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The War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War, though seemingly disparate in their nature, share underlying similarities and differences that offer valuable insights into the expansionist motives and military strategies of the United States during the 19th century.
The War of 1812 emerged from simmering tensions between the United States and Great Britain. The American perception of British interference, particularly the impressment of American sailors and their expansive definition of "contraband," fueled the rise of the so-called "warhawks" in the House of Representatives.
Led by figures like Henry Clay, these advocates of war aimed to address British support for Native American resistance and perceived threats to American sovereignty.
The catalyst for conflict came at the Battle of Tippecanoe, where William Henry Harrison confronted the Indian warchief Tecumseh. Uncovering British weapons among the defeated Indians intensified the warhawks' resolve, convinced that seizing Canada would secure valuable resources. Despite early setbacks and a lack of competent leadership, the warhawks' determination persisted, culminating in the declaration of war on June 18, 1812.
As the conflict unfolded, the United States faced challenges on multiple fronts. While naval battles and attempts to capture Canada marked the early stages, the warhawks' vision of territorial expansion faced considerable obstacles. The incompetence of U.S. Generals, who were veterans of the American Revolution, and the reluctance of state militias, especially in New York, to leave their states hindered the quest for Canadian territory.
Despite capturing Toronto and burning the Canadian Parliament, the U.S. forces lacked the resources to hold the gained territory.
In a naval battle at the Battle of Lake Champlain, U.S. Commander Thomas McDonough's innovative tactics drove the British back to Canada, showcasing a mix of successes and setbacks during the War of 1812.
In contrast, the Mexican-American War was sparked by a combination of political maneuvers and territorial ambitions. President James K. Polk's election in 1844 marked a turning point as Tyler annexed Texas, setting the stage for disputes over its southern boundary. The contested territories, combined with Polk's desire to acquire California, set the scene for military intervention.
As tensions escalated, General Zachary Taylor led American forces into the disputed territory, prompting Mexico to respond with military action. The ensuing conflict saw the first instances of American soil being attacked, providing a pretext for Polk to request a declaration of war from Congress. This war, rooted in expansionist ideals, was characterized by significant differences in public support compared to the War of 1812.
Public sentiment during these wars differed markedly. While the War of 1812 enjoyed widespread support, driven by a desire to defend national honor, the Mexican-American War faced considerable opposition. The conflict's unpopularity, particularly in the northern states, reflected regional disparities in the perceived benefits of territorial expansion.
Additionally, the level of preparedness varied. The War of 1812 witnessed American naval victories and control over Lake Erie but failed attempts to capture Canada. In contrast, the Mexican-American War saw General Taylor's successful campaigns in northern Mexico, paving the way for further territorial gains in California. The southern states, viewing the war as an opportunity to expand cotton production, contributed more troops than their northern counterparts.
The military campaigns in these wars exhibited divergent outcomes. The War of 1812 yielded limited territorial gains for the United States, marked by successes on Lake Champlain but failed attempts to hold captured territories. In contrast, the Mexican-American War proved remarkably successful, with the acquisition of vast territories facilitated by General Taylor's campaigns and the collaboration with American rebels in California.
Notably, both wars produced iconic military figures – Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812 and Zachary Taylor in the Mexican-American War – who became celebrated heroes despite the differing circumstances of their respective conflicts.
Despite being unsuccessful in gaining substantial land during the War of 1812, the United States achieved unprecedented success in the Mexican-American War. The conquest of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada reflected the rapid expansion of American territories, fueled by the fervor of Manifest Destiny.
After periods of conflict, peace negotiations were initiated to conclude both wars. In the War of 1812, negotiations took place in Ghent, Belgium, resulting in the Treaty of Ghent in 1814. Despite the British capture of Washington, D.C., the treaty reinstated the status quo ante bellum, returning all captured territories to their original owners.
In contrast, the Mexican-American War concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848. This treaty marked a stark departure, ceding vast territories to the United States, including California, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. The southern boundary of Texas was set at the Rio Grande, and the U.S. agreed to pay Mexico $15 million, resolving claims against American citizens.
Peace negotiations for the War of 1812 took place in Ghent, Belgium. It involved John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Albert Gallatin, Jonathan Russel, and James A Bayard. A treaty is written, which ended the war of 1812, it was signed December 24, 1814. The war is called a draw. Captured territory goes back to Status Quo Ante Bellum - The way things were before the war. Both nations get back all the land they possessed before the war began. Other questions would be negotiated by joint commissions. 5 weeks before news of the treaty reach the US the War of New Orleans is waged. 7500 British troops east of New Orleans move to capture the city and gain control of the Mississippi River. 6000 American troops await the British under the command of Colonel Andrew Jackson, whose men massacre the British. Casualties are British have 2100 dead or wounded, while the Americans have only 21 dead or wounded. This is the British's worst defeat of the war. As a result of this battle American feel that they won the war, even though technically it was a draw.
In October 1847 Santa Ana is defeated and both sides wait for peace negotiations. Nicholas P Trist was sent with Winfield Scott to draft a peace treaty, but when he and Scott quarreled Polk ordered his return. Trist did not return, if he had returned all of Mexico might have been annexed into the US. Peace Treaty is signed by February 2, 1848. The treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo - 1848. The treaty had four terms. First, Mexico cedes the US California, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. Second, The Rio Grande is set as the southern boundary of Texas. Third, The US agrees to pay Mexico 15 million dollars. Sometimes this money is referred to as "conscience money." Finally, The US agreed to pay claims of American citizens against Mexico ($3.25 million)
While the War of 1812 contributed to the Joint Occupation of America, the Rush-Bagot Agreement, and the establishment of the 49th parallel as the northern border of the U.S., the Mexican-American War's impact extended further. This conflict not only fulfilled Manifest Destiny but also paved the way for the Gadsden Purchase, solidifying America's territorial expansion in the west.
In conclusion, the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War, though distinct in their circumstances and outcomes, offer valuable insights into the evolving priorities and strategies of the United States during the 19th century. From expansionist motives to public sentiment and military campaigns, these conflicts played crucial roles in shaping the nation's trajectory and territorial acquisitions.
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