What Did the British Do to Anger Americans in the Early 1800s?
Like a defeated boxer demanding a rematch -- while fighting another opponent -- Great Britain, already at war with France's "Little Corporal," was at the same time embroiled in disputes with America. Minor conflicts angered Americans to the point that, at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, they pitted their armed might against Britain in the War of 1812, a second revolution for American Independence.
1 Orders in Council
Like the Revolutionary War, the 1812 conflict had economic motivations, originating with the ocean trade routes established in the early 1800s. Britain, to defeat the French Navy, initiated an economic maritime blockade. When American ships attempted to sail their trade routes, the British canceled any assumed neutrality the vessels might have enjoyed by passing Orders in Council, a new set of laws that effectively blocked all American seafaring trade. By the time the laws were suspended in 1812, the Anglo-American conflict had already begun.
2 Impressment and Declaration of War
Adding insult to injury, British ships also forcibly removed British seamen from any American ship they encountered. These sailors, considered traitors to the crown, were promptly dragooned into the Royal Navy. Half of the crew members on American ships were British, but numerous Americans were mistakenly impressed into the British navy, which did not sit well with the United States. President James Madison, infuriated by what he called "acts hostile to the United States," delivered an address to Congress asking for a declaration of conflict against Great Britain. Congress declared war on June 18, 1812.
3 Library of Congress
An aggressive British action that resulted in a catastrophic loss of American heritage was the destruction of the Library of Congress. On August 24, 1814, after President James Madison and his cabinet had fled Washington, D.C., invading British troops torched the White House and Capitol building, effectively destroying the library. Furious at the loss, Thomas Jefferson responded by selling his immense personal library to Congress to replace the lost collection. It was a bargain for Congress: The original library had 3,000 volumes; Jefferson sold 6,487 volumes to the library for $23,950, according to the Library of Congress website.
4 Bombardment of Fort McHenry
Britain's second invasion of the United States climaxed in the bombardment of Fort McHenry. The 50 British ships that sailed up the Chesapeake Bay to torch Washington also attacked the fort, but American troops successfully resisted during a 24-hour siege. This final angry defiance of Great Britain also produced the poem by Francis Scott Key, which, set to music, is still heard nationwide as the "Star Spangled Banner."
- 1 U.S. Department of State: Office of the Historian: Milestone: 1801–1829: Napoleonic Wars and the United States, 1803–1815
- 2 PBS.org: The War of 1812: A British Perspective on the War of 1812
- 3 Montpelier.org: James Madison's Montpelier: War of 1812
- 4 Library of Congress: American Treasures of the Library of Congress: The Burning of the City of Washington
- 5 Library of Congress: Thomas Jefferson: Jefferson's Library
- 6 National Park Service: "The Rockets' Red Glare": Francis Scott Key and the Bombardment of Fort McHenry