The War of 1812 was a conflict between two very different naval powers, a pattern that is far more common in naval history than tends to be appreciated. Aside from a fundamental contrast in their strength—Britain had the world's leading navy while the United States lacked a battle fleet—the opposing sides used their navies for very different purposes. Because no large-scale naval clashes unfolded on the high seas, it is all too easy to underrate the crucial strategic dimensions of naval power and its importance for the character and development of the war.
The United States had maritime, rather than naval, strength. The American merchant marine had grown rapidly in size and importance after the Revolutionary War, and its range had greatly increased. However, there was no comparable expansion in American naval power because the new country did not seek command of the sea nor transoceanic commercial or political dominion. Indeed, the last American warship was sold in 1785.
1. John B. Hattendorf, "The American Navy in the World of Franklin and Jefferson, 1775-1826," War and Society, (1990); Spencer Tucker, The Jeffersonian Gunboat Navy (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1993); Gene A. Smith, "For the Purposes of Defense": The Politics of the Jeffersonian Gunboat Program (Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 1995).
2. Peter J. Kastor, "Toward 'the Maritime War Only': The Question of Naval Mobilization, 1811-1812," Journal of Military History, 61 (1997), pp. 455-80.
3. John C. A. Stagg, "James Madison and the Coercion of Great Britain: Canada, the West Indies, and the War of 1812," William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 38 (1981), pp. 32-4.
4. The Papers of Henry Clay, ed. James F. Hopkins, vol. 1, Rising Statesman, 1797-1814 (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1959), p. 751.
5. Barry J. Lohnes, "British Naval Problems at Halifax during the War of 1812," Mariner's Mirror, 59 (1973), pp. 317-33.
6. Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, vol. 24, p. 643.
7. William S. Dudley (ed.), The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History, vol. II (Washington, DC: Naval Historical Center, 1992), p. 183.
8. Ibid., p. 11.
9. David Syrett, "The Role of the Royal Navy in the Napoleonic Wars after Trafalgar, 1805-1814," Naval War College Review (1977), pp. 71-84.
10. William Laird Clowes, The Royal Navy: A History from the Earliest Times to the Present, Vol. V (London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co, 1900), p. 9.
11. Dudley, Naval War of 1812, Vol. II, p. 14.
12. Ibid., p. 78.
13. Joseph A. Goldenberg, "The Royal Navy's Blockade in New England Waters, 1812-1815," International History Review, 6 (1984), pp. 424-39.
14. Dudley, Naval War of 1812, Vol. II, p. 308.
15. Robert J. Allison, Stephen Decatur: American Naval Hero, 1779-1820 (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005).
16. Theodore Roosevelt, The Naval War of 1812 (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1882; Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1987), pp. 358-64.
17. H. F. Pullen, The Shannon and the Chesapeake (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1970).
18. Ira Dye, The Fatal Cruise of the "Argus": Two Captains in the War of 1812 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2001).
19. John M. Sherwig, Guineas and Gunpowder: British Foreign Aid in the Wars with France, 1793-1815 (Cambridge, MA: Havard University Press, 1969); Gordon K. Harrington, "The American Naval Challenge to the English East India Company during the War of 1812," in Jack Sweetman (ed.), New Interpretations in Naval History (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1993), pp. 129-52.
20. N.A.M. Rodger, The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649-1815 (London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004), pp. 569-70.
21. Jan Glete, Navies and Nations: Warships, Navies and State Building in Europe and America, 1500-1860 (Stockholm, 1993), p. 395.
22. Faye Margaret Kert, Prize and Prejudice: Privateering and Naval Prize in Atlantic Canada in the War of 1812 (St Johns, Newfoundland: International Maritime Economic History Association, 1997); Antohoy Gutridge, "George Redmond Hulbert: Prize Agent at Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1812-14," Mariner's Mirror, 87 (2001), pp. 30-42.
23. Faye Margaret Kert, "The Fortunes of War: Commercial Warfare and Maritime Risk in the War of 1812," Northern Mariner, 8 (Oct. 1998), pp. 1-16.
24. The Papers of James Madison, Presidential Series, eds. J.C.A. Stagg, Martha J. King, Ellen J. Barber, etc., vol. 5, 10 July 1812 - 7 February 1813 (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2004339-41.
25. Donald Hickey, "New England's Defense Problem and the Genesis of the Hartford Convention," New England Quarterly, 50 (1977), pp. 587-604.
26. C. J. Bartlett, "Gentlemen versus Democrats: Cultural Prejudice and Military Strategy in Britain in the War of 1812," War in History, 1 (1994), pp. 140-59.
27. Dudley, The Naval War of 1812, Vol. II, pp. 364-65.
28. James Tertius de Kay, The Battle of Stonington: Torpedoes, Submarines, and Rockets in the War of 1812 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990).
29. Theodore J. Crackel, "The Battle of Queenston Heights, 13 October 1812," in Charles E. Heller and William A. Stofft (eds), America's First Battles, 1776-1965 (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1986), p. 33.
30. Roger Morriss, Cockburn and the British Navy in Transition: Admiral Sir George Cockburn, 1772-1853 (Exeter, England: University of Exeter Press, 1997), pp. 83-120.
31. Trewman's Exeter Flying-Post, 2 March 1815.
2. Barry M. Gough, Fighting Sail on Lake Huron and Georgian Bay: The War of 1812 and Its Aftermath (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2002).
3. Robert Malcolmson, "HMS St. Lawrence: The Freshwater First-Rate," Mariner's Mirror, 83 (1997), pp. 419-33.
4. Wellington to Liverpool, 9 Nov. 1814, 2nd Duke of Wellington (eds.), Supplementary Despatches . . . of . . . Wellington, vol. 9 (London, 1862), p. 425.
5. Wellington to Sir George Murray, 22 Dec. 1814, Gurwood (ed.), Dispatches of . . . Wellington, XII (London, 1838), p. 224.
6. Alfred Thayer Mahan, Sea Power in Its Relations to the War of 1812 (Boston, MA: 1918), vol. 1, p. v.