War of 1812: Win, Lose or Draw

The standard history of the War of 1812 in the American mindset is one of victory. Victory over the greatest empire then known, the triumph of our new republic and the assurance of our independence from colonial rule. However this interpretation is challenged when considered from two other perspectives besides the US and the British Empire, that of the other belligerents in the conflict: First Nations, and the Canadians. These two forces hold a very different understanding of their role, and the ultimate conclusion of the conflict. The Canadians hold that they were victorious against American expansion and aggression, and the native peoples of the First Nations conclude that they were ultimately the losers in the conflict between two great powers.

In the video “Who Really Won the War of 1812” hosted by Steve Paikin, with guests Bill Fowler (representing the American perspective), Rick Hill (First Nations perspective), and Peter MacLeod (Canadian perspective), these perspectives on the War of 1812 are discussed. While the American and Canadian representatives agree that the First Nations truly lost the war, and subsequently the power they had to determine their future. They disagree on the concept of victory on either the American or Canadian view of events. Rick Hill argues that thought the First Nations were not defeated on the field of battle, they were disenfranchised by the result of the British recognition of America. The power play between great empires and powers in the region had provided the natives the ability to choose sides and play one off the other, in hopes that either side would serve their best interests. With this ability gone they saw their eventual total disenfranchisement in North America.

The Canadian perspective mirrors the American view of the “David and Goliath” story, of a smaller nation defeating a much more powerful foe, but holds the Americans, not the British Empire as the ‘Goliath’ in the story. Canadians resisted the much larger and more populous nation of America as it repeatedly attempted to invade and occupy their country, and ultimately maintained its integrity as a coherent nation separate from America and upheld all the territory it had held before the war. Because of this, they view themselves as having won the war and ending American aggression along the frontier and in their nation. From the American view however the Canadian front was just one of many in the war viewed as having won American sovereignty. New Orleans, the High Seas, and the Great Lakes were also crucial fronts in the war, in which Americans asserted their power over a distracted British Empire (Much more concerned with Napoleonic power). The recognition at the conclusion of the war did not cede any more territory to the fledgling republic, but it had asserted America was not a rebellious colony just waiting to be submitted to imperial authority, rather an independent nation.

All sides present a coherent and valid argument as to who were the true victors in the war. But what it demonstrates is the reality that varied perspectives on all historical events exist, and in a way are at least valid in what they meant to those who hold these perspectives.

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