An Olive Branch Snapped
Bay Weekly commemorates the War of 1812 bicentennial with a look at this week in history
By June 23 of 1812, the United States of America was at war with Great Britain. Though neither nation was aching for a fight, trade disputes, Britain’s support of Native American rebellion and the forceful conscription of Americans into the British Navy pushed the old and new nations to an impasse.
But this week 200 years ago, America flirted with the idea of suspending its six-day-old war. News reached our shores that Prime Minister Spencer Perceval had been assassinated May 11 on the steps of Parliament. Perceval had been steadfast in upholding restrictions on American trade, in spite of growing hostility. With a new administration, perhaps the Orders in Council restrictions could be lifted and both parties could walk away.
New Prime Minister Robert Jenkins, Lord Liverpool, tried to extend an olive branch. Britain’s June 23 repeal of trade restrictions would have allowed both parties to walk away from the conflict — if both parties had known about it.
But news traveled slowly.
It would take three more weeks for Madison to learn that America had won trading rights. By that time impressment — forcing American sailors to serve the British Navy — had become a hot-button issue in the press, eclipsing the Orders in Council victory. The olive branch was rejected, and both countries continued the march toward war.
This week’s source: George C. Daughan’s 1812: The Navy’s War.