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The Treaty of Ghent: Summary & Significance

The Treaty of Ghent: Summary & Significance
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  • 0:00 Introduction and Overview
  • 0:34 Background: The War of 1812
  • 1:54 The Treaty of Ghent
  • 3:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we'll take a look at the Treaty of Ghent. We will learn what it was and why it is important. We'll put the Treaty of Ghent in historical context and understand its significance.

Introduction and Overview

The Treaty of Ghent was a peace treaty ending the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the United States. It was signed on Christmas Eve, 1814, in the city of Ghent, which is located in what is now Belgium. The Treaty of Ghent was ratified by the U.S. Congress in February of 1815. Both Great Britain and the U.S. considered the treaty an achievement and came away from it feeling relatively content. The treaty is important because it ended any hope Great Britain may have had of reclaiming territory lost during the Revolutionary War.

Background: The War of 1812

The War of 1812, which lasted from 1812 to 1815, is one of America's least understood wars. It must be understood in the larger context of Britain's war with France, which took place at this time. Basically, because Britain was at war with France, Britain did not want the U.S. trading with them or aiding them in any way. Britain passed laws to hinder American-French trade. Americans viewed this as essentially illegal.

Also, because Britain was in need of sailors to fight the French, it began a policy of impressment against American merchants and sailors. Impressment is basically kidnapping men and forcing them into military service. Many Americans were also concerned over what they saw as British support for Native American attacks. There were other reasons as well, such as territorial disputes over Canada, and American political maneuvering.

The War of 1812 was fought primarily at sea, along the Canadian-U.S. border and in the southern U.S. along the Gulf Coast. There was also some fighting in Mid-Atlantic region. Arguably, the most dramatic moment of the war occurred when British troops invaded Washington, D.C. and set fire to the White House. Also, Fort McHenry, off the coast of Baltimore, Maryland, was bombarded, prompting Francis Scott Key to write America's national anthem.

The Treaty of Ghent

Eventually, political events prompted Britain to seek negotiations directly with the United States. They began on August, 1814, in Ghent. John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay were among the prominent diplomats sent by the United States. For months, the two sides argued over the terms of the treaty. Finally, an agreement was reached, and the Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814. It ended all hostilities between the two countries and reset territorial boundaries.

Because news traveled slowly during this time, a few battles took place after the treaty had actually been signed. The most notable was the Battle of New Orleans, which was fought in January 1815. At this battle, General Andrew Jackson achieved fame as a war hero. His victory, followed by a peace treaty shortly afterward, led to the popular American misconception that the U.S. had won the war. The Treaty of Ghent was ratified by the U.S. Congress and accepted by President James Madison in February 1815.

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