The War of 1812 was fought by drunken sailors for no good reason. The Untied States, still in its adolescence as a nation, felt that it wasn’t being taken seriously by other nations. Forced to be home by 10:00 p.m., never allowed to watch R-rated movies, and subject to French and British shipping embargoes, America decided that the only way to preserve national honor was to start and win a war.
Lacking a large standing army and short on revenue, they picked an opportune moment and an easy target. With the British distracted by a real war against Napoleon (short-dudes like big hats), America decided to take over Canada. Obviously, they did this without thinking about what they would do with Canada once they took it over.
War began on June 18, 1812 following the House and Senate passing legislation to declare war, President James Madison signing the legislation and President Madison’s mom telling the nation that it was okay as long as they took their little brothers along, too. Britain was slightly inconvenienced. Demonstrating the full measure of their panic, the British decided to let the Canadians fight the land portion of the battle themselves. However, the Crown did dispatch over 10,000 porcelain mugs in support of the afternoon tea effort.
Fortified with good tea, the Canadians fiercely defended the frozen tundra they call home. The American troops were ill prepared for resistance, assuming that their neighbors to the north would choose liberty over subjugation, democracy over monarchy, and baseball over hockey. Faced with opposition, the state militias stayed home entirely, leaving the federal army regulars to shoot a few rounds for good measure before deciding that Canada really wasn’t worth fighting over.
There were also many major sea battles, in which the American forces faired much better. The British navy was larger and more accomplished, but suffered from poor moral and, when the limes ran out, scurvy. The poor morale was mostly due to another factor in the start of the war; the British practice of randomly forcing people to join the Royal Navy. Americans particularly objected to the nasty habit of British war ships detaining American commercial boats and impressing British-born American crew into the navy. Impressement was a means of combating desertion, the theory being that the best way to stem the tide of AWOL sailors would be to kidnap unwilling foreign nationals and make them join. Brilliant.
Over the course of a few years, large amounts of alcohol were consumed, some battles took place and at least a few people went swimming. By 1814, the British had decided that the whole thing was getting silly. To speed a resolution, they invaded Washington, D.C. and burned the White House to the ground. A peace treaty was signed in Ghent, Belgium in December of 1814, but the delegates were still gorging themselves on chocolates and carousing with local women when the war’s largest battle was fought, completely unnecessarily, in New Orleans in January of 1815.
The futile battle of New Orleans served as a fitting end to a useless war. The Treaty of Ghent specified that borders would be re-established exactly as they had been before the war, and the only real accomplishment, the end of British impressments, was achieved not because of the War of 1812, but because the Napoleonic Wars had ended and the British no longer needed the extra sailors.
In America, the War of 1812 is celebrated for propelling the young nation into the international arena. In Britain, no one remembers it happened. It is probably important to Canadians, but, as far as anyone is aware, they have never been asked to share their feelings.
(I didn’t write this, I had it loitering in a text file for more than a decade. And no, I sadly don’t remember where I found it.)