Today in 1814: Treaty ends final war between U.S. and Britain

December 24, 2010

Today in Legal HistoryThe War of 1812 came to an official close 196 years ago today, as delegates from war-weary Britain and the financially strapped United States signed the Treaty of Ghent in Belgium on Christmas Eve, 1814.

The treaty itself didn’t seem groundbreaking – in fact, under the terms of the agreement, no boundaries were changed, and no major new policies were enacted. On the surface, it seemed that everything would pretty much go back to the way it was before the war.

However, the War of 1812 changed everything for the citizens of the future Canada. Many see it as the event that first unified French-speaking Canadians with their English-speaking counterparts as they fought to defend their territory.

In 1812, when the United States turned its sizeable military forces on British North America (as Canada was then known), the British military machine was fully engaged in the Napoleonic Wars. But despite being outnumbered, the ragtag Canadian forces were able to keep the invaders in check until British reinforcements arrived in 1814.

Along with British support, the Canadians were also assisted by Native American allies, who were promised a homeland in a new buffer zone between the U.S. and Canada – a promise that was soon forgotten after the war.

One Canadian historian has argued that without the War of 1812, Canada eventually might have joined the United States as more and more settlers arrived from the south, diluting any aspirations toward Canadian nationalism.

Canadian Confederation commemorative stampInstead, the War of 1812 set the wheels in motion that would ultimately lead to Canadian Confederation. And in 1867, the former colonies of British North America were organized into the four original provinces of the federal Dominion of Canada: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec.