The War of 1812 is one of several American conflicts that often gets glossed over in conventional textbooks. We are all usually familiar with commonplace narrative regarding impressment and relatively obscure economic sanctions and the standout moments such as the British burning the White House, Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans and Tecumseh generally causing mayhem. As Americans, we see the war, on the whole, as a victory. Territorial claims were cemented in the Treaty of Ghent, and America proved for the second time that it indeed deserved a place in the world after throwing back the British invaders in heroic fashion. Right?
As is the case with many conflicts throughout history, there are multiple perspectives, the War of 1812 is not exempt from this patter. Our neighbors to the North played a large role in the war and, chalk it up to American exceptionalism or narrative driven by the War Hawks, consider the War of 1812 to be a victory not for the United States, but for Canada. Historian Desmond Morton authored an article in 2012 entitled How Lower Canada won the War of 1812. Throughout the article, he challenges the conventional narrative and places an emphasis on the involvement and importance of the Canadian presence during the war. A cursory glance at the major battles map to the left indicates just how many battles were fought on, or north of the Canadian border.
Morton focuses on several key engagement in which Canadian militia forces served pivotal roles. He highlights the battle of Châteauguay where the Canadians, “… Against astonishing odds, killed the most dangerous American offensive of the war.” Morton emphasizes how these Candadiens (lower Canda loyalists) played no role in the operations in New Orleans, Washington D.C., or upper Canada, but instead ensured that Lower Canada was defended and free of invaders. Victories at Châteauguay, Michilimackinac and Queenston Heights emphasized their success.
Morton pushes the idea that an uniquely Canadian military front in the lower region of the country was paramount to the overall outcome of the war. It prevented the United States from gaining strategic ground in the country and maintained border integrity between the two nations. The War of 1812’s importance to Canada goes beyond these battles highlighted by Morton. It serves as a national landmark for Canadians. The war gave them a sense of identity and a common cause to rally around. To this day, Canadians still take pride in their involvement in the war; their ability to prevent the United State’s army from successfully invading; and the relationship that was forged between the two nations as a result of the treaty of Ghent. While Morton is a Canadian Historian, and his bias will naturally lean towards his nation, the perspective he brings to an otherwise relatively (on the United States’ end) unappreciated war goes a long way in showing just how much impact the conflict had.
This video goes a long way in demonstrating the significance the War of 1812 had on the Canadian people during, and directly after its onset, as well as how it is remembered and revered to this day.