The decisive event of the war was the abdication of Napoleon in April, 1814. This gave the British the option of increasing their military effort to secure a decisive victory. But the Duke of Wellington’s army remained in Europe, sending a few regiments to facilitate the capture of Washington. The British focus on Europe remained absolute from 1803 to 1815: securing a peaceful, stable and durable settlement on the continent was far more important than the Canadian frontier.
Even when the British agreed to negotiate with the ., the discussions at Ghent remained entirely subordinate to the main diplomatic gathering at Vienna. Eventually the British offered a status quo ante bellum peace, without concession by either side: the Treaty of Ghent ignored the Orders in Council, the belligerent rights and impressment. By accepting these terms the Americans acknowledged the complete failure of the war to achieve any of their strategic or political aims. Once the treaty had been signed, on Christmas Eve 1814, the British returned the focus to Europe.
The wisdom of their decision soon became obvious: Napoleon returned to power in 1815, only to meet his Waterloo at the hands of Wellington. Had the . stayed in the war, the army that defeated Napoleon might have been sent to America. Anglo-American relations remained difficult for the next fifty years, but when crises erupted over frontiers and maritime rights, British statesmen subtly reminded the Americans who had won the War of 1812, and how they had won it. In case any doubt remains the results were written in stone all along the American coast. Between 1815 and 1890, American defence expenditure was dominated by the construction of coastal fortifications on the Atlantic seaboard.
Andrew Lambert is Laughton Professor of Naval History at King’s College University of London, and the author of War at Sea in the Age of Sail . He is an expert on British trade and naval history.