February 11, 2015

Acclamations of joy – Ratifying the Treaty of Ghent

When news of the Treaty of Ghent reached Great Britain, the population had mixed feelings. Parliament quickly ratified the treaty, which meant good news for manufactures and merchants who were now able to continue lucrative trade with the U.S. The British public thought that the terms of peace were too soft on the Americans but there was little desire to continue the war since taxes would need to remain high.

News of the treaty slowly made its way across the Atlantic and arrived in New York City on February 11, 1815. Two days later the treaty arrived in Washington where Madison sent it to the Senate with his endorsement. The Senate unanimously approved the treaty and the next day Madison signed the treaty officially ending the War of 1812 on February 17.

Reports of the treaty arrived in Upper Canada and northern New York in late February. In Kingston on February 25, Lieutenant John Le Couteur reported, “Several American officers came over from Sackets Harbour with the news. We received them very well, gave them a dinner, and made our Band play ‘Yankee Doodle’ on drinking the President’s heath, which gave them great pleasure.”
News of the Treaty of Ghent ratification

In Washington, President Madison portrayed the war as a success by praising the treaty as “an event which is highly honorable to the nation, and terminates, with peculiar felicity, a campaign signalized by the most brilliant successes.” Of course, the Federalists were quick to point out that the stated objectives of the war were not met and conveniently forgotten by Madison and the Republicans. News of the victory at New Orleans arrived in the north around the same time as the Treaty of Ghent. The great victory at New Orleans merged with the ratification of the treaty and henceforth shaped America’s memory of the war.

With the war officially over, the process of restoring peaceful relations began. Both sides started organizing prisoner transfers but the process proved difficult. Many British prisoners refused to continue their military service after receiving better treatment in the U.S. The commissary general for prisons, John Mason, instructed federal marshals that several guards would be necessary to ensure that prisoners did not cause an uprising aboard transport ships in order to run away with the vessel.

At Dartmoor, an American prisoner recalled the news of peace,

After a momentary stupor, acclamations of joy burst forth from every mouth. It flew like wild fire through the prison; and “Peace! Peace! Peace!” echoed throughout these dreary regions. … Some screamed. holloed, dances, sung, and capered, like so many Frenchmen.    

The British were faced with a logistical nightmare in having to find 24 ships to transport the nearly 6,000 American prisoners. Many ships were unavailable for charter because of the increased demand for ships to carry goods to the American market. After a riot by American prisoners and a harsh crackdown that left seven prisoners dead, the American consul decided to find vessels to transport the men home with the British agreeing to pay half the cost.

On February 17, join the Friend of Fort George and the Niagara 1812 Legacy Council for the 200th anniversary of the Treaty of Ghent Ratification. The event takes place at St. Mark’s Anglican Church at 2 p.m. followed by a procession to the Niagara-on-the-Lake Court House. Click here for more information. 

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