A number of contemporaries called the War of 1812 the Second War of Independence. Despite widespread opposition to the conflict, it confirmed the ability of a republican government to conduct a war without surrendering its institutions. Jackson’s victory at New Orleans not only made him a national hero but also became a celebrated example of the ability of virtuous citizens of a republic to defeat the forces of despotic Europe.
Moreover, the war completed the conquest of the area east of the Mississippi River, which had begun during the Revolution. Never again would the British or Indians pose a threat to American control of this vast region. The war also broke the remaining power of Indians in the Old Northwest and significantly reduced their holdings in the South, opening rich new lands to American settlers. In its aftermath, white settlers poured into Indiana, Michigan, Alabama, and Mississippi, bringing with them their distinctive forms of social organization. “I have no doubt,” Jackson wrote to his wife, “but in a few years the banks of the Alabama will present a beautiful view of elegant mansions and extensive rich and productive farms.” He did not mention that those mansions would be built and the farms worked by slaves.
Britain’s defeat of Napoleon inaugurated a long period of peace in Europe. With diplomatic affairs playing less and less of a role in American public life, Americans’ sense of separateness from the Old World grew ever stronger. The war also strengthened a growing sense of nationalism in Canada, based in part on separateness from the United States. As in 1775, Canadians did not rise up to welcome an invading army from the south, to the puzzlement of Americans who could not understand why they did not wish to become part of the empire of liberty.
The bombardment of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry in September 1814 was of minor military importance, but it is remembered as the inspiration for Francis Scott Key’s poem “The Star-Spangled Banner.”