It’s been a while since I brought up the War of 1812, but I came across and amazing book, English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the Nineteenth Century (1893), by Graham Everitt and felt moved to share an excerpt and cartoon:
In the course of the year 1812, England had become involved—scarcely 1812 1815. through any fault of her own—in a war with the United States of America. The causes of difference were mainly due to the obnoxious Orders in Council, which had been forced upon us in consequence of the Berlin and Milan Decrees of Napoleon. As an evidence, however, of our own friendly intentions, it may be mentioned that the Regent had issued a declaration on the 23rd of April, that if at any time the obnoxious decrees should by an authentic act be absolutely repealed, thenceforth the Orders in Council of 7th January, 1807, and 26th April, 1809, should be revoked […].
Of this repeal, be it observed, the United States Government took no notice, it might be in consequence of the very reasonable proviso annexed to the Regent’s concession, that unless the Government of the United States revoked their exclusion of British armed vessels from their harbours, while those of France were admitted, and their interdiction of British commerce, while that of France was allowed, the order was to be of no effect.
A very old English proverb tells us that “a stick is never wanting to beat a dog;” and where one nation wishes to fasten a quarrel on another, and the opportunity be favourable, there will be no difficulty in finding an excuse. There were other causes of discontent; in particular our claim to search not only for English goods, but for British seamen serving on board neutral vessels; and as the sovereignty of the seas depended on upholding these assumptions, our Government was as strenuous in enforcing them as the French emperor was bent on the maintenance of his continental system.
The Americans, however, were anxious for a war with this country, and in particular, the opportunity seemed eminently favourable for attempting the conquest of Canada. A motion in the House of Representatives, for the indefinite postponement of a bill for raising 25,000 additional troops, was rejected by a majority of 98 to 29. An outrageous bill, specially intended as an insult to England, was introduced into the same House about the end of April, “for the protection, recovery, and indemnification of American seamen” […]. Under the overpowering influence of these feelings, war was declared against England on the 18th of June, 1812; our own declaration was not issued until the 13th of October following.
“Our American cousins,” did not wait for this joinder of issue; they had invaded Canada early in July. On the 11th of that month, the American General Hull, with a body of 2,500 men—regulars and militia—crossed the river above Detroit with most disastrous consequences to himself. He was speedily forced to retreat, and on the 16th of August to surrender the important fort of Detroit itself, with his 2,500 men and thirty-three pieces of artillery. Although this disaster seriously disconcerted the American plans of invasion, the design was by no means abandoned. A considerable force was assembled in the neighbourhood of Niagara, and on the 13th of October, the American General Wadsworth, with some 1,400 men, made an attack on the British position of Queenstown, on the Niagara river. Wadsworth, with 900 men and many officers, was speedily compelled to surrender to British forces not exceeding the number of his own following.
[…] The invasion of Canada was still persevered in by the Americans, with varying successes and defeats; but the results of the campaign of 1813 were in the end disastrous to them; and by the 12th of December, both provinces of Canada were freed from the invaders, who retired to winter quarters within their own territory. Another determined attempt to penetrate into Canada was made by them. […]
The soldiers pressed into the city, and after burning a frigate and sloop of war, the President’s residence, the capitol—including the Senate House and House of Representatives, dockyard, arsenal, war office, treasury, and the great bridge over the Potomac, re-embarked on the 30th of August.
These events are referred to in a pictorial satire (published by Fores on the 4th of October, 1814), entitled, The Fall of Washington, or Maddy [i.e., President Madison] in full flight:
James Madison and one of his ministers, habited as Quakers Flight of President Madison. (a then popular mode of ridiculing the Americans), are seen in full flight, carrying under their arms bundles of compromising papers. By the “Bill of fare of the Cabinet Supper at President Madison’s, August 24th, 1814,” which has fallen at his feet, the flight would really seem to have been of the most hasty character. “I say, Jack,” says an English tar, pointing at the same time to the flying President, “what, is that the man of war that was to annihilate us, as Master Boney used to say?” “Aye, messmate,” answers his companion; “he is a famous fighter over a bottle of Shampain; why, he’d have played —— with us if we had let him sit down to supper.” Five Americans (all Quakers) meanwhile make their own observations on the situation: “Jonathan,” says one, “where thinkest thou our President will run to now?” “Why, verily,” answers Jonathan, “to Elba, to his bosom friend.” “The great Washington,” remarks a third, “fought for liberty; but we are fighting for shadows, which, if obtained, could do us no earthly good, but this is the blessed effects of it.” “I suppose,” observes a fourth, “this is what Maddis calls benefitting his country.” “Why,” answers his friend, “it will throw such a light on affairs, that we shall find it necessary to change both men and measures.” The popular notion of the day that there had been some understanding between “Boney” and the Yankees, was scarcely unnatural under the circumstances we have narrated. The President himself is made to say to his companion, “Who would have thought of this man, to oblige us to run from the best cabinet supper I ever ordered? I hope you have taken care of Boney’s promissory notes; the people won’t stand anything after this.” “D—n his notes,” answers the other; “what are they good for now? We should get nothing but iron; he hasn’t any of his stock of brass left, or some of that would have helped us through this business.”
[…] The Americans would never have dreamed of invading Canada had they not supposed that we were so hampered with our struggle with Bonaparte in 1812. It was perhaps well for America that we were not actuated by the same embittered feelings as themselves; that our generals were incompetent, and their plans both badly conceived and most inefficiently carried out.