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  • The Treaty of Ghent, December 24 1814

    Beatriz Camino

    The Treaty of Ghent, December 24 1814

    The Treaty of Ghent was the peace treaty that put an end to the War of 1812 between the United Kingdom and the United States. Its terms established that all conquered territories had to be returned and the pre-war borders restored.

    The War of 1812

    Tensions between the United States and Great Britain originated due to differences over territorial expansion in North America and Britain's support of Native American tribes who fought against U.S. settlements along the Great Lakes frontier. Things escalated when the United Kingdom began enforcing tighter restrictions on American trade with France, its enemy, and forced neutral American seamen into the Royal Navy against their will.

    In the meanwhile, a faction of the U.S. Congress, known as the War Hawks, had been advocating for declaring war. These congressmen hoped that war against the United Kingdom, which was at that time struggling with Napoleonic France, would result in territorial gains in Canada and Florida. A few years later, in June 1812, the United States finally declared war against Great Britain.

    Soon afterwards, the U.S. launched a campaign to invade Canada, which turned out to be unsuccessful. Still, it managed to achieve several victories at sea over British warships. In 1814, following the downfall of Napoleon Bonaparte, the British were finally able to focus their efforts on the American war. In August, Washington D.C. fell to the British and the White House was burned. However, the British troops were forced to retreat shortly afterwards. The turning point of the conflict was the victory of the American naval force at the Battle of Plattsburg, on September 11, 1814, which forced the British army to retreat to Canada.

    The Treaty of Ghent

    In the midst of the war, American and British representatives met in Ghent, Belgium, to start negotiating the terms of a peace treaty. The British demanded the creation of an Indian barrier state in the former Canadian southwest territory with the aim of blockading American expansion but the Americans refused to include Native Americans directly in the treaty. Still, the British considered their demand essential for peace, and the American refusal almost brought negotiations to breakdown. Eventually, they backed down and negotiations continued. They went on to demand Americans not to keep any naval force on the Great Lakes and to be granted transit rights to the Mississippi River. Nevertheless, this petition was once again rejected.

    After months of negotiations, both parties realized that they wanted peace and that there was no reason to continue the war. The conflict had caused all export trade to be paralyzed and, since France was no longer an enemy of Britain after the fall of Napoleon, the Royal Navy had no need of retaining American shipments to France or more seamen.

    On December 24, 1814, the American and British representatives signed the peace treaty, which was signed into law by Prince Regent George (the future King George IV) on December 30 and by U.S. President James Madison in February 1815. According to its terms, all prisoners were to be released and the captured lands and ships returned. As a result, the US gained back 10,000,000 acres of territories near lakes Superior, Michigan and Maine. The areas that they invaded in Upper Canada were returned to the British. Moreover, instead of returning all freed slaves that they had liberated during the war, the British paid the U.S. government US$ 1,204,960 to compensate American slaveholders. Finally, both nations committed to work towards the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade.


    The Treaty of Ghent resolved the course of the war and the major original issue. Still, it took almost two months for the news of the treaty to reach the United States. As a result, British forces were not informed about the end of the conflict in time to end their military campaign in the Mississippi River. On January 8, 1815, they attacked New Orleans and were defeated by an inferior American force, in what is considered to be the most spectacular US victory of the war. Thus, the American public heard of the victory at New Orleans and the Treaty of Ghent around the same time, which led to the rise of a great sentiment of self-confidence and shared identity throughout the nation.

    In the almost two centuries of peace between the U.S. and Great Britain that followed the treaty, several territorial and diplomatic disputes arose, such as the Aroostook War (1838-39) and the Pig War (1859), but all were resolved peacefully.


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