Today on December 24, 1814, British and American representatives sign the Treaty of Ghent, effectively ending the War of 1812.
The Treaty of Ghent was signed in Ghent, Belgium by diplomatic representatives from Great Britain and the United States. The War of 1812 essentially ended as a result of a military stalemate. The terms of the treaty forced both sides to return on all conquered territory to the original owner. It also included provisions for settling boundary disputes along the Canadian-American border. The War of 1812 began in June 1812 after the United States declared war on Great Britain. The declaration was in reaction to Britain’s economic blockade of France, the Royal Navy’s impressment of American seamen, and British support for native tribes across the Great Lakes frontier. Factions of the United States Congress, known as the War Hawks, had been advocating in favor of war for several years.
At the time, Great Britain was heavily preoccupied with fighting the Napoleonic Wars throughout Europe. The War Hawks believed it was an ideal opportunity to strike against a distracted enemy. The Americans hoped to make territorial gains in Canada (a British colony at the time) and Florida. The British government ordered their garrison troops across Upper and Lower Canada to maintain a defensive position. Meanwhile, the overly confident U.S. commanders prepared for a three-pronged invasion with an ill-prepared army. Sir Isaac Brock led the defense against the initial failed American attacks. By April 1814, Napoleon’s armies were destroyed and Britain turned its full attention to North America.
As new soldiers arrived, Britain launched attacks on the Chesapeake Bay and captured Washington, DC. In August 1814, the White House and Capitol along with many other government buildings were burnt to the ground. However, the Americans later withstood the bombardment of Fort McHenry and defeated the Royal Navy at the Battle of Plattsburg; causing negotiations to begin. The two navies clashed at the Battle of Lake Borgne only two weeks before the treaty was eventually signed. Two months passed before the news finally reached North America. A significant battle occurred at New Orleans in January 1815 despite the Treaty of Ghent being signed.