When the Colonies ended their war with the British in 1781 (and signed the treaty in 1783), they probably looked at their new-found freedom with little inkling that, just 30 years down the road, they’d be on the brink of open conflict with the British yet again. But as May of 1812 gave way to June, the war clouds had again gathered over the 18 United States. When President James Madison went before Congress on June 1, 1812, he did so to ask for a declaration of war against Britain. And he brought his list of reasons with him.
There were trade issues. The British were still at war with France, the U.S. was not. We were, in fact, a trading partner with the French. As a way to inhibit our trade to the French, the British created a series of trade restrictions against America. The U.S. government vehemently opposed these British measures as illegal.
The second issue Madison brought to Congress was that the British were impressing U.S. citizens. But the word “impress” doesn’t mean “to gain admiration”. It means “to apply pressure or to force”. The British were taking the liberty of forcing U.S. citizens into the Royal Navy. These U.S. citizens were actually former British citizens, and the British government refused to recognize their change in citizenship as official.
But there was also the issue with American Indians. America was expanding. The Louisiana Territory had been explored and adventurous men and women were heading west, and claiming territory as their own that was the possession of the natives already there. This, of course, brought the two “into sharp debate”. And the British took it upon themselves to arm the natives. That didn’t sit well with Americans, who now had to overcome British bullets fired from British muskets in the hands of Native Americans in order to take their land.
Recommended Reading: James Madison