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–by Leah Shafer, USCHS intern

John Quincy Adams, c. 1825. Engraving by James Barton Longacre. (Library of Congress)

In the midst of negotiating the resolution of the War of 1812 with Great Britain, U.S. Minister to Russia John Quincy Adams wrote home to his father, the nation’s second president. “The whole compass of the diplomatic [still?] employed by the British Government in this negotiation has consisted in consuming time, without coming to any conclusion,” Quincy Adams wrote from Ghent, Belgium, on October 27, 1814.

Lord Castlereagh, original picture by T. Lawrence. 1814. (Library of Congress)

He went on to explain the last year of trying, and mainly waiting, to configure a resolution: Lord Castlereagh, the British Foreign Secretary, had proposed the negotiation in November 1813, eleven months before and less than a year and a half into the war. The following January, President Madison had agreed to settling the dispute. In February, the British government had been informed of the appointment of the American ambassadors (or “Plenipotentiaries,” as they were called). The British negotiators then spent an entire month delaying the appointment of their commissioners until the American Plenipotentiaries gave them official notice that they were at the “official meeting place” which both sides had agreed upon…but then they spent six weeks moving the operation to Ghent. Diplomats Henry Clay and Jonathan Russell arrived in Gothenburg on April 11. Finally, wrote Quincy Adams, the British representatives “left us from the 21st of June to the 6th of August waiting here for the appearance of their Plenipotentiaries.” And after all that, what did the Americans finally gain?

Adams was understandably exasperated. For such a drawn-out process, the Americans only wanted one simple goal: to restore conditions to the way they had been before the war. In the final draft of the Treaty, neither side lost or gained territory, so the Americans eventually got what they’d asked for—unlike the British, who entered negotiations hoping that each side would keep what it had won during the war.

The final resolution of 11 articles, titled the “Treaty of Ghent,” was signed by the Plenipotentiaries on December 24, 1816. Common myth therefore has it that the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815—the huge American victory which turned Andrew Jackson into a hero—actually occurred after the war had ended. However, because neither Great Britain nor the United States officially ratified the peace treaty until after the battle—Great Britain on January 27, 1815 and the United States Senate on February 16, 1815—the battle of New Orleans can still technically be considered within the confines of the War of 1812.

An article in the Daily National Intelligencer on February 23, 1815 titled “All the Points Gained” declared that the U.S. had succeeded in its four objectives for which it entered the war:

  1. “To put an end to the unretaliated spoliations of our Commerce
  2. To resist the Orders in Council.
  3. To oppose the practice of Impressment.
  4. To vindicate the Honor the Nation.”

Clearly, for all of Quincy Adams’ waiting and frustration, the United States did in the War of 1812 what it set out to do, and the “Honor of the Nation” was reassured. (Less well known is that the second objective in the war, “to resist the Orders in Council,” had been a moot point for two years. Almost as soon as the war began, the British had repealed the Orders in Council, which had curbed American trade with Europe.) The last war between the United States and Great Britain had ended.

Works Cited

Adams, John Quincy. John Quincy Adams to John Adams, October 27, 1813. Extract. From Library of Congress, The James Madison Papers. (accessed May 7, 2013).

“All the Points Gained.” Daily National Intelligencer, February 23, 1815. 19th Century U.S. Newspapers (GT3017472560).

Horwitz, Tony and Brian Wolly. “The 10 Things You Didn’t Know About the War of 1812.” Smithsonian.com, May 22, 2012. (accessed May 8, 2013).

Transcript of Treaty of Ghent (1814).” http://www.ourdocuments.gov. (accessed May 7, 2013).

“The Treaty of Ghent.” National Park Service. Last updated April 24, 2013. (accessed May 7, 2013).

“The Treaty of Ghent.” The War of 1812. PBS. Last updated 2013. (accessed May 7, 2013).