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War of 1812

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At the beginning of the 19th century, the United States was a developing nation. Although 20 years had passed since the end of the American Revolution, the country had not yet achieved economic independence. The French Empire, ruled by Napoleon Bonaparte, controlled most of mainland Europe. Great Britain was among the few nations free from French domination. With trade suspended between the warring countries, neutral America had a commercial advantage: her merchants could supply both sides.

A series of economic sanctions hindering the right of neutral nations to trade with European belligerents in the Napoleonic Wars, combined with the British practice of impressing American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy, ultimately led to the declaration of war. In addition to impressments, American settlers seeking to expand westward were perturbed by British aid to indigenous nations fighting to preserve their lands. The United States Congress declared war with Great Britain on June 18, 1812. Participants in the war also included Britain’s Canadian colonies and dozens of indigenous nations allied with the British.

USS Constitution, one of the six original U.S. Navy frigates, fought and won three major naval battles during the War of 1812. Constitution’s naval victories helped prove America’s naval strength, but the war ultimately ended in a stalemate with the indigenous nations suffering the worst loses. The Treaty of Ghent, signed on December 24, 1814, returned all territorial conquests made by the United States in America and Great Britain in Canada. The issue of impressment, however, was not addressed, though the Royal Navy stopped impressment after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The advent of peace between the United States and Great Britain brought decades of stability to Americans, with improved diplomatic relations and economic growth. The War of 1812 also inspired a sense of confidence in the young nation and secured America’s spot as a player on the world stage.

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