The War of 1812: “Mr. Madison’s War”

Teacher Guide By Richard Cleggett

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The War of 1812 Lesson Plans

Student Activities for The War of 1812 Include:

The War of 1812, sometimes referred to as America’s “second war of independence” or “Mr. Madison’s War”, saw the young nation once again squaring off against the mighty Great Britain. While no boundaries changed, the war was critical for establishing America’s place in the world.

The War of 1812 Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Causes of the War of 1812

In this activity, students will create a timeline storyboard to outline and explain the major causes of the War of 1812. This will allow students to research and understand the major political and geographic causes, that led to the U.S. declaring war on Great Britain. By defining and exploring these causes, students will be able to explain and analyze what exactly caused the war, and why war was even considered by the young, developing United States. Furthermore, it will give deeper perspective what the state of affairs was in the early years of America.

Causes of the War of 1812


Britain Passes the Orders in Council

As war raged on between Napoleonic France and Great Britain, British authorities passed the Orders in Council. This required neutral countries (e.g. the U.S.) to gain permission and licensure to trade with France. This outraged American merchants, who relied heavily on foreign trade. This was even more particularly true in New England.


U.S. Applies Non-Intercourse Act

Upending the unpopular Embargo Act from Jefferson's presidency, the Non-Intercourse Act called for a specific prohibition of trade with Great Britain or France. However, it too was met with opposition and, in fact, hurt American trade. It was quickly replaced with another trade bill in May of 1810. The impressment of U.S. ships continued as well.


U.S. Initiates Trade Restrictions

In place of the Non-Intercourse Act, the U.S. initiated a trade bill that called for continued trade with whichever country would drop trade restrictions. It also called for resumed embargo against the opposing country. Ultimately, the U.S. continued trade with France, and restricted British trade. This created further tensions.


Battle of Tippecanoe

In the fall of 1811, Indiana Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison, a future U.S. president, led a successful attack against the native Shawnee tribe. The Shawnee saw this as an example of why Britain should support their cause in fighting America. It also served as precedent to believe Britain was arming and inciting attacks on American settlers.


Divisions Increase in the U.S.

As tensions rose, and attacks on American settlers in the West and Northwest Territory increased, politicians and citizens alike became divided over the idea of war. The "War Hawks" of the South and West pushed for war, as they were most affected. New England Federalists opposed war, as trade, critical to their economy, would be crippled.


Madison Declares War on Britain

As pressure increased from the War Hawks, President James Madison finally declared war on Britain on June 18th, 1812. However, Madison and those supporting war severely underestimated how out-manned, and out-gunned they would be against the British Empire. Almost immediately, they suffered a humiliating defeat at Detroit on August 16th, 1812.

Extended Activity

Have students research Jefferson’s foreign policy. Students should define what measures he took in dealing with other nations, especially concerning trade, the Louisiana Purchase, and his Embargo Act of 1807. This will allow students to draw deeper connections to what helped instigate the War of 1812.

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The Major Figures of the War of 1812

Using a traditional storyboard, have students create a Character Map depicting and describing the major figures of the War of 1812. Students will illustrate and explain who each figure was, their position, what actions they took throughout the war, and how the war contributed to their historical legacy. Teachers can pre-determine specific figures, or allow students to choose. Recommended figures include James Madison, Tecumseh, William Henry Harrison, Andrew Jackson, Isaac Brock, and Henry Clay. This will also give students a holistic perspective on each side of the war, including the U.S., Great Britain, and the Natives.

Notable Figures in the War of 1812

James Madison James Madison was the President of the United States Served as president, and declared war on Great Britain on June 18th, 1812. Was run out of the capital by British attacks
William Henry Harrison William Henry Harrison was the governor of the Indiana Territory at the time of the War. This was the forefront of fighting between American settlers and Native Americans. William Henry Harrison went on to secure victory at the onslaught of fighting at the Battle of Tippecanoe. He also secured his reputation as a strong leader.
John C. Calhoun John C. Calhoun acted as a newly elected Senator from South Carolina. A War Hawk, Calhoun argued for war with Britain as attacks on American settlers continued. John C. Calhoun played a significant role in helping pressure for war. His political career stretched to the eve of the Civil War.
Tecumseh Tecumseh was a leader of the Native American Shawnee tribe. He is noted for his bravery and valiant fighting against American forces. He died in the War of 1812. Tecumseh was renowned for his fighting capabilities and ability to rally fellow natives together in their fight against white expansionism into their lands.
Isaac Brock Sir Isaac Brock was a leader of British and Native forces fighting in the War of 1812. He was noted as a fierce fighter and to this day is remembered for saving Canada. Brock's most significant contribution to the War of 1812 was "saving" Canada, as he and his forces defeated the Americans at the Battle of Queenstown Heights in Upper Canada.
Andrew Jackson Andrew Jackson emerged as a heroic military general in the War of 1812. He, too, achieved the presidency, thanks in part to his military actions throughout the war. Jackson is famous for his leadership in the Battle of New Orleans, where he and American forces defeated a large-scale naval and land attack by the British. It significantly raised America's morale.

Extended Activity

Have students create a spider map on one specific figure. Use this as an extended, mastery activity so students can go further in depth as to who the figure was, their role, and why they are significant in relation to the War of 1812 and American history.

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Strengths and Weaknesses of the Armies: British vs. American Forces

Have students create a comparative grid on the strengths and weaknesses of both the British and American forces, evident in the War of 1812. Students will be able to explain and analyze what each army relied on, and what worked against them. This will allow students to understand how the war was fought, while also delving into what defined the young United States military and how they fared against Great Britain’s superior forces.

United States Forces British / Native Forces
Weaponry In terms of weaponry, the U.S. was greatly disadvantaged. Many Revolutionary War tactics and fighters were involved, exposing their lack of innovation and improvement. Furthermore, their armies were small, poorly armed, and disorganized. The British and Native forces had great advantage over the Americans in terms of weaponry. Despite fighting a war in Europe with France, Britain still had well established naval control, and excellent weaponry. Native forces were well led and had superior tactics and knowledge of the territory.
Motivation For the U.S., motivation provided an advantage, just as it did in the Revolutionary War. Many western settlers were defending their claims, as well as their livelihoods, from native attacks. Furthermore, many supported the idea of expansionism and their right to the lands they had won in the Revolution. Losses did, however, damage morale. For the British, motivation was avenging their losses in the Revolution. Also, they aimed to protect their holdings in Canada. Motivation was high for the Native forces as well, as they too aimed to protect their land claims that had been well established for centuries. This was strengthened by British support. Attacks on their peoples as well served as a motivating factor.
Advantages The Napoleonic Wars in Europe greatly reduced Britain's capabilities to fight in North America. Moreover, both Britain and America agreed the war was pointless, leading to a hurried peace agreement in the Treaty of Ghent. For the British, major advantages lie in the sheer strength of its forces. With naval superiority, and a regulated and trained infantry, Great Britain enjoyed overall military superiority. In addition, the British forces were aided by strong and motivated native warriors, who had allied with the British, considering their interests aligned.
Disadvantages Disadvantages for the Americans were numerous. For one, they were simply too young and immature of a country to fight a major war, especially with a strong opponent like Great Britain. Furthermore, their weaponry and organization was weak. Politically, the nation was divided, as the War Hawks supported the war from the beginning, while Federalists opposed it greatly. Although the British did enjoy many advantages in the war militarily, there were still disadvantages at play. For one, Britain was still in the midst of war with Napoleon in Europe, leaving only a handful of regulars, Canadian militia, and native allies to defend Canada. In addition, securing their continent was far more important than the Canadian border.

Extended Activity

Have students create a comparative grid for the American forces’ strengths and weaknesses in both the American Revolution and the War of 1812. This will help draw connections between both wars, and what America improved on, or did not improve on, in their developing military. Students could also compare other militaries of the time.

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The Treaty of Ghent: Ending the War of 1812

Students will use a spider map to map out the major components, effects, and stipulations of the Treaty of Ghent that was signed in 1814, to end the War of 1812. By analyzing the treaty, students will be able to explain and reiterate the effects of the war in total, as well as how the treaty affected relations and the balance of power between the U.S., Great Britain, and the Native population. The Treaty of Ghent had major implications for the future of Great Britain’s control over North America, and Native claims.

Example The Treaty of Ghent 5 Ws

WHO was Involved with the Treaty of Ghent?

Many major American figures were involved in negotiations at Ghent. John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay were just part of the group of intellectuals who participated. Britain provided representatives as well. Native representation, however, was ignored.

WHERE did the Treaty of Ghent Happen?

The Treaty of Ghent was discussed, revised, and signed in Ghent, Belgium. This was a neutral city for both countries. Negotiations almost occurred in Russia, but this was rejected in favor of Belgium.

WHEN did the Treaty of Ghent Happen?

Talks for peace began in January of 1814. Months of negotiations took place as each country held its position on its goals and aims for the treaty. It would not be until Christmas Eve, 1814, that a finalized treaty would be signed.

WHAT did the Treaty of Ghent Say?

The Treaty itself was eleven articles long, and ultimately, returned each country its status, possessions, and land just the way it had been before. Essentially, it said nothing was won nor lost, but ended hostilities between the nations.

WHY was the Treaty of Ghent signed?

The Treaty of Ghent was signed for several reasons. Obviously, it brought an end to the war, and this was imperative for both countries, as funds and support were low. Secondly, both sides wanted to resume trade and economic friendliness.

Extended Activity

Have students create a spider map on another major treaty or piece of legislation, and its implications, effects, and stipulations. Use the graph as a comparison to the Treaty of Ghent. Explain and analyze similarities and differences.

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Timeline: Major Events of the War of 1812

Have students create a timeline storyboard to outline and define the major events that occurred during the War of 1812. Teachers may pre-determine events they want their students to understand, or students can choose which events they’d like to analyze. Students will be able to construct and explain the series of events that defined the War of 1812. In addition, students should try to incorporate causes, battles, and primary sources into their timelines.

Major Events of the War of 1812

June 18, 1812

War is Declared

In June of 1812, President James Madison finally succumbed to political pressure and declared war on Great Britain. Despite support from the War Hawks, opponents of the war rioted in Baltimore in protest.

October 1, 1812

Battle of Detroit

American General William Hull surrendered to British-Canadian General Isaac Brock and the British captured the village of Detroit, without firing a single shot. Though outnumbered, they had threatened a crushing defeat, and Hull surrendered.

January 18, 1813

Battle of Frenchtown

Americans were defeated and repelled by the British and Native forces at Frenchtown. In addition, surviving American forces were murdered in what is now referred to as the Raisin River Massacre.

October 1, 1813

Tecumseh Killed

Americans found victory at the Battle of the Thames. To them, it was proof of being able to rebound against an advantaged opponent. In a major loss, Tecumseh, the de facto leader of Britain's native allies, was killed. Morale was crushed for native forces.

August 25, 1814

Washington Burns

With an invading force of over 4,000 regulars, the British took over and destroyed Washington D.C. The burning of the White House and other buildings was a crushing defeat both militarily and morally for the Americans. President Madison was forced to evacuate.

December 24 - January 8, 1815

Battle of New Orleans

At the Battle of New Orleans, U.S. General Andrew Jackson led a successful campaign. His forces defeated a formidable British naval and infantry force. Ironically, peace had been declared at Ghent only a week prior. Still, the victory boosted American morale.

Extended Activity

Have students create a post- or pre-War of 1812 timeline to better understand the events surrounding the war. Students may concentrate on what major events led to the war, or events that were triggered by the war. This will allow students to better understand both the causes and effects of the War of 1812.

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As a young nation, America in 1812 was still trying to find its footing in the world. Only 29 years after victory in the American Revolution, and a mere 23 years removed from the writing of the Constitution, the United States had yet to establish itself in the world. Despite defeating Britain, the greatest naval and military power of the time, problems continued between the two. As Americans expanded westward, settling their newly sought territory, Great Britain continued to hold military positions throughout the Great Lakes region and Upper Canada.

Relations between settlers and Native Americans was marred by violence, attacks, and conflict over land. Great Britain, too, was making bold attempts to control trade, and what little naval capabilities the United States had throughout the Atlantic. With mounting pressure from western farmers, and cries of abuse from the British, President James Madison declared war on June 12, 1812.

As it was in the Revolution, all odds were against the Americans. With a small army and navy, and no foreign aid, the War of 1812 would come as a serious test for the young nation not only to defend itself and its commerce, but also everything it had gained in the past quarter-century. In the end, the nation would prove itself, war heroes would emerge, and control over their newly acquired territory would be strengthened.

With the activities in this teacher guide, students will be able to explain and analyze the events that led to the outbreak of war between Great Britain and the U.S. In addition, they will be able to analyze and synthesize the effects of the war, and how it helped define early American history. By analyzing these events and the major figures, policies, and relations among Natives, Americans, and the British, students will gain a critical perspective into the small, but pivotal War of 1812.

Essential Questions for The War of 1812: “Mr. Madison’s War”

  1. What were the major causes of the War of 1812? What were the major effects?
  2. Why is the War of 1812 also referred to as “Mr. Madison’s War”?
  3. How did the War of 1812 shape James Madison’s presidency?
  4. How did the War of 1812 highlight relations between Great Britain and the young United States? Between the U.S. and Native populations?
  5. What strategies, technologies, and battles defined the War of 1812? How was life in general affected?
  6. How were politics and policies defined before and after the outbreak of War of 1812?
  7. What major figures, both military and political, emerge from the War of 1812?
  8. How did the War of 1812 eventually end? How did this affect future relations between the several groups involved (U.S., Britain, France, and the Native Americans)?

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