What started the war of 1812? Canadian and American viewpoints

A sailor being kidnapped by a press gangToday Ptara is joined by two world class historians who give their take on what started the war of 1812.

They examine the speeches of the British Parliament and the US House of Representatives. From Jefferson’s purchase of Louisiana, up to the repeal of the Orders of Council, the US and Britain had shaky relations.

Here are excerpts of the documents mentioned in the above video:


It is in our power to harrass the resources of Great Britain as well on the ocean as by land; to carry on a war against the coast and colonies and destroy her trade with the colonies by the number of privateers [fitted out]. We had it in our power to make a conquest of Canada which to Britain was of the utmost importance, from whence she had imported articles of the utmost necessity last year to the amount of 600,000,000 [six hundred millions] of dollars a great deal of which was for timber for the navy. We hold a sword over her resources which would cut her to the quick.

[New York Congressman] Peter Buell Porter, Democratic-Republican (later whig).

“send the force to Canada, the frozen and worthless wilds of which, so help him God, he
would not accept at this moment if the British minister was empowered to make a cession of them gratis.”

– John Randolf, representative of Roanoke, Virginia (also a Democratic-Republican.)

“a question of great importance.”
whether Britain should go to war with America. He asked the members to inform themselves before deciding. “Are the Orders in Council Politic? Are they wise?”

Samuel Whitbread, member of Parliament


If Madison knew the Orders of Council had been repealed, could war have been averted? Were there other motives?

Madison mentioned two things in his war speech: 1) Americans were forced to join the British navy.  2)  The British were not only arming America’s enemies, but also encouraging those enemies to attack American citizens.

The British, on the other hand, had a “With us or against us” attitude toward Napoleon.  The fact that Jefferson made the Louisiana purchase, and his political ally Madison was in office, put America as suspect.

The assassination of a relatively pro-American Prime Minister helped the more anti-American forces in Parliament to take charge.  Though Parliament repealed the orders of Council, options to continue impressment and to continue arming Indians to fight against American settlers continued.

For more information, William Cobbett’s newspapers, back issues of The Morning Chronicle, the Annals of Congress, Proceedings of the British Parliament, Madison’s war speech and other political speeches and journals of the time.

Notes: A big thank you to the National Library of Wales, the Library of Congress, the US Navy website, and the Canadian government websites among others for making materials available which facilitated the research behind this video.

Much time was spent in the National Library of Wales, especially.