American History 1785 - 1849

United States History Events Leading Up to the War of 1812

War broke out in Europe from 1803 - 1815. America wanted to stay out of this war. The problem was that neither England nor France wanted the Americans to trade with the other. In 1806 Napoleon, the ruler of France, passed a law that any ship trading with the English would be taken by the French. This law made it impossible for any ship trading with England to also trade with France.

The British passed a law in 1807 which said that all ships trading in Europe had to stop in England first. American shippers were in trouble. They could no longer trade in Europe.

Another problem was the British navy had trouble keeping sailors. The men were whipped by their officers without a hearing. Even small crimes like smoking were punishable by whipping. Many men refused to serve in the navy because of this. Others deserted when they reached American ports. Some British soldiers that deserted from their own navy signed up to sail on American ships. The British did not like losing sailors and began stopping the American ships and taking their sailors. About 9,000 American sailors became British sailors in this way. The American government complained to the British government, but since Britain did not have enough sailors of their own they planned to keep taking sailors in this way.

American Ship Chesapeake

In June 1807 an American warship named Chesapeake was leaving Europe. She was stopped by the British gunboat, the Leopard. The captain of the Leopard demanded to board the American ship to search for British deserters. The American captain refused to let the British men come aboard. The British ship fired on the Chesapeake. Three Americans were killed and 18 others were wounded. The British boarded the ship and took off four American sailors. They claimed they were British deserters then sailed away.

The American people were angry and wanted to go to war with England over this. President Jefferson did not want war. Jefferson asked Congress to pass a law saying that American ships could no longer trade with any nation. American ships were to stay in port. This is called embargo. Embargo on American goods did not even slow the war between England and France. Embargo put thousands of Americans sailors out of work and ship owners lost thousands of dollars.

In 1808 James Madison was elected President. A group of men in the Congress called the War Hawks said the British were asking for war. The War Hawks claimed the British were causing the Indian attacks on the settlers in the Northwest Territory. Many Americans agreed with the War Hawks and wanted a war with England.

Some other reasons they wanted a war with England were:

  • Farmers in the Northwest Territory wanted the fertile land of British Canada to expand. The fur traders wanted the British out of British Canada also so they could take over the fur trade.

  • Farmers in the South wanted the land owned by Spain in Florida. Spain was a friend or ally of England.

The only people in America that did not want war were the ship owners in the Northeast.

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