After the war of 1812 between the Canadians, British, and Americans didn’t result in any geographical loss or gain, it is commonly concluded that there is no real “winner” in the situation- deeming the war to be pointless with many people and resources lost. Going off of secondary sources in an unbiased manner, this is my attempt to answer the question of “which nation in the war of 1812
To analyze the situation, we can break down the statistical information of losses into categories of population, land, resources and economy, and political outlooks.
Total people lost: 20 000 — roughly 4% of British Canadian population (excluding Britain itself)
- 10 000 of which were First Nations allies
- 1 160- 1 960 of which were killed in action
- 15 500 captured
- ~ 3 700 wounded
The War of 1812 Casualty Database is a grim site (funded by the Government of Canada) that is very fascinating at the same time. It provides us with the names of the British casualties, though, and not quantitative information).
Total people lost: 15 000 — roughly 0.2% of American population
- 2 200 – 3721 of which were killed in action
- 20 00 captured
- ~4 500 wounded
- 4 00 slaves freed
Non- British First Nations
Total people lost: unknown – estimated to be roughly 80%
- The 13 Colonies’ expansion into the west of North America was gradual throughout the 18th and 19th century, and not limited to the time of the war of 1812.
- No type of census was kept between the aboriginal tribes, either, so estimating the deaths is very difficult.
From what we can observe from this map, the many battles that were fought between the French and the American almost cancel each other out in terms of geographical location. While all battles would leave a trace on the environment, we also need to consider the extent of the impact that they posed, how many people were involved, and how much time has passed by. Knowing that most of these places are currently in a civilized and modernized state, the effects that the several battles of 1812 had is most likely barely noticeable. Additionally, the technological advancements of the 19th century are –arguably- not enough to inflict any serious, permanent damage comparatively to what we can do now with our opportunities in terms of industrialization and nuclear weaponry.
This image only portrays the small amount of land that was most politically conflicted at the time. It is also important to note that within generally the same premises outlined on the map, there used to be a prospering First Nations population that was brought to an end because of the war. Most of these tribes were allied to the British (seeing them as the lesser of two evils and most interested in keeping treaties and trade), some 125 were with America, while others were not allied to either party. We can observe the lack of American interest in keeping good relations with the First Nations people by remembering how they were treated in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and the Indian Removal Act of 1830. It is once again hard to tell how many were lost.
- 1344 merchant ships captured/lost (373 recaptured)
- 4 frigates captured (34 frigates to start off with)
- 1400 merchant ships captured/lost
- 8 frigates captured (12 frigates to start off with)
The Royal Marine and Royal Navy were significantly larger than what the U.S. had in possession, but we also need to keep in mind that the British were fighting in the Napoleon wars simultaneously with 1812. The same can be applied to all British resources, from their weaponry to their highly trained army and militia.
While we are not sure how much debt the Americans caused the British, it is estimated that this conflict added about £25 million to the national debt. At the same time, the British were also balancing an economic hit form the Neapolitan wars, yet these debts were divided between a population of 8 million people (comparatively to 7.5 million in America) and in the ‘powerhouse’ country of the world. This proved to be the reason the treaty of Ghent was formed- the taxes were so high and resources so hard to obtain. Word has also spread throughout Britain that the new states were unhappy with the war and were threatening to leave the union. Although all the new Englanders wanted was to end the war, many were glad that this blackmailing got the government to come to a peaceful consensus.
America faced debt of about $105 million, which turned out to be about the same as Britain’s debt in the value of 19th-century currency. Starting in 1812 and continuing post-war, the American economy definitely became more prosperous. Since British factory-made items were not for international trade, the industrialization in America and its trade with other countries helped bring the nation out of the severe debt it was in. This new-found money was majorly used on opening even more factories, aiding this process further. On the other hand, the prices within America were 15% higher in 1815 than 1812, which is actually a really large difference. We can observe the same –yet more intense- issue happen in early 20th century Germany.
When the Americans initiated the War of 1812, they went into it with the ideology of manifest destiny- loving the recent outcome of the revolution and Yorktown victory. Claiming whatever land was around them (already occupied or not) seemed to be like right instead of dream or privilege. After realizing that the number of victories and losses seemed to be the same for both sides, a reason for the Americans to humble down was evident. Moreover, opposing parties had supremacy when it came to resources, training, and social ties. Although the American militia was huge, British troops could recognize the tactics that were applied in the Siege of Yorktown, making them less effective as time went on. While this did make them feel more down to earth and realistic, the penultimate battle in New Orleans brought a feeling of unity to the nation. News of the Ghent treaty were not brought to the British, so they attacked until the notification. Massive casualties were taken by the Americans, but at least this did result in victory for them. The commonly known ending to the war of 1812 was concluded with pride on the American’s part- giving them more success to associate themselves with.
The British could be viewed as the standard competitive overachiever in this situation. Balancing so many fights all at the same time and backing down quite successfully nonetheless is actually very incredible.
Just like the outcome with the Americans, the people living in the Canadian land also experienced a new sense of unity. A large portion of people living there prior to the war did so just because of the land availability and didn’t really know what it was like to correlate themselves to the Canadian identity. Going through such a challenge and eventually fighting back against such a powerful opponent really brought pride and emotional stability to the citizens. Additionally, the help of the British reinforced Canada’s ties to the crown and sureness in wanting to stay part of the British Empire. Knowing what had happened with the want for Revolution in the 13 colonies, the English were more careful in how they were planning on treating these fragile communities.
Any aspect of the indigenous people’s lives after the European colonization of this continent is hard to talk about because of unbelievably devastating it was. Simply put, every aspect of their lives steadily declined in quantity and quality, with basically nothing left to negotiate or debate. The extent to which every other country agreed to unanimously degrade these people is frankly embarrassing, so we have a tendency to stop addressing the issue and focusing on something else as soon as it gets too uncomfortable.
Because this is an immensely large conflict, there were an enormous amount of significant perspectives to go along with it. A good example of a more familiar controversy that was going on whilst determining whether war should be declared or not happened in the continental congress, with the federalists highly disagreeing with while the democratic-republicans favoured the idea. The weakening of the federalists and a republican president (James Madison) helped with distinguishing the disparities in political power, thus, starting the war of 1812. This argument has been the closest one to being almost a tie in the histories of all disputes, enforcing new laws within the congress to make at least two-thirds of the politicians agree to one side before any action was going to be taken action upon. Over more, the inability to come to a clear and popular answer on this issue held back the American’s ability to do better in battle, as it has been recorded that backup troops were forced to take a different route to the battlefield just in hopes of avoiding the angry federalists up north. Just like in this situation, there were most likely the same opposing views in all 3 participating sides of the war.
While I was curious to find out who lost this war more than another, this is impossible to ethically do in terms of weighting casualties against resources and money. Likewise, it is impossible to accurately compare the judgments of back then against the values of today. I have always found the number of lives traded for land in a war to be extremely controversial and morally incorrect, but people more concerned about the future of the colony would obviously argue with me on what is more important. Today’s digital society would most likely contradict that, because we have had more experience with being financially stable and having helpful resources available to us. In the modernized world, we do not have the issue of information taking time to get from one place to another, thus eliminating the battle of New Orleans completely. Overall, I think that everything in the war of 1812 can be viewed to be ethical and somewhat reasonable, excluding what happened to the aboriginal people, slaves, and other minority groups. We know that inflicting such terrible things on them is wrong in every possible way by today’s standards, yet it was surprisingly only slightly frowned upon in the 19th century. This leaves me to wonder from what other bizarre ways we have emerged to be the people we are today.
In conclusion, answering the question of “which nation obtained the most benefit from the outcome of the war of 1812” is something that can only be debated and statistically analyzed by the value-based opinions of today and the time itself. Personally, I believe that the Canadians came out of this war with an upper hand result mainly because of how it shifted the political perspective nation-wide; kick-starting the Canadian identity with such gusto that makes it last all the way up to our age. Arguably, they did suffer the greatest physical loss, which weighed differently by different perspectives. Being Canadian, a certain element of bias may be incorporated. Following them, the American’s result of new-found patriotism and sophisticated government, and the British’s ability to keep the Canadian property and slip away from the conflict before it got too bad for its people. Lastly, its agreeable that the aboriginal population took the greatest hit of all. Other than gaining more trust in Britain for advocating for an area dedicated solely to the Aboriginal tribes (with a failed attempt), so much culture, land, and people were lost for no reason.
Historica Canada – multiple articles about the war of 1812