War's End

Illustration of an evening celebration in front of the Maryland Statehouse.
Celebrations broke out as news of the war’s end spread throughout the United States. In Maryland’s capital, Annapolis, as elsewhere, bells rang, cannons saluted, and bonfires lit up the night. ©Gerry Embleton
The War of 1812 officially ended on February 17, 1815, after nearly six months of peace negotiations in the city of Ghent, in today’s Belgium. The initial terms of peace were drafted in just 10 days, but it wasn’t until December 24, 1814, that negotiators for both sides agreed to the terms.

Great Britain ratified the Treaty of Ghent on December 27, 1814. A British packet ship, the Favorite, delivered the treaty to New York City on February 11, 1815. Secretary of State James Monroe received the document in Washington a few days later. The United States Senate unanimously approved the treaty and President Madison signed it on February 16, 1815. Both sides exchanged ratified copies the next day, officially ending the war.

The Octagon House in Washington, temporary residence for the first family and where Madison had signed the Treaty of Ghent, was the scene of great revelry as the president and first lady hosted a party to celebrate the war’s end.

As news spread, other towns celebrated the end of three trying years. But outside the populated areas of the East, news traveled more slowly. Hostilities continued in some places for several months after the official end of the war.
Painting of a room of 11 men; two in the center are shaking hands as one holds the Treaty of Ghent.
Peace delegations headed by John Quincy Adams (right) and Lord Gambier (left) finally shook hands over terms of agreement on December 24, 1814. The Treaty of Ghent was also known as the Peace of Christmas Eve treaty.

Treaty of Ghent

Both sides were weary of the war. Their delegations began negotiating for peace in August 1814. At the time, Britain held the upper hand. But US victories in September at the Battle of Lake Champlain, New York, and Baltimore, Maryland, strengthened the American position.

The delegates argued over impressment, US-British North America (Canada) border disputes, and Indian territorial issues. Talks dragged on—hindered by the several weeks needed to get news to and from Washington.

Finally, on Christmas Eve, 1814, the negotiators signed a document that, when ratified by both governments, would end hostilities. The agreement restored “all territory, places and possessions whatsoever, taken by either party from the other during the war” as they had been before the war. Termed “status quo ante bellum”—status quo before the war—the treaty changed nothing in terms of territory.

Oddly, free trade and impressment issues which had been a major cause of the war, were not mentioned in the final document as they had already been resolved.

As for issues over American Indian territories, Article IX included a clause to restore to the Indians “all possessions, rights and privileges which they may have enjoyed, or been entitled to in 1811.” However the Americans chose to ignore that provision, and the British had no interest in enforcing it. Losses suffered by American Indians during the war were irreversible.

The Treaty of Ghent, formally titled “A Treaty of Peace and Amity between His Majesty and the United States of America,” was the last peace treaty between the two nations. Gradually, the two English-speaking countries found common interests and became close allies, as they are today.

Last updated: October 16, 2020

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