The War of 1812 revisited


Richard Moore

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In today’s excerpt – after the American Revolution, the British maintained their support of the Indians along the western border of the United States, limiting the ability of Americans to expand westward. The American push against this limitation was the cause of the War 1812, though some contemporary textbooks still miss this key point:
“After the American Revolution, although Britain gave up, its Native American allies did not. Our insistence on treating the Indians as if we had defeated them led to the Ohio War of 1790-95 and later to the War of 1812. …

“Most textbooks do state that conflict over land was the root cause of our Indian wars. [The widely used textbook] Pathways to the Present, for example, begins its discussion of the War of 1812 by telling how Tecumseh met with Gov. William Henry Harrison of Indiana Territory to complain about whites encroaching upon Indian land. Other recent textbooks likewise emphasize conflict with the Indians, who were seen as backed by the British, as the key cause of this dispute. All along the boundary, from Vermont to the Georgia Piedmont, white Americans wanted to push the boundary of white settlement ever farther into Indian country. 

“This is a significant change for the better [in the content of these textbooks]; earlier textbooks simply repeated the pretext offered by the Madison administration – Britain’s refusal to show proper respect to American ships and seamen – even though it made no sense. After all, Britain’s maritime laws caused no war until the frontier states sent Warhawks – senators and representatives who promised military action to expand the boundaries of the United States – to Congress in 1810. Whites along the frontier wanted the war, and along the frontier most of the war was fought, beginning in November 1811 when Harrison replied to Tecumseh’s complaint by attacking the Shawnees and allied tribes at the Battle of Tippecanoe. The United States fought five of the seven major land battles of the War of 1812 primarily against Native Americans.
“All but two textbooks miss the key result of the war. Some authors actually    
cite the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ as the main outcome! Others claim that the war left ‘a feeling of pride as a nation’ or ‘helped Americans to win European respect.’ The textbook The American Adventure excels, pointing out, ‘The American Indians were the only real losers in the war,’ Triumph of the American Nation expresses the same sentiments, but euphemistically: ‘After 1815 the American people began the exciting task of occupying the western lands.’ All the other [widely-used] textbooks miss the key outcome: in return for our leaving Canada alone, Great Britain gave up its alliances with American Indian nations in what would become the United States. Without war materiel and other aid from European allies, future Indian wars were transformed from major international conflicts to domestic mopping-up operations. This result was central to the course of Indian-U.S. relations for the remainder of the century. Thus Indian wars after 1815, while they cost thousands of lives on both sides, would never again amount to a serious threat to the United States. Although Native Americans won many battles in subsequent wars, there was never the slightest doubt over who would win in the end. …

“[There was not unanimity within the U.S. about expanding west. Some were already concerned that it might increase the influence of slaveholding states]. One reason the War of 1812 was so unpopular in New England was that New Englanders saw it as a naked attempt by slave owners to appropriate Indian land. …
“Even terminology changed [as a result of the War of 1812]: until 1815 the word Americans had generally been used to refer to Native Americans; after 1815 it meant European Americans.”

Author: James W. Loewen

Title: Lies My Teacher Told Me
Publisher: Touchstone
Date: Copyright 1995, 2007 by James W. Loewen
Pages: 121-125

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