The United States, Great Britain, and British North America from the Revolution to the Establishment of Peace after the War of 1812

By A. L. Burt | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
THE WAR OF 1812: THE EVOLUTION OF CAUSES, TO 1809

THE Louisiana Purchase may be regarded as the first step, albeit an unconscious one, toward the War of 1812. Though the Peace of Amiens came when the Franco-American treaty of 1800 was heading the United States back toward war with Britain, the rupture of that peace would probably have seen the American Republic moving in the opposite direction if it had not been for the Louisiana Purchase. To prevent France from getting possession of New Orleans, Britain was waiting to grasp it as soon as the European war was resumed; and, far from intending to keep it for herself, she was anticipating its transfer to the United States.1 It was to her own interest thus to provide a solution of the twenty-year- old American problem of the mouth of the Mississippi; and, had she proceeded to do so, there can be little doubt that the United States would have pulled with Britain against France. Indeed the cabinet in Washington had agreed to seek an actual alliance with Britain if the negotiation in Paris came to nought, and instructions to this effect were on their way across the Atlantic when the bargain was signed.2

Paradoxically, it was Britain's ability to control the fate of New Orleans which deprived her of the opportunity to do it. Her overwhelming superiority at sea decided Napoleon to sell what he had not yet got and could not hope to keep, so that he, rather than Britain, appeared as the benefactor of the United States. Moreover, he gave something in addition to what she could have given. He gave the whole of Louisiana, and not just the corner on which American eyes had so long been set. He thereby sowed seeds of Anglo-American discord which at once began to sprout. As we have already observed,3 the conclusion of the bargain with France immediately upset the earlier- negotiated, but later-signed convention of 1803, spilling its hopes of an amicable settlement of troublesome boundary disputes between the United States and Britain; and the American acquisition of this empire in the West soon produced new friction over the application of Jay's Treaty. Also, as we have seen, it so embittered the strife between the Republicans of the South and the Federalists of New England that many

____________________
1
Supra, p. 194, n. 16.
2
A.S.P.F.R., II, 555-556.
3
Supra, pp. 193-196.

-225-

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