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British Defiance of the Treaty of Ghent
Digital History ID 216

Author:   John Quincy Adams


Although often treated as a minor footnote to the Napoleonic Wars, the War of 1812 was crucial for the United States. It effectively destroyed the eastern Indians' ability to resist American expansion. A coalition of Native Americans was defeated at the Battle of Tippecanoe in Indiana in 1811 and the Creek Indians were defeated in the South by General Andrew Jackson. Abandoned by their British allies, Native Americans reluctantly ceded most lands north of the Ohio River and in southern and western Alabama to the U.S. government.

The war greatly strengthened America's position relative to Spain in the South and Southwest. It allowed the United States to solidify control over the lower Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. Although the United States did not succeed in conquering Canada or defeating the British empire, it had fought the world's strongest power to a stalemate. Spain recognized the significance of this fact and in 1819 abandoned Florida and agreed to an American boundary running to the Pacific Ocean.

The Federalist party never recovered from its opposition to the war. The proposals of the Hartford Convention became public knowledge at the same time as the Treaty of Ghent and the American victory at New Orleans. Euphoria over the war's end led many people to brand the Federalists as traitors. The party never recovered from this stigma.

Finally, the war produced profound changes in New England. As a result of the war, New England importing and exporting was in ruins, and wealthy New Englanders reinvested their resources in manufacturing. Further, with its dominant political party discredited, New Englanders found new ways to influence national policy. In the future, New England would engage in far-reaching campaigns of moral reform intended to make its values the nation's values.

In this letter, John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), the son of the former president and America's Minister to Britain, discusses the defiance of the terms of the treaty of Ghent by British officers, in a letter to the American minister to the Hague.


The British naval Commanders, in defiance of the Treaty of Ghent, have carried away from the United States all the slaves they have taken--There was no certainty that Michillimakinac [a naval base in Michigan] had been restored--The Agents and Traders were instigating the Indians in the North, and a British Officer posted in Florida was doing the same thing with the Creeks--Our fishing vessels had been turned away, and warned, to twenty leagues from the coast--The British Packet had been seized at New-York for an attempt to smuggle goods--At the same time the Cabinet here have been determined to increase their naval Armaments on the Lakes of Canada--And the Ministerial Gazettes are marked with strong symptoms of hostility--The language held here is temperate, and full of conciliatory professions--But when the affairs of France shall be settled to their satisfaction (which I think will be soon) I expect a change of tone....

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: John Quincy Adams to William Eustis

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