The Inside Agenda Blog

Who Won the War of 1812?

by Steve Paikin Monday September 24, 2012

Who really won the War of 1812?

The Great War of 1812 Debate between David Frum ...

... and Roy MacGregor

David Frum, the Toronto native and former White House speechwriter, says to answer that question, you have to answer another question: at the end of the war, who gained what they wanted?

By that yardstick, he says the Americans won. The British recognized American citizenship, and ceased "impressing" (essentially, kidnapping) American sailors on the high seas, and forcing them to serve in His Majesty's navy.

"Canada was the battlefield," Frum said at a debate staged by the Niagara 1812 Bicentennial Legacy Council earlier this month in Fort Erie. "But its understanding of its rights on the high seas had to be abandoned." 

Roy MacGregor, the author and Globe and Mail columnist, had a different take.

"I don't see any commercials on U.S. television of them winning the war," he countered. "The idiot who ran things, General William Hull, messed up time and again. He wanted a three-pronged attack instead of an attack on Montreal," which if successful, could have won the war for the Americans. "The British took over the Great Lakes. The U.S. had no presence on the lakes." 

MacGregor also points out only 3 per cent of Americans think their identity was forged by the War of 1812. 

"That's because the Civil War forged America's identity," Frum countered. "And Canada's nationhood was really forged by World War I."

Furthermore, Frum says, "1812 may have been a tactical disaster for the Americans, but the Battle of New Orleans was humiliating for the British," he added, referring to a battle that took place in 1815, technically after the treaty ending the war had been signed, but word hadn't yet got back to the New World. "This war was about a colonial power not yet reconciled to its defeat," Frum said. "They refused to recognize American citizenship."

Frum adds, it's ultimately lucky that Great Britain won most of the battles, because "if the U.S. had conquered Canada, the U.K. would have lost interest in North America entirely. Their continued interest allowed the Americans to grow and develop, which ultimately secured the western world including Canada."

MacGregor reminded the audience that America's population at the time was eight million, versus Canada's 300,000. "But the British learned how to cooperate with the French-Canadians and the Aboriginal-Canadians," MacGregor said. "You may prefer to think of that as the axis of evil, David,"

Canada also got its share of heroes out of the war, such as Isaac Brock, Laura Secord, and Tecumseh, MacGregor added. "And Canada grew out of these myths."

Frum concluded the evening by reminding the audience that "The best way to win wars is by never fighting them. The best way to end them is making the enemy your friend."

Two hundred years of time passed suggests that maxim has been fulfilled.