DECEMBER 29, 1814
200 years ago today in Washington County Indiana, Territory, its residents were unaware that the Treaty of Ghent had been signed on December 24, 1814 thereby establishing the terms for the ending of the War of 1812. As the treaty was signed in the Netherlands (now Belgium), the transmittal of the dispatches and the treaty itself traveled for weeks by sailing ship across the Atlantic to reach Washington, D. C. The British Parliament ratified it on December 30, 1814 as the document only had to cross the English Channel and take a coach ride to reach Westminster. The US Senate ratified it on February 18, 1815 just a few days after the news and text of the treaty was received by President James Madison.
The end of the War of 1812 was a mixed blessing for Washington County, Indiana Territory.
The embargos that led up to the War of 1812 had a devastating effect on commerce and agriculture in the states along the Atlantic Coast as there were no longer export markets to keep commodity prices up. The war itself was bankrupting the young American nation. Many farmers and small merchants left Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina and came to the Indiana Territory for cheap land and a new start in life. The farmers in the Indiana Territory had a good market for any surplus livestock and crops they could grow as demand to feed the U. S. military and State and Territorial militias made for good prices on the frontier. Once the threat of Native American resistance to settlement was abated, the War of 1812 was a boon to the settlement of Washington County and the Indiana Territory. John DePauw and his land speculating contacts in Kentucky were concerned whether the pace of settlement in Salem and Washington County would continue once the war was over. On the other hand, peace would hasten the process of the US Congress enacting legislation to make Indiana a state.
President Madison and his cabinet had determined in mid-1814 that the war was at a stalemate and should be settled. This decision was immediately reinforced when British forces invaded the American capitol and burned the Capitol Building and the White House on August 24, 1814. Madison appointed a five member delegation to travel to Ghent, Netherlands to negotiate the end of the war. These negotiations commenced in August of 1814 and took over four months. These American negotiators were: 1.) Henry Clay of Fayette County, Kentucky who was the Speaker of the House; 2.) John Quincy Adams of Suffolk County, Massachusetts was serving as the Ambassador to Russia; 3.) Albert Gallatin of Fayette County, Pennsylvania who was the Secretary of the Treasury; 4.) James A. Bayard of New Castle County, Delaware had been a Senator; and 5.) Jonathan Russell who was serving as Minister to Norway and Sweden.
The American goal in the Ghent negotiations was to restore the United States borders to their 1812 configuration (status quo ante bellum). The British goal was to delineate the North American borders as won and occupied during the conflict (uti possedetis). As the Americans had not been able to successfully invade and occupy Canada during the war, the British proposed the creation of a buffer state out of Northwest Territory from Ohio to Wisconsin that was to remain managed territory for the Indians. This would include most of the central and northern portions of the Indiana Territory. If that had been agreed, the “dead line” which formed the northern border of Washington County, Indiana Territory would have remained the dividing line between the county under settlement and land reserved for Native Americans. The British also sought the demilitarization of the Great Lakes and navigation rights on Mississippi River. American victories on Lake Champlain and at Baltimore Harbor caused the British to moderate their demands. As a result the Americans achieved their goal and the American/British North American borders were restored to their 1812 locations.
The Treaty of Ghent included in its Ninth Article an agreement to restore the rights to all Indian tribes to their 1811 status contingent upon the ending of hostilities by all tribes against both the Americans and the British in Canada. This would have abrogated the 1814 Treaty of Greenville and left much of the Indiana Territory in control of the Delaware, Miami, Potawatomie, Shawnee and affiliated tribes. However, Native Americans were not directly represented at Ghent and both sides knew that this provision was unenforceable. The Americans ignored this provision and “purchased” settlement rights for much of the central part of the new state of Indiana through the Treaty of St. Mary’s signed on October 6, 1818.
The American and British armed forces fighting in the War of 1812 did not learn for months that the end of the war had been negotiated an ocean away so there was no truce while the Treaty was being transmitted for ratification. Several battles were fought after December 24, 1814 including the Battle of New Orleans, Cumberland Island, Fort St. Philip, and Fort Bowyer. Andrew Jackson’s decisive victory over the British at New Orleans on January 8, 1815 ostensibly maintained American control over the Mississippi River and made the future acquisition of West Florida possible. However, the battle that made Andrew Jackson a war hero and facilitated his future presidential campaign had no actual effect in ending the war. In fact, many British did not know of the Battle of New Orleans until 1959 when the Johnny Horton recording of “The Battle of New Orleans” became an international hit.
JOHN QUINCY ADAMS
SIGNING OF TREATY OF GHENT
SMITHSONIAN AMERICAN ART MUSEUM
GEHNT, NETHERLANDS IN 1814