South Carolina - The War of 1812

Burning of the White House

In the early nineteenth century South Carolinians were quite aware of England's continued friendly relations with the Indians on the frontier. Outposts in Canada stocked guns and ammunition with which they supplied the various Indian nations. England's provocation of the young nation of the United States of America increased markedly between 1793 and 1812, when England and France were at war with each other. Both nations disregarded the rights of neutrals and stopped American ships on the high seas in search of their own nationals who might be evading military service.

In 1807, a British ship fired on an American ship, boarded it, and removed four sailors, three of who were American. Attempts to negotiate these differences with England failed, but in time France stopped this practice. The Embargo Act of 1807, stopping all but coastal trade harmed the United States more than it did England or France, and it was repealed two years later. Subsequently, a non-intercourse act prohibited trade with the offending nations, but it was generally ineffective. President James Madison finally recommended that preparations be made for war.

Failing in peaceful efforts and facing an economic depression, some Americans began to argue for a declaration of war to redeem the national honor. The Congress that was elected in 1810 and met in November of 1811 included a group known as the War Hawks who demanded war against Great Britain. These men were all Democratic-Republicans and mostly from the West and South. Among their leaders were John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, Henry Clay of Kentucky, and Felix Grundy of Tennessee. They argued that American honor could be saved and British policies changed by an invasion of Canada. The Federalist Party, representing New England shippers who foresaw the ruination of their trade, opposed war.

The War of 1812 had little effect on South Carolina except that people were divided in their support. Many said that the United States had withstood the insults of both England and France for years, and that no new incidences had occurred. Others agreed that the freedom of the seas should be defended. Some of the state's congressmen supported President James Madison, while others rejected his call for assistance. Recruiting teams found men eager to serve and the state contributed several important heroes to the war.

Although South Carolina assembled more than 5,000 soldiers for the national war effort, raised a half million dollars for self defense, and upgraded its coastal defenses significantly, there were no battles or skirmishes within the state. The British blockaded St. Helena Sound and raided plantations on the sea islands off the coast of Beaufort District, which were a primary source for the much-valued sea-island cotton. One source claims that the British invaded Hilton Head Island and burned most of the large plantation homes near navigable waters. The British, however, did not invade the South Carolina mainland as so many Charlestonians had feared.

Click Here for more information on those who served in Military Units and the U.S. Navy from South Carolina.

The War of 1812, which lasted more than three years, settled almost nothing. The British no longer stopped American ships on the high seas, but neither Canada nor Florida was taken by the United States as many people had expected. On the other hand, General Andrew Jackson's campaign in the South shattered England's standing among the Indians and opened large tracts of land in Georgia and Alabama to white settlement. This fact alone probably had the greatest subsequent impact on the state of South Carolina as a consequence of the War of 1812, because immediately thereafter the state saw mass emigrations to the newly-opened "free" lands in the south and west, and these were to continue for many decades thereafter.

At the conclusion of the War of 1812, the Federal government initiated a new round of tariffs, beginning with the Tariff of 1816, which increased the price of British goods so that American goods could compete with them. After the Revolutionary War, the Federal government operated financially primarily as a result of tariffs since at that time there was no income taxation. The Tariff of 1816 was officially enacted to protect American manufacturers, but once again it advanced the nation's position towards protectionism and hurt the South more than it helped the North. This new tarriff, along with other miscalculations of the early Federal government led to the Panic of 1819, which harmed the South even more and was another step in increasing the rift between Southern and Northern factions that began as soon as the nation was formed.

Click Here for a good summary of the War of 1812 provided by the U.S. Army historians.


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