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An Abridged History of Canada
Chapter XIX.—Outbreak of the War of 1812-15


Inauguration of the New Constitution in Lower Canada—1792. Sir James Craig's Stormy Administration—1808-11. Causes of the War of 1812-15 —The "Berlin Decree" and "Orders in Council "—180fi. The "Right of Search"—War Declared, June 18, 1812-Repub-lican Anti-War Protest—Position of Combatants—Canadian Loyalty-Hull's Invasion and Repulse—He Surrenders to Brock, Aug. 15,1812—Battle of Queenston Heights—Deatii of Brock, Oct. 13, 1812—Dearborn's Invasion—Repulsed at Lacolle, Nov. 20,1812.

In the more populous province of Lower Canada, the inauguration of the new colonial Constitution gave rise to struggles between the irresponsible Executive and the elective Assembly, which felt itself the safeguard of popular liberty. The new legislature met in 1792, in the even then venerable city of Quebec. It was composed of a nominated Council of fifteen, and a Lower House of fifty members, elected for four years. Fifteen of the latter were of British and the remainder of French origin. The debates, therefore, were conducted, as they have been ever since in all legislatures in which Lower Canada was represented, in both English and French, and the official documents were published in both languages. A jealousy of race was fomented by the invectives of the rival newspapers of the French and English press.

In 1797, Lord Dorchester, after twenty years of paternal oversight of Canada, was succeeded as Governor-General by Major-General Prescott.

In 1808, Sir James Craig, a veteran military officer, was appointed Governor-General, in anticipation of war with the United States. Greatly broken in health, he was succeeded in office by Sir George !Prevost, Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia, 1811.

Nova Scotia and New Brunswick both experienced the irrepressible conflict between the Council and the Assembly —between the prerogatives of the crown and the growth of popular liberty. During the French and Revolutionary wars, Halifax had been a great naval and military rendezvous, and society assumed a highly aristocratic and conservative tone. The Duke of Kent, father of Queen Victoria, during the latter years of the century (1794-1799) Commander-in-Chief of the royal forces, dispensed a generous hospitality, and fostered the loyal enthusiasm of the people. Much English money was spent in the colony, and its commercial progress was rapid. Governor Parr and his successor, Sir John Wentworth, jealously guarded what they considered the prerogatives of the crown against what they regarded as the" democratic encroachments of the people.

In New Brunswick for twenty years (1782-1802) Colonel Carleton, brother of Lord Dorchester, administered the affairs of the province with great tact and ability, but not without occasional collisions with the Assembly, which seemed to be the inevitable fate of colonial Governors in those days. The lumber trade of New Brunswick was greatly fostered by the demands of the royal fleets and by a heavy duty imposed on Baltic timber. The stately masts of her forests bore the pennon of Great Britain in many a stern sea-fight.

We proceed now to trace the causes which led to the Anglo-American war of 1812-15.

For some time previous to the open rupture of 1812, public feeling in the United States had become increasingly hostile to Great Britain. The "Berlin Decree" of Napoleon, issued November 1st, 1806, declared a blockade of the entire British coast, and let loose French privateers against her shipping, and that of neutral nations trading with her. 1807 Britain retaliated by the celebrated "Orders in Council," which declared all traffic with France contraband, and the vessels prosecuting it, with their cargoes, liable to seizure. These restrictions pressed heavily on neutrals, especially on the United States, which now engrossed much of the carrying trade of the world. The Democratic majority in the Union, therefore, bitterly resented the British "Orders," although complacently overlooking the "Berlin Decree" by which they were provoked, and which was equally hostile to American commerce. President Jefferson now laid an embargo on all shipping, domestic or foreign, in the harbours of the United States, for which Congress, the following year, substituted a Non-Intercourse Act, prohibiting all commerce with either belligerents till the obnoxious "Decree" or "Orders" were repealed. Severe injury was thus inflicted on both Great Britain and America, which tended to their mutual exasperation.

The War of 1812 Canadian View

Another cause conspired to fan the war feeling to a flame. Great Britain, pressed by the difficulty of manning her immense fleets, asserted the "right of search" of American vessels for deserters from her navy. The United States frigate Chesapeake resisted this right, sanctioned by international law, but was compelled by a broadside from H. M. ship Leopard (June, 1807) to submit and to deliver up four deserters found among her crew. The British Government disavowed the violence of this act and offered reparation. But the Democratic party was clamorous for war, and eager to seduce from their allegiance and annex to the United 'States the provinces of British North America. The world was to witness the spectacle of the young Republic of the West leagued with the arch-despot Napoleon against almost the sole champion of constitutional liberty in Europe.

War was precipitately declared June 18th, 1812, in the hope of intercepting the West India fleet, and of overrunning Canada before it could be aided by Great Britain. Almost simultaneously the obnoxious " Orders in Council," the chief ostensible cause of the war, were repealed, but the news produced no change in American policy.

The Republican party of the United States, however, which was predominant in its northern section, and comprised the more moderate and intelligent part of the nation, was strenuously opposed to the action of Congress. A convention was held at Albany, protesting against the war and against an alliance with Napoleon, "every action of whose life demonstrated a thirst for universal empire and for-the extinction of human freedom." At Boston, on the declaration of hostilities, the flags of the shipping were placed at half-mast as a sign of mourning, and a public meeting denounced the war as ruinous and unjust.

The position of the parties to this contest was very unequal. Great Britain was exhausted by a war by sea and lahd of nearly twenty years' duration. Canada was unprepared for the conflict. She had only some six thousand troops to defend a thousand miles of frontier. Her entire population was under three hundred thousand, while that of the United States was eight millions, or in the proportion of twenty-seven to one. The Americans relied on the reported disaffection of the provinces with British rule. In this they were egregiously mistaken. Forgetting their political differences, the Canadians rallied with spontaneous loyalty to the support of the Government. Even the American immigrants, with scarce an exception, proved faithful to their adopted country.

On the declaration of war, Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, a gallant officer and judicious civil ruler, who, in the absence of Mr. Gore, administered the government of Upper Canada, resolved to strike .the first blow. He ordered an attack on Fort Mackinaw, which commanded the entrance to Lake Michigan. It was surprised and taken without the loss of a man (July 17th).

The American plan of attack was to invade Canada with three armies, on the Detroit and Niagara frontiers and by way of Lake Champlain. General Hull crossed the Detroit River at Sandwich with twenty-five hundred men. He summoned the Canadians to surrender, offering them the alternatives of "peace, liberty, and security," or "war, slavery, and destruction." They spurned his offers and defied his threats. General Brock hastened, from York, by way of Niagara and Lake Erie, with all the forces he could collect. Hull recrossed the river, and took refuge behind the earthworks of Detroit. Brock followed him with seven hundred regulars and militia, and six hundred Indians. Without waiting an attack, Hull surrendered with all his forces and vast military stores, and ceded to the British the entire territory of Michigan (August 15th). Hull was afterwards tried by a United States court-martial for treason and" cowardice, and sentenced to death, but was reprieved on account of his services during the Revolutionary War.

On the Niagara frontier, the American General, Van Ranselaer, collected an army of six thousand for the invasion of Canada. To protect the boundary of thirty-four miles, Brock had only fifteen hundred men. A bold escarpment of rock, an old lake margin, runs across the country from west to east. Through this the Niagara River, in the course of ages, has worn a deep and gloomy gorge. At the foot of the cliff nestled on the west side the hamlet of Queenstown, and on the east the American village of Lewis-ton. Here, early on the cold and stormy morning of October the 13th, Van Ranselaer crossed with twelve hundred men. The British held the table-land at the top of the escarpment; but a part of the invading army having climbed the precipitous river bank by a path thought to be impassable, they were outflanked and driven down the hill.

General Brock, hearing the cannonade at Niagara, seven miles distant, galloped off in the gray of the morning, to ascertain if it were a feint or an attack in force. Having dismounted, he rallied the Britisty troops, and charged up the hill under a heavy fire. His conspicuous figure attracted the aim of the enemy, and, while cheering on the York volunteers, he fell, shot through the breast. "Push on! Don't mind me!" he exclaimed; and with his ebbing life sending a love message to his sister in the far-off isle of Guernsey, the brave soul passed away. His aide-de-camp, Colonel Macdonell, the Attorney-General of Upper Canada, a promising young man of twenty-five, was mortally wounded soon after his chief, and died next day.

Major-General Sheaffe, an officer of American birth, now succeeded Brock in command. By a flank movement he gained the height, and, after a sharp action, completely routed the enemy. Pursued by yelling Indians, they fled: some, clambering down the rugged slope, were impaled on the jagged pines; others, attempting to swim the rapid river, were drowned. Nine hundred and fifty men surrendered to Sheaffe—a force greater than his own.

The victory of Queenston Heights, glorious as it was, was dearly bought with the death of Canada's darling hero, the loved and honoured Brock, and of the brave young Macdonell, his aide-de-camp. A grateful country has erected on the scene of the victory—one of the grandest sites on earth—a noble monument to Brock's memory; and beneath it, side by side, sleeps the dust of the heroic chief and his faithful aide-de-camp—united in their death, and not severed in their burial.

A month's armistice was granted, during which the Americans collected on the Niagara frontier an "army of the centre," five thousand strong, to oppose which General Sheaffe had only seven hundred men. General Smythe, a gasconading braggart, who had succeeded Van Ranselaer in command, kept in check by a force one-sixth of his own, was regarded even by his own troops with contempt, and was obliged to fly from the camp to escape their indignation.

In the meanwhile, General Dearborn, with an army of ten thousand men, advanced by way of Lake Champlain to the frontier. The Canadians rallied en masse to repel the invasion, barricaded the roads with felled trees, and guarded every pass. On the 20th of November, an attack was made by fourteen hundred of the enemy on the British outpost at Lacolle, near Rouse's Point; but the guard, keeping up a sharp fire, withdrew, and the Americans, in the darkness and confusion, fired into each other's ranks, and fell back in disastrous and headlong retreat. The discomfited General retired with his "Grand Army of the North " into safe winter quarters behind the entrenchments of Plattsburg.

In their naval engagements the Americans were more successful. On Lake Ontario, Commodore Chauncey equipped a strong fleet, which drove the Canadian shipping for protection under the guns of Niagara, York, and Kingston. He generously restored the private plate of Sir Isaac Brock, captured in one of his prizes. At sea, the American frigates Constitution and United States shattered and captured the British ships Guerriere, Macedonian, and Java.

In the United States Congress this unnatural strife of kindred races was vigorously denounced by some of the truest American patriots. Mr. Quincy, of Massachusetts, characterized it as the "most disgraceful in history since the invasion of the "buccaneers." But the Democratic majority persisted in their stern policy of implacable war.


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