Today, June 18, 1812: U.S. Declares War Against Great Britain

Are you familiar with the term ‘impressment’? It was a practice where boys and men were forced into the service aboard a ship without their consent. The practice goes back centuries as the Romans forced slaves to row their ships before and after the time of Christ. In medieval times, the practice continued of forcing captives, slaves and the poor to serve on ships of merchants, royalties and nations.

In 1803, the British began to impress American sailors into their service. The British would stop American ships, many of which were merchant ships, and force the Americans into their service on board British ships.

On July 23, 1805, a British court in Essex rules that American ships and traders sailing between neutral and enemy ports are fair targets for being seized. This allows for more Americans to be captured and impressed into British duty.

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On January 25, 1806, then Secretary of State James Madison delivered a report to then President Thomas Jefferson and Congress on the British impressment of Americans into British service.

In August 1806, Madison and Envoy William Pinkney fail in their attempt to resolve the issue of British interference with American shipping and the impressment of American sailors.

On June 22, 1807, the British ship HMS Leopard fires upon the American ship USS Chesapeake and then boards the American ship at Norfolk, Virginia, resulting in an international incident between the two countries.

On December 22, 1807, President Jefferson takes action against Great Britain by signing the Embargo Act against British goods being shipped to the US. However, the Embargo Act turned out to be more harmful to US merchants than British merchants and was repealed in late 1808.

On March 4, 1809, James Madison was inaugurated as the 4th President of the United States.

On May 16, 1811, USS President, an American frigate, fires upon the HMS Little Belt, a British sloop, believing it to be the HMS Guerriere which had just captured and impressed an American sailor from the USS Spitfire.

In November 1811, William Henry Harrison, then Governor of the Indiana Territory leads his local army against The Prophet, bother of American Indian Tecumseh in the Battle of Tippecanoe. Harrison handily defeated the Indians. Some consider this to be the first battle of the War of 1812 as the British backed The Prophet.

In November 1811, the War Congress convenes to begin their push for war with Great Britain.

On June 1, 1812, President Madison asks Congress for a declaration of war against Great Britain for their continued impressing Americans in British service. Since 1803, over 10,000 Americans have been captured and impressed into British service.

One June 4, 1912, the US House of Representatives pass Madison’s war bill and sends it on to the Senate.

On June 17, 1812, the US Senate followed the US House of Representatives in voting to approve a declaration of war against Great Britain.

On this day, June 18, 1812, President Madison signed the declaration of war against Great Britain, officially launching the War of 1812, however, Madison waited until the next day, June 19, 1812 before making his public announcement of the war with Great Britain.


Sources for the above includes: War of 1812 Timeline of Major Events; Causes and Events of the War of 1812: A Timeline; American History Timeline – War of 1812; War of 1812 Almanac; The War of 1812: Chronology of Major Events; Timeline: War of 1812; Impressment of American Sailors; War of 1812 Begins; The War of 1812: Stoking the Fires: The Impressment of Seaman Charles Davis by the U.S. Navy; “USS President vs HMS Little Belt”.

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