In what ways did the Napoleonic wars directly affect the beginning of the war of 1812?
This question is important because, as we have seen, all wars and revolutions are interconnected and intertwined with one another; these two conflicts are no exception. Being able to see the interactions between different nations and how those sparked extremely volatile reactions is interesting as you must pull context from multiple different sources and perspectives. With multiple battles waging at the same time for different reasons that is sometimes difficult.
As we know, the war of 1812 took place around the same time as the French revolution. Both were, in-part, after effects of the American revolution. The reasoning for this is that after battles like the seven years war and the American revolutionary war, France was deeply in debt, which the king then decided to resolve by taxing the lower classes. France found this unacceptable to say the least, and the citizens of France rebelled against this oppression. The outcome of this was the abolishment of the French monarchy by means of public execution via guillotine of hundreds of noblemen and women and the king himself, Louis XVI, in 1793. Napoleon then rose to power and led France to its first empire.
The Napoleonic wars had several major impacts on America that led to the war of 1812. Though they were by no means the only factor, they played a large role.
During the Napoleonic wars France (Napoleon) and their allies waged war on multiple other European countries, who were mostly loyal to the United Kingdom, with hopes of expanding France’s new empire. Because of this, France and England, two of the biggest world traders at the time, started to focus more on each other thus leaving America, a neutral nation, as the only other major shipping power not engaged in the war. This is similar to America’s choice during the French Revolution. This led America to start trading with South American and West Indian colonies and resulted in a major economic boost which lifted them out of their extreme debt from the American revolution.
This went on for quite a while but slowly both the UK and France started to increase restrictions on neutral carrying ships, which led to less freedom for America’s trade, and increased hostility from America towards the United Kingdom and France respectively.
In 1806 Napoleon introduced a new decree (the Berlin decree) which created a blockade on ships that was supposed to cripple British trade. This decree made it so that no British ships could stop in French ports, and that any French or neutral (American) ships would be seized immediately if they visited a non-French port before a French port. To counter, Britain introduced a law that required all neutral ships to obtain a license before trading.
Throughout all this a process called impressment was ongoing. This was a process in which British ships would seize American ships and search for deserters, a term used for people who had fled the British navy (a very undesirable job at the time) to become American sailors. Britain would then assimilate them into the British naval forces. However, often the British would capture American-born sailors as well. A great amount of this impressment was for the want of British soldiers with whom to fight France/Napoleon.
By today’s standards, the idea of capturing random sailors to draft into your army would be completely unprecedented, however it is important to remember that Britain had very little choice at this point in time, as they were in desperate need of assistance, and al of their armed forces were fleeing them.
America was opposed to this idea, as it violated their republican ideals of freedom and between 1803 and 1806 Thomas Jefferson, the president of America, attempted to negotiate a treaty with Britain to halt this procedure which was unsuccessful and the practice continued by Britain.
When France started to be overtaken by Britain during the end of the Napoleonic wars and Napoleon’s first downfall, the need for the navy diminished. As such, British ships could branch out further to impress more sailors – further aggravating America.
Though countries like France and Denmark also practiced impressment of American ships, they did so specifically throughout the Baltic sea whereas Britain was particularly bold – in some cases ensnaring ships in view of the US coast. Therefore, the effects of Britain’s efforts were much more profound on the colonies, and in turn the war of 1812.
Impressment became one of the leading causes that led to the conflict between Britain (and subsequently Canada) and America that was the war of 1812. Restrictions on American trade and the need for a larger navy imposed by Napoleon were leading factors as well as being major parts of the Napoleonic wars.
In conclusion, the Napoleonic wars directly impacted the start of the war of 1812 as they were the source of much of the impressment of American sailors as well as the trade aggravation and disagreement between America and France/Britain.