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20 Causes of the War of 1812

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20. CAUSES OF THE WAR OF 1812. The latter years of the 18th and the earlier years of the 19th centuries witnessed a phe nomenal growth of American commerce due to incessant wars in Europe. Naturalization was easy in the United States and the wages of seamen were high. Great numbers of Eng lish sailors availed themselves of these advan tages. England became jealous of American trade. She had never granted to her subjects the right of expatriation, though she gladly re cruited seamen wherever they could he found. In 1793 the right of searching neutral, especially American, vessels was claimed and put into practice. This so-called right meant that wher ever an English warship met American mer chantmen or war vessels they were required to stop, order their men on deck and permit as many sailors to he seized and forced into the English service as were unable to prove their nationality. It was maintained that only de serters from the English navy were wanted; hut in the period of 1796 to 1802, 1,942 American seamen were pressed into the English naval service on the plea that they were deserters.

When the war between Great Britain and Napoleon broke out afresh in 1803, American trade received another impetus. French, Span ish and even English traders raised the Ameri can flag in order to get the advantages of neu trals. An arrangement between England and the United States permitted American vessels to take in cargoes in her colonies provided these commodities were consigned to United States ports. The cargoes were afterward reshipped to Europe. This arrangement gave rise to great abuse. Ship-owners learned to touch at Ameri can ports, unload their cargoes, pay the required tax in the form of a bond, reload and, at the same time receiving their bonds hack again, set sail for foreign markets. Thus it appeared that England's commerce would fall into the hands of her rivals. To break up this almost illicit trade and at the same time bring the impress ment policy more strictly to bear upon the Americans, British war vessels were stationed just outside the more important ports of the United States. In the rigor of this surveillance American citizens were seized and American vessels confiscated in larger numbers than ever before. English cruisers virtually blockaded the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Georgia. On

27 June the British war vessel, Leopard, under orders from the British admiral at Halifax, signaled the Chesapeake to stop as she was leaving Norfolk Harbor. An officer was sent aboard the Chesapeake to search for deserters. Commodore Barron of the Chesapeake re fused to muster his men. Thereupon the Leop ard opened fire and, taking the Chesapeake by surprise, speedily disabled her; three men were killed and 18 wounded. When the search was completed only one Englishman was found. Nevertheless, three American sailors were taken away, one being a negro. The affair" excited the people of the United States almost beyond precedent. Indignation meet ings were held in most of the towns. Promi nent men presided over these gatherings; thou sands of petitions calling loudly for reparation v% ere sent to the President. War soon became the cry. President Jefferson did not believe in war, but he felt keenly the force of the insult and, after forbidding American harbors to Eng lish war vessels, he sent an agent to England to demand disavowal of and reparation for the :,stack on the Chesapeake. England paid no at tention to the President's representations.

While English-American relations were thus assuming a threatening attitude neutral trade was suffering still further restrictions in Eu rope. In May 1806, provoked by Napoleon's closing the ports of Hamburg and Bremen, England declared, through her Orders in Coun cil, the coasts of Belgium, Holland and Ger mans' to the mouth of the Elbe in a state of blockade. On 21 Nov. 1806 the French em peror replied by the Berlin decree which de clared a similar blockade of all the ports of England. Neither the orders nor the decrees could he enforced, hut they made trade with England, France and Germany unlawful. Yet during the year 1807 still other Orders in Council were issued. These closed to neutral commerce all the ports of European states friendly to France and authorized the seizure of any neutral vessel en route to any closed port unless its captain first entered an English harbor, subjected its cargo to taxation' and ob tained a license to trade. Napoleon's reply was the Milan decree, which ordered the confiscation of every neutral vessel that permitted itself to be searched or in any wise recognized the Brit ish Orders in Council.

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