|A Celebratory Poster of the Treaty, 1814. |
Note the Union Jack does not show the St.
Patrick's Saltire, which was added in 1800,
nor do the stars show on the Stars and Stripes.
The Treaty of Ghent “A Treaty of Peace and Amity between His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America” was signed on December 24, 1814.
James Madison declared war originally because British Orders in Council made it harder for the United States to trade with France, and because the British Navy was seizing (“impressing”) sailors on colonial ships and putting them on Navy ships.
The British Government repealed the Orders in Council, ending the curb on trading, but impressment remained. If the British had given up the right to impress American sailors, Madison might have called off the war.
Russia's Czar Alexander I in March 1813 offered to host negotiations, but the British were winning and refused. In the fall of 1813, British foreign minister Lord Castlereagh offered to negotiate directly with the United States. The two countries picked Ghent in Eastern Flanders as the venue because it was a neutral city. Everyone's goal was to end the fighting, which was much too expensive for both countries. The two teams were:
- For the United States - John Quincy Adams, chief negotiator; Henry Clay, the hawk (the "bad cop"); Albert Gallatin, Treasury Secretary; James A. Bayard, moderate Federalist; and Jonathan Russell, chargé d’affaires for Madison in Paris. It took the Americans six weeks or more to communicate with Washington, D.C. so they were negotiating largely on their own. The U.S. team wanted to restore territory to what it was before the war, the status quo ante bellum.
- For the British - Foreign Secretary Lord Castlereagh and Secretary for War and the Colonies, Lord Bathurst, who chose not to attend the talks and instead, they sent a less-skilled team - admiralty lawyer William Adams; impressments expert Admiral Lord Gambier; and Undersecretary for War and the Colonies Henry Goulburn. The British negotiators wanted uti possidetis, that each side could keep what it had won militarily, such as Detroit and Mackinac Island.
- The Americans seemed to be losing early in the war with the burning of Washington. But Lieutenant General Sir George Prévost and a naval squadron under Captain George Downie engaged in Plattsburgh with New York and Vermont militia and U.S. Army regulars, under the command of Brigadier General Alexander Macomb, supported by ships commanded by Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough. The British failed to take Lake Champlain and fled north after the battle. Fort McHenry in Baltimore then withstood a severe attack and inspired the National Anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner". News of these two battles was the last information that negotiators in Ghent received.
- The British did not get respect for the independence of Native lands in the state of Ohio, and in the Indiana and Michigan Territories. The British wanted this reserved land to be a buffer state to protect Canada from American annexation, but Clay would not give it up. The British did not get any territory in northern Maine, or demilitarization of the Great Lakes or navigation rights on the Mississippi. Lord Castlereagh asked the Duke of Wellington and his advice was for them to take the status quo ante bellum.
After the signing of the Treaty and before the combatants got word, the British attacked New Orleans on January 8, 1815 with a large army. It was overwhelmed by a smaller and less experienced American force under General Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) in the greatest U.S. victory in the war. The news of the Treaty and the outcome in New Orleans reached a delighted American public at about the same time.
It is remarkable that the Treaty of Ghent has held up for 200 years. But the Treaty does not imply a "Special Relationship", just a cessation of hostilities. In fact, with the opposition of many Irish Catholics to the U.S. entry on the side of Britain in the Great War, the Special Relationship is really not cemented until the threat of Hitler brings together the United States and Britain, first with Lend-Lease and then with the U.S. declaration of war in 1941.