This month marks the 200th anniversary of the end of the War of 1812. The hostilities formally ended on February 17, 1815, at 11 p.m., when President Madison exchanged ratification documents for the Treaty of Ghent with a British representative.
Although both countries had been exploring the possibility of peace since almost the beginning of the war, official peace negotiations didn’t begin until August 1814 in Ghent, Belgium. The American delegation was made up of some of the best America had to offer: John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Albert Gallatin, Jonathan Russell, and James A. Bayard. Britain, on the other hand, sent lesser-known diplomats, reserving its stronger players for the Congress of Vienna, which began around the same time and addressed European issues following Napoleon’s initial defeat.
Although the two delegations came to the table with many issues to negotiate, in the end the treaty avoided virtually all those subjects—as well as the grievances (such as impressment and restriction of neutral trade) that had caused the war in the first place. Leaving to future resolution nearly all issues the two sides disagreed on, the treaty only really ended hostilities and gave each nation back whatever territory it possessed at the beginning of the war. Neither side emerged a clear victor in the negotiations.
The British and American representatives signed the treaty on December 24, 1814, and the British government ratified it a few days later. However, although the Treaty of Ghent was signed in December, news traveled slowly to the Americas, which meant that some battles—most famously the Battle of New Orleans—were fought after the treaty was signed.
A month and a half after the British ratification, the treaty finally made it across the ocean to the United States, and on February 16th, the Senate unanimously ratified the treaty. Madison approved it later the same day and then exchanged ratifications with the British on the 17th, ending the war.
Interested in the War of 1812 or have ancestors who served in it? Explore Fold3’s War of 1812 collection, including pension application files and service records.