The Shore Dimly Seen
The American Invasion of Canada, 1812
The War of 1812 represents the paradox of a seemingly inevitable yet also highly avoidable second conflict between the United States and Great Britain. Each nation had far more to lose than gain in a war with the other major English speaking society. The United Kingdom was already fully absorbed in a life or death struggle with the forces of Napoleon and could ill afford to divert even minimal military and naval resources from the Continent to North America. On the other hand, the United States in 1812 was about as unprepared for a serious conflict as at any point in the history of the republic. The American navy could deploy fewer than a dozen warships, none larger than a frigate, to confront a Royal Navy that boasted over a thousand ships including 180 powerful ships of the line. The United States army could muster a force of only 5000 regulars scattered in posts and forts throughout the country. A substantial number of Americans vehemently opposed a war with Great Britain and a number of state governments would refuse to supply any financial or military support to the Federal government. Because of all of these limitations the young republic simply could not afford to engage in a lengthy contest with Great Britain; if England was able to defeat Napoleon and turn its vast military power on the United States before a peace settlement had been negotiated, the very existence of the federal union could be imperiled.
While the immediate causes of the second war between Britain and America were generally viewed as revolving around British impressment of American seaman and attempts to control the trade policies of the United States, combined with the desire of frontier region Americans to annex Canada to the federal republic, citizens from both nations had developed negative stereotypes about their trans-Atlantic counterparts long before the outbreak of actual hostilities. Americans generally viewed the residents of their former motherland as stuffy, hidebound, snobbish, dedicated to the