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The War of 1812 – Part 8 - Diplomacy and the Treaty of Ghent



Initial Attempts at Diplomacy

Throughout the last five months, we have posted a series of articles looking at some of the causes leading up to the War of 1812, as well as the military and naval actions taking place in the various “theaters” of the war. In today’s post we would like to turn our attention to the diplomatic negotiations that led to the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the war between Great Britain and the United States. While there has certainly been “friction” between the United Kingdom and the US over the years, the Treaty of Ghent has been the basis of over two-hundred years of amity and peace between our two nations.


Almost as soon as war was declared, the call came for peace negotiations. The American government hoped that Great Britain would, instead of taking up arms against them, instead remove the causes of grievance. In fact, to enable such an opportunity, the US Secretary of State empowered Jonathan Russel, United States Chargé d'affaires in London, to arrange an armistice between the two countries on condition that the Orders in Council were repealed, orders given to stop the practice of the impressment of seamen from American vessels and the release of those already impressed. The British Foreign Secretary replied that the terms were “inadmissible.” He also declined to enter negotiations with Russell, claiming that Russell lacked the power to negotiate.

Admiral John Borlase Warren
Admiral John Borlase Warren

On the British side, Admiral John Borlase Warren, Admiral of the Blue and commander of all British forces in North America, was vested with the power to negotiate an armistice with the United States citing the repeal of the Orders in Council five days after war was declared. James Monroe, Secretary of State at the time, responded that although the repeal of the Orders in Council was a positive development, the suspension of the practice of impressment was a “necessary consequence” for any termination of war to “secure any solid and durable peace.”


The next attempt to resolve the issues between England and the United States and end the war occurred in March of 1813. Russia had come to depend on American commerce to support their common fight with the British against Napoleon. They feared a disruption of supplies if the war persisted and distraction on the part of England. Russia offered to mediate the Anglo-American conflict and President Madison readily accepted this offer, sending a “core” negotiation team to St. Petersburg. However, England remained uncompromising on the issues and rejected Russia’s offer of mediation. On 30 December 1813, a letter from the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to the US Secretary of State, offering direct negotiations between the two countries arrived in Washington.


Direct Negotiations Between the US and Britain

At this point, the American government was inclined to meet any offer that might offer a chance of peace. As a result, on January 7, 1814, the President sent a message to Congress informing them of his decision. A week later he nominated John Quincy Adams, James Bayard, Henry Clay, and Jonathan Russell as “Envoys Extraordinary and Ministers Plenipotentiary of the United States with authority to meet a minister or ministers having like authority from the government of Great Britain and with him or them to negotiate and conclude a settlement of subsisting differences and a lasting peace and friendship between the United States and that power.” Albert Gallatin was added to the delegation in February when it was learned he was still in Europe.

John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams

At the time of their appointment, the members of the Commission were widely scattered with two in America and the remaining three in various parts of Europe. As a result, it was over six months before they were all assembled in Ghent, in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Clay and Russell sailed from New York on February 25 and reached Gothenburg, Sweden April 13. The next day they sent letters to Adams Bayard and Gallatin requesting them to come to Gothenburg as soon as possible. Bayard and Gallatin had already received official notification of their appointment from the President and had left St. Petersburg on January 25 for Amsterdam. Upon their arrival there, they had received notice of the US acceptance of direct negotiations and had continued to London, arriving there on April 9. Unfortunately, things were changing rapidly, and the likelihood of successful peace negotiations seemed dim.

Henry Clay
Henry Clay

After news of the abdication of Napoleon arrived in London on 19 April 1814, Britain was now free to begin shifting veteran forces from Europe to Canada thus strengthening the British Army position in North America. They also could begin moving Royal Navy forces to the North American, Caribbean, and South American stations from their earlier assignments blockading Europe to weaken Napoleon. Additionally, British public opinion demanded major gains in the war against the United States such that the senior American representative in London told Secretary of State James Monroe:


"There are so many who delight in War that I have less hope than ever of our being able to make peace. You will perceive by the newspapers that a very great force is to be sent from Bordeaux to the United States; and the order of the day is division of the States and conquest. The more moderate think that when our Seaboard is laid waste and we are made to agree to a line which shall exclude us from the lake; to give up a part of our claim on Louisiana and the privilege of fishing on the banks, etc. peace may be made with us.”


However, the English Prime Minister, aware of growing opposition to wartime taxation and the demands of merchants in Liverpool and Bristol to reopen trade with America, realized Britain had little to gain and much to lose from prolonged warfare. With the defeat of Napoleon, the main British goals of stopping American trade with France and impressment of sailors from American ships were no longer necessary. Gallatin was informed that, due to political changes in Europe, Gothenburg was no longer considered a suitable place for the negotiation, and that a change to London or to some place in the Netherlands would be more acceptable to Great Britain. Gallatin sent a letter to Clay and Bayard in Gothenburg informing them of this fact and Clay responded that they were agreeable to somewhere in the Netherlands but not London. Gallatin proposed Ghent to the British and they accepted the change of venue there. Russell and Adams left Stockholm by ship, arriving in Ghent on June 24th. Gallatin and Bayard, remained in London until the British appointed their commissioners, while Clay arrived in Ghent on June 25. Bayard arrived on June 27th while Gallatin did not reach Ghent until July 6.

Albert Gallatin
Albert Gallatin

The British negotiators arrived in Ghent on the evening of 6 August. While the Americans sent top leaders, the British sent minor officials who kept in close touch with their (much closer) superiors in London. Negotiators from both sides met in Ghent, Kingdom of the Netherlands, starting on August 8, 1814, at the Hotel des Payes-Bas. When the peace talks began, American diplomats decided not to present President Madison's demands for the end of impressment and the suggestion that Britain turn Canada over to the U.S. They were quiet and instead the British opened with their demands, chief of which was creation of an Indian barrier state in the American Northwest Territory (the area from Ohio to Wisconsin), which the British would sponsor. The British strategy for decades had been to create a buffer state to block American expansion.

James Bayard
James Bayard

While the negotiations were going on, the British had four invasion operations underway. One force, in the Chesapeake, carried out the burning of Washington but failed in its main mission of capturing Baltimore. The British fleet sailed away when the army commander was killed. A small force invaded the District of Maine from New Brunswick, capturing parts of northeastern Maine and several smuggling towns on the seacoast. Much more important were two major invasions. In northern New York State, 10,000 British troops marched south to cut off New England, however; as we discussed in Part 1 of our series, a decisive defeat at the Battle of Plattsburgh forced them back to Canada. At the time, the other major invasion force, sent to capture New Orleans and control the Mississippi River, had not yet begun operations.

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

With the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the British Prime Minister wanted the Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, now victorious in Europe, to command in Canada with the purpose of winning the War. Wellington replied that he would go to America, if so ordered, but he believed that he was still needed in Europe. He also said:


“In regard to your present negotiations, I confess that I think you have no right, from the state of war, to demand any concession of territory from America… You have not been able to carry it into the enemy's territory, notwithstanding your military success, and now undoubted military superiority, and have not even cleared your own territory on the point of attack. You cannot then, on any principle of equality in negotiation claim a cession of territory except in exchange for other advantages which you have in your power... Then if this reasoning be true, why stipulate for the uti possidetis? You can get no territory: indeed, the state of your military operations, however creditable, does not entitle you to demand any.”


The government ended up agreeing with Wellington and he was not sent to America.

After months of negotiations, against the background of changing military victories, defeats, and losses, both parties finally realized that their nations wanted peace and there was no real reason to continue the war. Now each side was tired of the war. The War had paralyzed export trade for both nations. With Napoleon’s defeat in 1814, France was no longer an enemy of Britain, thus the Royal Navy no longer needed to stop American shipments to France, and it no longer needed more seamen. After over 2 years of war, there had been no change in territory controlled by either side. So, an agreement was reached.

Lord James Gambier
Lord James Gambier

In the late afternoon of December 24, 1814, the commissioners who had agreed upon the Treaty of Ghent signed their creation and expressed satisfaction at the conclusion of their labors. John Quincy Adams, in his diary, tells us he assured Lord Gambier of his hope that it would be the last treaty of peace between Great Britain and the United States. Two weeks later, at a banquet given by the citizens of Ghent, in honor of the commissioners, Mr. Adams, made the following culminating toast:


"Ghent, the city of Peace; may the gates of the temple of Janus, here closed, not be opened again for a century!"


This signing and dinner although hopeful, was not an end to the war itself - that needed formal ratification by both governments and the war continued until that final ratification was completed. The English Parliament ratified the treaty on December 30, 1814, and the US Congress on February 18, 1815.


The Details of the Treaty

The Treaty of Ghent consists of eleven Articles which each dealt with a different issue that was important to one or more of the signatories.

The Treaty of Ghent
The Treaty of Ghent

Article One

The first article of the treaty specified:

  • The establishment of a Peace between the United Kingdom and the United States.

  • All hostilities, on both sea and land, cease as soon as the treaty is ratified by both parties

  • All territory, places, possessions, public equipment, and stores taken during the war or after the signing of this Treaty to be returned without delay and without destruction or removal artillery originally captured and which are still in their original locations upon the ratification of this treaty

  • All slaves or other private property taken during the war to be returned to the owners of American representatives.

  • All archives, records, deeds, and papers, either public or belonging to private persons, which have fallen into the hands of either side, to be, if possible, returned to the proper authorities and persons to whom they respectively belong.

  • The islands in the Bay of Passamaquoddy claimed by both sides stay in the possession of the party who holds them at the time of the ratification of this Treaty until a decision respecting the title to those islands have been made per the Fourth Article of this treaty.


Article Two

The second article of the treaty specified:

  • Immediately upon ratification of this treaty by both parties, orders to cease hostilities were to be sent to the armies, squadrons, officers, subjects, and citizens of the two parties.

  • After twelve days from the ratification of the Treaty, all vessels and effects taken as prizes upon all parts of the coast of North America from the latitude of twenty-three degrees north to the latitude of fifty degrees North, and as far eastward in the Atlantic Ocean as thirty-six degrees west longitude must be restored to their owners.

  • The above order became effective after thirty days in all other parts of the Atlantic Ocean north of the equator and for the British and Irish Channels, for the Gulf of Mexico, and all parts of the West Indies.

  • The order became effective after forty days for the North Sea, the Baltic, and for all parts of the Mediterranean.

  • The order became effective after sixty days for the Atlantic Ocean south of the equator as far as the latitude of the Cape of Good Hope.

  • The effective date of the order was ninety days for every other part of the world south of the equator.

  • Under any circumstances, the latest effective date was 120 days for all other parts of the world without exception.


Article Three

Article three specifies that:

  • All prisoners of war taken on either side, by land or by sea must be repatriated after the ratification of the treaty, once any debts they may have incurred during captivity have been repaid.

  • The two parties agreed to pay the advances which may have been made by the other for the sustenance and maintenance of such prisoners.


Article Four

The 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the American War of Independence with Great Britain, set up some guidelines for the boundaries between the US and Canada. These guidelines, however, were not particularly clear and had been in dispute in several places ever since. Articles Four through Eight set up a method to peacefully decide ownership of Islands, as well as the location of the actual boundary line in some areas.


Article Four specified:

  • To finally decide conflicting claims about disputed islands in the Bay of Fundy, which borders both Nova Scotia and Maine it was agreed that they be referred to a Commission.

  • The Commission was to consist of two Commissioners. One Commissioner appointed by Great Britain and one by the United States.

  • The two Commissioners so appointed were sworn to impartially examine and decide upon conflicting claims based on the evidence put before them by Great Britain and the United States, respectively.

  • The Commissioners would meet at St Andrews, in the Province of New Brunswick, and would have power to adjourn to such other place or places as they thought fit.

  • The Commissioners would, by a declaration or report, decide to which of the two parties each Island respectively belonged, following the intent of the Treaty of Paris of 1783.

  • If the Commissioners agreed in their decision both parties would consider such decision as final and conclusive.

  • In the event the two Commissioners could not agree on the matters referred to them, or in the event of both or either of the said Commissioners refusing, declining, or willfully failing to act as impartial judges, they would make jointly or separately a report or reports to the governments of the United States and Great Britain, stating in detail the points on which they differed, and the grounds upon which their respective opinions had been formed, or the grounds upon which they had refused, declined, or failed to act.

  • The governments of the United States and Great Britain agreed to refer the report or reports of the Commissioners to some friendly Sovereign or State, to be named for that purpose, who would be requested to decide on the differences.

  • The governments of the United States and Great Britain would accept the decision of such friendly Sovereign or State to be final and conclusive on all the matters referred.


Article Five

Article Five specified:

  • The Creation of a second Commission to resolve more ambiguities along the US/Canadian border.

  • The Commission consisted of two Commissioners. One Commissioner appointed by Great Britain and one by the United States.

  • The two Commissioners so appointed would be sworn to impartially examine and decide upon conflicting claims based on the evidence put before them by Great Britain and the United States, respectively.

  • The Commissioners would meet at St Andrews, in the Province of New Brunswick, and would have power to adjourn to such other place or places as they thought fit.

  • The United States and Great Britain disputed ownership of lands around the border of Nova Scotia and the (then) northwest part of the United States. The lands in question bordered several rivers: the Connecticut, St. Croix, and Cataraqui. The problem resulted from no one having surveyed this area to establish the true boundaries set forth in the 1783 Treaty of Paris. The Commission had the task of surveying the river borders in this area and making a map of the land.

  • The Commissioners would issue a declaration or report to decide the true boundaries between the US and Canada and the ownership of disputed areas, following the intent of the Treaty of Paris of 1783.

  • If the Commissioners agreed in their decision both parties would consider such map and decision as final and conclusive.

  • In the event the two Commissioners could not agree on any of the matters referred to them, or in the event of both or either of the said Commissioners refusing, declining, or willfully failing to act as impartial judges, they would make jointly or separately a report or reports to the governments of the United States and Great Britain, stating in detail the points on which they differed, and the grounds upon which their respective opinions were formed, or the grounds upon which they had refused, declined, or failed to act.

  • The governments of the United States and Great Britain agreed to refer the report or reports of the Commissioners to some friendly Sovereign or State, to be named for that purpose, who would be requested to decide on the differences.

  • The governments of the United States and Great Britain would accept the decision of such friendly Sovereign or State to be final and conclusive on all the matters referred.


Article Six

Article Six specified:

  • The creation of a third Commission to resolve questions about the US/Canadian border through the Great Lakes.

  • The Commission would consist of two Commissioners. One Commissioner appointed by Great Britain and one by the United States.

  • The two Commissioners so appointed would be sworn to impartially examine and decide upon conflicting claims based on the evidence put before them by Great Britain and the United States, respectively.

  • The Commissioners would meet at Albany in the State of New York and have power to adjourn to such other place or places as they thought fit.

  • The United States and Great Britain disputed the location of the border throughout the Great Lakes and possession of several of the Islands in those lakes. The Treaty of 1783 stipulated that the US/Canadian border ran through the middle of the Great Lakes however, no one was sure where that was. The Area in question began at the Mouth of the Cataraqui River (Cataraqui) at Kingston, Ontario proceeded into Lake Ontario, through the middle of the lake until it struck the route by water (Niagara River) between that lake and Lake Erie, thence along the middle of the river into Lake Erie, through the middle of the lake until it arrived at the water route to Lake Huron, and thence through the middle of the Detroit River and the St. Clair River to Lake Huron. From there it passed through the middle of Lake Huron until it arrived at the St. Mary’s River where it passed along the middle of the river to Lake Superior.

  • The Commissioners would issue a declaration or report to decide the true boundaries between the US and Canada and the ownership of disputed areas, following the intent of the Treaty of Paris of 1783.

  • If the Commissioners agreed in their decision both parties would consider such map and decision as final and conclusive.

  • In the event the two Commissioners could not agree on any of the matters referred to them, or in the event of both or either of the said Commissioners refused, declined, or willfully failed to act as impartial judges, they would make jointly or separately a report or reports to the governments of the United States and Great Britain, stating in detail the points on which they differed, and the grounds upon which their respective opinions had been formed, or the grounds upon which they had refused, declined, or failed to act.

  • The governments of the United States and Great Britain agreed to refer the report or reports of the Commissioners to some friendly Sovereign or State, to be named for that purpose, who would be requested to decide on the differences.

  • The governments of the United States and Great Britain would accept the decision of such friendly Sovereign or State to be final and conclusive on all the matters referred.


Article Seven

Article Seven states:

  • The third Commission, upon completion of their duties under Article Six, was then empowered to determine the US/Canadian border from the where the St. Mary’s River enters Lake Superior through the middle of the lake on onward to the most Northwestern point of the Lake of the Woods and to decide to which of the two Parties the several Islands lying in the Lakes, water communications, and Rivers forming the boundary do respectively belong and to cause the boundary to be surveyed and marked. They are to figure out the Latitude and Longitude of the most Northwestern point of the Lake of the Woods, and of such other parts of the said boundary as they consider proper.

  • The two Commissioners, already sworn, were to impartially examine and decide upon conflicting claims based on the evidence put before them by Great Britain and of the United States, respectively.

  • The Commissioners would meet at Albany, in the State of New York, and would have power to adjourn to such other place or places as they thought fit.

  • The Commissioners would issue a declaration or report deciding the true boundaries between the US and Canada and the ownership of disputed areas, following the intent of the Treaty of Paris of 1783.

  • If the Commissioners agreed in their decision both parties would consider such map and decision as final and conclusive.

  • In the event the two Commissioners could not agree on any of the matters referred to them, or in the event of both or either of the said Commissioners refused, declined, or willfully failed to act as impartial judges, they would make jointly or separately a report or reports to the governments of the United States and Great Britain, stating in detail the points on which they differed, and the grounds upon which their respective opinions had been formed, or the grounds upon which they had refused, declined, or failed to act.

  • The governments of the United States and Great Britain agreed to refer the report or reports of the Commissioners to some friendly Sovereign or State, to be named for that purpose, who would be requested to decide on the differences.

  • The governments of the United States and Great Britain would accept the decision of such friendly Sovereign or State to be final and conclusive on all the matters referred.


Article Eight

Article Eight stated:

  • The Boards of Commissioners mentioned in the four preceding Articles would each have power to appoint a secretary, and to employ surveyors, or other persons, as they judged necessary.

  • Duplicates of all their respective reports, declarations, statements, and decisions, and of their accounts, and of the Journal of their proceedings would be delivered by them to the Agents of Great Britain and the Agents of the United States.

  • The Commissioners would be paid as agreed between the two governments, such agreement to be settled at the time of the Exchange of the Ratifications of this Treaty.

  • All other expenses attending the said Commissions would be defrayed equally by the two parties.

  • In the case of death, sickness, resignation, or necessary absence, replacements would be supplied in the same manner as such Commissioner was first appointed; and the new Commissioner would take the same oath or affirmation and do the same duties.

  • The two parties agreed that if any of the Islands or lands mentioned in the preceding Articles, changed hands by the decision of the Commissioners, all grants of land made before the commencement of the war by the party having had such possession, would remain valid under the new government.


Article Nine

Article Nine stated:

  • The United States of America would end, immediately after the Ratification of the present Treaty, hostilities with all the Tribes or Nations of Indians with whom they may be at war at the time of such Ratification and restore to such Tribes or Nations all the possessions, rights, and privileges which they may have enjoyed or been entitled to in 1811 before the hostilities. This was provisional on the Tribes or Nations agreeing to desist from all hostilities against the United States of America, their Citizens, and Subjects once they were informed of the ratification of this Treaty.

  • His Britannic Majesty would end, immediately after the Ratification of this Treaty, hostilities with all the Tribes or Nations of Indians with whom He may be at war at the time of such Ratification and restore to such Tribes or Nations respectively all the possessions, rights, and privileges, which they may have enjoyed or been entitled to in 1811 before such hostilities. This was provisional on those Tribes or Nations agreeing to desist from all hostilities against His Britannic Majesty and His Subjects upon notification of this Treaty.


Article Ten

Article Ten stated:

  • Since the traffic in slaves, was irreconcilable with the principles of humanity and justice, both Great Britain and the United States agreed to use their best efforts to continue their efforts to promote its entire abolition.


Article Eleven

Article Eleven stated:

  • Once this Treaty had been ratified on both sides without alteration by either of the parties, and the Ratifications mutually exchanged, it would become binding on both parties.

  • The Ratifications would be exchanged at Washington in four months from this day or sooner if practical.

In summary, the treaty released all prisoners and restored all captured lands and ships. The United States regained about ten million acres of territory, near Lakes Superior and Michigan, and Maine, while American-held areas of Upper Canada (present-day Ontario) returned to British control. The treaty thus made no significant changes to the prewar boundaries, although the U.S. did gain territory from Spain along the gulf coast because of the war. Britain promised to return the freed black slaves that they had taken. In actuality, a few years later Britain instead paid the United States $1,204,960 for them. Both nations also promised to work towards an ending of the international slave trade.


Results of the War of 1812

British losses in the war were about 1,600 killed in action and 3,679 wounded; 3,321 British died from disease. American losses were 2,260 killed in action and 4,505 wounded. While the number of Americans who died from disease is unknown, authorities estimate that about 15,000 died from all causes related to the war. These figures do not include deaths among Canadian militia forces or losses among native tribes.


There are no official estimates of the cost of the American war to Britain; it did add some £25 million to the national debt. In the U.S., the cost was $105 million, about the same as the cost to Britain. The national debt rose from $45 million in 1812 to $127 million by the end of 1815, although by selling bonds and treasury notes at deep discounts the government received only $34 million worth of specie.


The war between Great Britain and the United States resulted in no significant geographical changes and no major policy changes. However, all the causes of the war had disappeared with the end of the war between Great Britain and France and with the destruction of the power of the Indian tribes. American fears of the Indians ended, as did British plans to create a buffer Indian state.


The British suspended their policy of impressment of American sailors, and never resumed it—but they insisted they still had the right to resume it. Americans regained their honor and proclaimed victory in what they called a "second war of independence" since the decisive defeat of the British invaders at New Orleans seemed to prove that Britain could never regain control of America. This new self-confidence led Americans to a new view of themselves and their country and was a major influence in the formation of the Monroe Doctrine.


We hope you enjoyed this final part of our examination of the War of 1812, found it to be interesting, and hopefully learned something new. Please join us again in two-weeks as we shift our focus from the battlefield to a much more dangerous field of competition - the early-19th century ballroom and the etiquette required for social success there.


While you are here, on our website, please take a moment to join the conversation and let us know what you think about the subject by putting your comments in the box at the bottom of this page. We would also encourage you to join our blog community (Look for the button in the upper right-hand corner of this post). This will allow us to inform you when we post new articles. We also suggest that you return to our blog home page and sample some of our earlier articles on a wide variety of late-18th and early-19th century subjects; both military and civilian.


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