• Bombs bursting in air over Baltimore in 1813

    War of 1812

Choosing Sides

It was the closest vote to declare war in American history, and yet the difficult decisions surrounding the War of 1812 extended far beyond Capitol Hill. In addition to electing to support the war, many were forced also to choose between loyalties, identities and nationalities as they supported either the American or the British cause. American loyalists who fled to Canada following the American Revolution toed a line in the sand: abandon forever the nation of their birth or alienate their adopted home. American Indian people living along artificial political borders were also compelled to make political alliances, often less a choice than selecting the lesser of two evils. But perhaps the most challenging decisions came from both the enslaved and free people of color of the young United States. The temptation was great to defect and fight for the British, a surer path to freedom and prosperity than fighting to support their homeland. Yet a post-Revolutionary generation often remained optimistic of the ideals for equality enshrined in the founding documents and pinned hopes for freedom on military service in exchange for American citizenship. Although for some the chaos of war was an opportunity to invent new identities and create a new life, for most, just as the two warring nations agreed, life after the war reverted to the status quo antebellum.

 

Showing results 1-5 of 8

  • American Liberty and Slavery in the Chesapeake: The Paradox of Charles Ball

    Drawing of Charles Ball, black sailor in uniform holding a musket

    When the War of 1812 came in full force to the Chesapeake Bay region, it created new opportunities for slaves who wanted to flee with the British to freedom. During April 1814 Admiral Alexander F. I. Cochrane issued a bold proclamation freeing enslaved people who joined the British cause; this was similar to Lord Dunmore‰s attempt to mobilize Virginia blacks during the American Revolution. Read more

  • Niagara Falls National Heritage Area

    Borderland Loyalties

    Portrait of Teyoninhokovrawen, also known as Major John Norton

    It was true during the War of 1812, and remains so today. There is no guarantee that personal, political, and ethnic loyalties match international borders. Read more

  • Horseshoe Bend National Military Park

    Creek War in the Southeast: A Civil War and an Enemy Occupation

    Painting of the Battle of Tippecanoe

    Following the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811 and the destruction of Prophet's Town by the Americans, Shawnee chief Tecumseh intensified his cry for a united Indian confederacy. This influence and the divisive line it drew over assimilationism began echoing throughout tribal lands, even as far away as Alabama. This split populations along ideological lines, forcing them to choose allegiances. Read more

  • Horseshoe Bend National Military Park

    Creek War in the Southeast: A Civil War and an Enemy Occupation

    Painting of the Battle of Tippecanoe

    Following the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811 and the destruction of Prophet's Town by the Americans, Shawnee chief Tecumseh intensified his cry for a united Indian confederacy. This influence and the divisive line it drew over assimilationism began echoing throughout tribal lands, even as far away as Alabama. This split populations along ideological lines, forcing them to choose allegiances. Read more

  • Factions: War Hawks and Federalists

    American policymakers deciding to jump off a cliff back to King George III=

    The divisions between political parties in the early 19th century seemed almost insurmountable. Instabilities in politics threatened not only the effectiveness of the government, but its very stability. The War of 1812 was the first American civil war. New England threatened to secede from the union. Read more