Many argue the United States lost the War of 1812. However, the conflict ended in American victory. Even though the Treaty of Ghent ended hostilities, many of the issues that caused the war disappeared in its aftermath and not from the treaty signing. Additionally, it instilled pride in the American people as they warded off the British again. In the end, the War of 1812 led to military, economic, and political changes and reforms within the U.S.
Combat casualties were relatively low for the United States. About half a million served in the U.S. military or state militias. Of that, only 2200 were killed and 4500 wounded in combat. British casualties were proportionally higher. 50,000 British and Canadians served and 1600 died and were 3700 wounded. These numbers do not include those killed by disease. Those numbers were significant for both sides. Although technically outnumbered 10-1 by the United States, most Americans in uniform served in the militia. Most militiamen proved useless in battle and refused to serve outside the borders of their own states.
The militia proved completely unreliable. The undisciplined lot refused to follow orders, coordinate with the federal government, and ran at the sight of a red coat. After the war, the United States abandoned Jefferson’s militia-first defense strategy. The American government moved to form a professional military and formed academies for officer training. West Point became key in this new professionalism. When America went to war again, the military would be ready.
The militia did have one positive impact. They helped secure the frontier against the Native Americans. Indian resistance was broken and the British severed ties. Americans blamed Britain for inflaming the natives on the frontier. For westerners, defeat meant death. This provided motivation for militiamen that easterners lacked. Despite an overall military stalemate against Britain, the United States enjoyed success in snuffing out Tecumseh and other insurrectionists.
American reliance on militia defense provided one challenge for the government during the War of 1812. Another challenge created by Jeffersonian Democracy was finance. The Democratic Party dominated the government and despised banks. As a result, they killed Alexander Hamilton’s Bank of the United States in 1811. When war broke out, the government could not fund the conflict. The government rectified the error after the war. In 1816, congress chartered the Second Bank of the United States. Despite this, the bank remained controversial until 1846. Ironically, the Federalist Party which created the first bank and opposed its destruction disappeared following the second bank’s charter.
The Federalist Party included George Washington, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton. Despite the heavyweight support, it failed to change with the times. In fairness, America changed dramatically between 1800 and 1816. The country grew more egalitarian and that ideology centered around the small farmer. Federalists did not share the egalitarian spirit and their policies appealed to merchants and manufacturers as opposed to farmers. They steadily lost support during the Jeffersonian Era, and openly opposed the war. By this time, they only drew support in New England. When the New England Federalists threatened secession, the party was over. They fielded their final presidential candidate in 1816. Four years later, Democrat James Monroe ran unopposed.
The so-called Era of Good Feelings represented a time in which America experienced one party rule. Federalist opposition disintegrated, Andrew Jackson slew the British beast, and the frontier was pacified. Americans were jubilant and President Monroe represented that period. By his second term, Britain and America entered into a partnership. The Treaty of Ghent ended hostilities, but did not solve the issues that sent America to war. Napoleon’s defeat settled those issues. England no longer had issue to board neutral shipping and no need to expand the number of sailors in her navy. Impressment and neutral shipping rights ceased being an issue between the two countries. The end of the Napoleonic Wars brought two former enemies together. The Monroe Doctrine defended Latin America from European predations. The British heartily approved the measure and prepared to enforce it. As a result, the United States and Great Britain refused to allow any further colonization of the New World by European imperial powers.
The United States considered the War of 1812 a “second war of independence.” It brought profound changes in America. They celebrated the victories of William Henry Harrison over Tecumseh and Andrew Jackson at New Orleans. No one feared Europe any longer and even promised to defend the hemisphere against imperialism. At the same time, the opposition Federalists melted away. The military, economy, and political landscape shifted. The winds of change continued blowing well into the subsequent decades. America moved away from the old elitist Revolutionary Era and toward the youthful and egalitarian Age of Jackson.