I know that word of the cessation of the act didn’t get to America in time to stop the war. I also know that it wouldn’t have mattered a bit if it had. I didn’t say it was a non-issue; I said it wasn’t all that important. Sure it must have been annoying, and it was completely illegal, but it wasn’t what the war was about. It was just a cover for what was really desired: Canada. I suspect if the simple reasons of wanting to annex Canada had been put forward as the justification for war, that it would never have made it past Congress. There was plenty of people in America, especially in the north-eastern states, who were opposed to an invasion. The New York Evening Post, for example, declared in the build up to the war that the “desire to annex Canada to the United States is as base an ambition as ever burned in the bosom of Alexander.”
Impressment was simply a justification given for the invasion, it doesn’t mean that the goal of the invasion was to rid America of impressment. If that had been the goal, the war would have been over the moment the American government learned that it had ended. Instead General Hull attempted to invade Canada not once, not twice, but three times. That, if nothing else, should make the true ambitions of the War of 1812 very clear. How can you claim victory in a war, if you fail in your primary goals?
The answer is: you can’t. Well, you can’t unless you pretend the initial part of the war, where you aimed to annex Canada, was a different war that didn’t really happen and therefore wasn’t lost. Then you can take the part of the war where you were successful, and put up an inspired defence against the British counter-attack, and claim victory on account of that. This really only works as a part of a mythology on the invincibility of the American military, and doesn’t really stand up under rational examination.
The aims of the two parties in the war are fairly clear:
*to annex Canada (failed)
*end impressment (succeeded before war began - irrelevant)
*defend Canada from invasion (succeeded)
*to punish America for invading Canada (partial success and partial humiliating failure)
America didn’t lose out too badly from the war, apart from having its pride dented by failing to invade Canada and having the White House burned down, and gained, perhaps considerably, from the change in attitude from the world powers at the time. Unfortunately that gain wasn’t part of the stated aims of the war, and can be no more be considered a cause to celebrate victory than Germany’s and Japan’s post-war economic miracles, which ironically came about as a result of them losing World War 2. If you plan to invade a country, like Saddam did Iran, and then fail, but succeed in fending off the subsequent retaliatory efforts of the offended party, that’s not a victory.
And anyone starts accusing me of being filthy, yellow toothed, limey, I’d like to point out that I have a great respect for what America achieved in the first, and true, War of Independence. If the British had won that war, the world would be a poorer place because of it, due to the influence that revolution had on the thinking of the western world. The War of 1812, however, was little other than greed, in my opinion, dressed up as a continuation of an earlier, just, war.