On June 18, 1812, the United States declared war on Great Britain officially launching the War of 1812. In the 200 years since, it has become a forgotten war, perhaps best remembered by school children as when The Star-Spangled Banner was written. Yet, the War of 1812 was strategically important to the future of American diplomacy, a reinforced independence from Great Britain, and the country’s westward expansion.
Several events provoked President James Madison to request action from Congress to enter a war with one of the world’s most powerful nations, less than thirty years after the Revolutionary War ended. Uppermost was the unlawful impressment of American sailors into a British Navy eager to replenish its ranks during the lengthy Napoleonic Wars. Great Britain also restricted America’s right, as a neutral country, to trade with France.
On the home front, Americans were embracing the concept of “Manifest Destiny.” Migrations into the Northwest Territory provoked confrontations with Native American tribes. The British supported the rights of the Indians to maintain and defend their territories, but Americans were eager to push them westward and claim their land. The war is best remembered by Canada, a friend to both Indians and Great Britain, and on whose border many battles took place.
Fold3 observes the War of 1812 bicentennial with rich and revealing historical documents within the War of 1812 Collection. They include the War of 1812 Prize Cases from New York’s Southern District Court, Letters Received by the Adjutant General, and War of 1812 Service Records for Lake Erie and Mississippi, and, perhaps most revealing, the War of 1812 Pension Files. The pension files are digitized in color at the National Archives in Washington, DC, with funding provided by the Federation of Genealogical Societies’ Preserve the Pensions! Project. They are brought to Fold3 visitors at no charge.
In commemoration of this highly important, yet overlooked event in U.S. history, we’ve made our War of 1812 Collection free for the month of June. Come explore the many stories of our fledgling nation’s second revolution.