The War of 1812 and the American System

The War of 1812 arose as a conflict between the Americans and the British and their allies. The main cause of the disagreement was the setting up of a naval blockade by the British to curtail trade with France, as they were at war (Watson 21). The United States, however, saw the blockade as illegal. Furthermore, the British forcefully recruited American merchant sailors into their Royal Navy to handle the blockade. Due to several reasons, such as the British support of Indians in the frontier, British resentment was already high in America. The then President, James Madison, received pressure from Congress and signed the American declaration of war into law.

The British before 1812 still viewed the Americans as colonists and would institute policies which threatened American independence. For instance, America had established a solid relationship with France. The British, however, forbade the Americans to trade or communicate with the French during the war between Britain and France. Likewise, the impressment of American merchants similarly threatened the independence. Had the United States not fought in the war, it would still have strong ties to the British, who would have continued to stifle American independence through repressive policies. The War of 1812 was thus a fight for true independence from the British.

After the War, America had a new feeling of nationalism, which sought to protect the interests of the nation as a whole and not individual states and regions (Smith 34). The American people were thus unified towards a common goal; that of protecting the interests of the nation. The surge of nationalism was evident in the foreign policies that were passed during the period following 1812. The period was referred to as the “Era of Good Feelings,” and during the presidency of James Monroe, the economy grew rapidly while nationalism continued to spread throughout the country. The American System proposed by Henry Clay sought to implement several nationalistic policies, such as setting tariffs to protect American industries, raising money to support the maintenance of a national bank by selling government land and provide government funding for internal and public projects. Several treaties, including the Adams- Onis Treaty with Spain and the Rush- Bagot Treaty with Britain were similarly passed to protect American lands and boundaries. The Monroe Doctrine similarly protected the United States against colonization from European nations.  The issue of slavery, however, sought to affect the new-found nationalism of the American people and create divisions. The Missouri Compromise managed to temporarily bring back the balance between the Free states and the slave states, continuing America’s unification process.

During the 1820s and 1830s, the U.S. experienced a period of dramatic economic growth. Several factors contributed to the growth, such as the growth in the population, improved transportation and communication, urban growth, and technological advancements which permitted large-scale manufacturing. The population growth was attributed to factors like the improvements in public health which reduced the mortality rate, a higher birth rate, and immigration by Europeans. With a larger population, the industries had enough labor for the factory system. The railroads, steamboats, and canals improved the transportation systems, while the telegram improved communication in the country. Urbanization helped spur economic growth, as many individuals similarly moved to Eastern cities. In areas such as New York City, the Erie Canal provided the city with access to the Great Lakes, Western markets, and Chicago allowing it to compete with New Orleans.

The expansion of Americans Westward and the improved economy helped the development of transportation networks like roads and canals in the nation. Following the success of the steamboats and roads, more Americans were able to further settle in the West and South, stimulating the agricultural economy. Geographic factors including the presence of navigable rivers and lakes allowed transportation and, consequently, trade to flourish. Canals were built to connect rivers with lakes, reducing the time taken to travel between cities. New York, Boston, and Chicago were connected through the Erie canal which had significant economic implications. Other states such as Ohio and Indiana also built canals. The value of the land along the waterways increased, new cities like Syracuse developed, industry boomed due to the affordable freight prices, and farming increased since the farmers now had a means to transport their produce. The transportation might have influenced political alliances by creating strong ties with other states due to reasons such as trade.

Works Cited

Smith, Anthony D. Nationalism: Theory, Ideology, History. Polity, 2013.

Watson, Robert P. America’s First Crisis: The War of 1812. SUNY Press, 2014.


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