James Madison spent the first three years of his presidency trying to avoid war through peaceful negotiations But they failed. It seems that Great Britain simply did not respect the United States as a sovereign nation. Historians mostly agree that there are four basic causes that forced the United States into its first war since winning independence:


1. Britain's seizure of American ships and the impressment of American Sailors: Britain had continued to "hassle" American shipping during the Napoleonic Wars. The British Navy would attack ships they felt were trading with France and confiscate our cargo. Impressment - that was when sailors on American ships would essentially be taken and forced into the British Navy. The Brits claimed that these men used to be in the navy, but had run away to join American ships for better pay and a less dangerous life. However, not all of these kidnapped sailors were British - many were Americans!

2. The British still occupied forts in the west. Despite the agreement of the controversial Jay's Treaty, the British were still manning forts on American soil! People in the west especially, resented their presence and demanded that they be moved. Lots of Americans were still a little resentful going back to the Revolution which was only 35 years earlier.

British Soldiers

3. The British were inciting the Indians! Really - the Brits were giving the Native Americans in Canada and the West weapons and telling them to attack Americans who had settled in the western lands!

Inciting the Indians

War Hawks 1812

4. Some Americans had ambitions to take more territory. The "War Hawks" - led by John C. Calhoun of South Carolina and Henry Clay of Kentucky - had their eyes on both Canada and Florida. If would could gain these territories, they believed we would remove European powers from American borders and open more land for the "liberty-loving-Americans".

Now, not everyone supported the notion of war... The New England states threatened to even secede from the union after we went to war (they even had meetings and wrote some plans for a new country). But, as things grew worse with Britain, James Madison felt forced to ask Congress to declare war on our mother country!