Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: The War of 1812 Shaped Canada Forever

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: The War of 1812 Shaped Canada Forever

Article excerpt

Editorial Exchange: The War of 1812 shaped Canada forever

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An editorial from the Toronto Star, published June 17:

It was a small war. Some of its most important battles seem little more than skirmishes when judged on the scale of other conflicts.

It began in confusion, with the United States declaring hostilities unaware that one of its major war aims was already addressed. And it ended that way, too, with a last, pointless battle fought weeks after a peace treaty was signed. Civilians on both sides suffered, there were horrible massacres, and even more bungling by generals than is customary in warfare.

And yet the War of 1812 had a powerful, invigorating influence on what would become Canada. Indeed, had the struggle been lost, this country likely wouldn't exist.

Hostilities were launched 200 years ago on Monday, when U.S. president James Madison signed a declaration of war pitting his nation against Great Britain. He cited, at length, maritime complaints stemming from Britain's blockade of Napoleonic Europe. American vessels were routinely stopped by British warships and searched. Sailors, even U.S. citizens, were often removed and pressed into service in the British navy. And the American economy suffered as U.S. ships were restricted from trading with continental Europe.

Ironically, those trade restrictions were lifted shortly before Madison's declaration of war. But it was too late for the U.S. to change course. "War hawks" controlled Congress and the call to arms came loudest from newly formed states west of the Appalachians, where settlers were eager to seize more Indian land and punish the British for supporting native resistance.

Madison's war speech made only passing mention of the Indian conflict - and none at all of Canada - but it was clear from the start that this struggle would primarily be fought on Canadian soil. And British holdings were, quite naturally, expected to fall. No less a figure than Thomas Jefferson predicted that acquiring Upper and Lower Canada "will be a mere matter of marching." With an attack on Halifax to follow, the result would be "the final expulsion of England from the American continent."

It didn't happen that way.

Repeated U.S. invasion attempts were either broken or stalled through the combined efforts of British regular troops, local militia and Indian warriors. Indeed, the war would almost certainly have been lost without the participation of all three.

British regulars, brilliantly led at the outset by Maj.-Gen. Isaac Brock, formed the professional core of Canadian defence forces. But they were few in number - just 4,450 to protect what is now southern Ontario and Quebec. They would surely have been overwhelmed by the sheer number of U.S. invaders if not for militia drawn in Upper Canada from a local population of about 100,000. …

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