On November 4th, 1813, Castlereagh, the British foreign minister, prepared a note addressed to the American government indicating the British willingness to involve themselves in direct negotiations with the United States in the hope that the war between the two countries might be brought to an end. The declaration of war that the United States had made on June 18th, 1812, was one that the Americans much regretted. It was a war, historians will agree, that was caused by the British orders-in-council forbidding neutral trade with French-occupied Europe and the British impressment of sailors on American ships. The Americans rancorously1 determined to prosecute the war, though those who knew the challenges cringed at the thought of going to war with the most powerful seagoing country in the world. Blood and money had been spent by both parties through the balance of 1812 and through the year of 1813. Russia volunteered early, in September of 1812, to mediate the differences between the two countries, a mediation which the British refused "on the ground that the differences with the United States involved principles of the internal government of Great Britain ..."2 Their note of November 4th, 1813, signaled a change in stance, and the settlement process began. The British offer was accepted by the Americans on January 5th, 1814. A commission was set up consisting of members from both sides and a time and place was set: August at Ghent, Belgium. In time, the meetings led to peace, as the Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24th, 1814, ending the War of 1812.3
At the negotiation table the British had two conditions to be met before they could agree to the end of hostilities -- hostilities, which they kept up to the very last of it4. The two were that there was to be "suitable arrangements for the Indians, and a rectification of the frontiers."5 There were also two conditions for the Americans.6 Not surprisingly the two American conditions were that the British should abandon their practice of impressment on the high seas, and compensation for the pre-war seizures of vessels and cargoes. These conditions the British refused to accept. The Americans were powerless to do anything about the refusal of the British, and indeed, to force their own conditions upon the British. Both countries, however, were keen on ending the expensive war. A simple expedient was used in the short treaty — the parties agreed to meet in the future to see if these matters might be sorted out.
The news that the war ended reached New York on February 11th, 1815. On the 14th, a story in the Evening Post ran as follows:
"We give today one of the effects of the prospect of peace, even before ratification. Our markets of every kind experienced a sudden, and to many a shocking, change. Sugar, for instance, fell from $26 per hundred weight to 12.50. Tea, which sold on Saturday at $2.25, on Monday was purchased at a $1.00."7
The United States suffered much on account of the war. It had a devastating effect on the Americans in respect to their trading activities. For the balance of the year (war having been declared in June of 1812), the merchants located in the ports did not experience too much of a setback. After "the winter of 1812-13 American commerce dwindled very rapidly, till in 1814 it was practically annihilated."8 Up to this time, the whole commerce of the northern and eastern states had been carried by coasting vessels.9 There were no railways, and the roads were bad. The American coasting vessels, as we have seen from previous chapters, were captured by the British warships and privateers which were, to a large extent, working out of Halifax. American goods were not moving. The American merchants "bitterly complained that the war had been perverted from a struggle between the military forces of rival governments into an engine of spoliation directed against the peaceful commerce which benefits all mankind."10
The American Navy did not have a high reputation at the outbreak of hostilities, though by its end it had proven to be a sevice of the scrappiest variety. The number of its ships never exceeded that which she started out with. At the end of the war "the only United States vessels on the ocean were the Constitution, three sloops -- the Wasp, Hornet, and Peacock -- and the brig Tom Bowline.11
The Treaty of Ghent was the last treaty of peace between Great Britain and the United States. It is one that has lasted. Why? Well principally because both sides withdrew to their prewar positions. Thus neither side could consider the treaty as a conquest. It should be noted, too, that because of this treaty, the United States became, alongside with Great Britain, a major player in world politics. So too, because of this treaty the United States finally accepted the existence of its northern neighbor, Canada as a legitimate identity, and not think of it as another piece of territory to be absorbed, directly the United States was strong enough to do so.12 The Treaty of Ghent did, however, give a clear go-ahead to the United States to expand as it wished anywhere south of the 49th parallel, at the expense of the Indians and the Spanish alike.
The effect in the United States was to tip the balance to the Hamiltonians, those who wanted a strong central government, versus the Jeffersonians who wanted less government. Before the war the question was up in the air, but after, no longer.
"... the war has laid the foundations of permanent taxes and military establishments, which the Republicans had deemed unfavorable to the happiness and free institutions of the country. ... The war has renewed and reinstated the national feelings and character which the Revolution had given ..."13
On the first of March, 1815, Napoleon returned from Elba, and his return was considered by some to be the triumph of popular right over usurped power. On June 18th, in a little village just south of Brussels the "Iron Duke" triumphed over the "Man of Destiny" in the Battle of Waterloo. On June 28th, the French monarchy in the person of Louis the XVIII was returned to the throne, bringing an end to the Napoleonic dreams of glory and long years of European war. There then began a period which came to be known as the Great Peace. It was an era which saw new industry and the building of great factories where steam hissed in their pipes. Off the English and American docks could be seen forests of masts and the beginning of new stumps of funnels. Thus began from 1815, onward, a period of revolution: social, industrial and political. Modes of life and ways of thought, little changed for generations, were to be abandoned. Great ferment was in the air and old beliefs were no longer to be unquestioningly accepted. Life for many was a new and exciting adventure. Such times are conducive to the production of exceptional characters. This will form the background of the third Book on the History of Nova Scotia.
-- The End of Book Two.