fellow Scot, and since their two families had been friends for generations Cochrane was not without ‘interest’.⁴

    His record was nevertheless impressive. He had commanded successfully the...

  17. CHAPTER 6 TRADE AND WAR: THE EFFECTS OF WARREN’S BLOCKADES
    (pp. 131-160)

    BOTH AT THE TIME AND SINCE, events seem to have conspired to disguise the impact of the British commercial and naval blockades of the United States, implemented after its declaration of war on Britain in June 1812. Yet, in thirtytwo months of war, a British naval blockade was to contain most of the American navy such that it was unable to prevent a British maritime commercial blockade. This, in turn, bankrupted a United States government heavily dependent on customs revenue and credit, and led to the abandonment of its original war aims in peace negotiations.

    When news of Madison’s declaration...

  18. CHAPTER 7 CAPITAL AND CREDIT: THE IMPACT OF THE FINAL PHASE
    (pp. 161-203)

    ON 1 JANUARY 1814 THE NEW TAXES authorised by Congress the previous August came into effect. These internal excise duties, on the distillation and sale of spirits, sugar refining, auctions, carriages, bank notes and ‘negotiable paper’, were accompanied by ‘direct’ taxes on land, property and slaves. Customs duties alone were failing to meet wartime expenditure and, with public borrowing becoming increasingly difficult, taxation of a wider range of spending had become unavoidable. But these distasteful revivals of earlier Federalist taxes would, as before, have to be paid by the affluent, be predictably unpopular and, if possible, be evaded. Worse, they...

  19. CHAPTER 8 RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS
    (pp. 204-208)

    IF, IN THE EARLY NINETEENTH CENTURY, defeat in war lay in the inability to continue fighting while an opponent was able to do so, then, despite its victory at New Orleans in January 1815, the United States was defeated in the Anglo-American War of 1812. The Americans had failed to occupy Canada, either as a bargaining counter or permanently, as Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin had earlier agreed. Furthermore, the Royal Navy’s economic warfare, in the form of its commercial and naval blockades, had deprived the United States of the financial means to continue fighting beyond the first few months of...

  20. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 209-209)

    THE TERMS OF THE TREATY OF GHENT made possible British re-use of the strategy of offensive and defensive economic warfare in further wars, and memories of the Royal Navy’s past commercial and naval blockades and defensive convoys remained alive. The impact of the Royal Navy’s blockades of the United States between 1812 and 1815, perhaps reinforced by those of Germany between 1914 and 1919 and in 1939, was such that they were recalled by some into living memory. During a tour of America in 1942, just after the United States’ entry into the Second World War, the British Broadcasting Corporation’s...

  21. APPENDIX A Maritime Tables
    (pp. 210-226)
  22. APPENDIX B Economic History Tables
    (pp. 227-250)
  23. NOTES TO THE CHAPTERS
    (pp. 251-304)
  24. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 305-318)
  25. INDEX
    (pp. 319-328)
  26. Back Matter
    (pp. 329-329)