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Part of the Treaty of Ghent's job was to clarify ambiguities in a prior treaty—that's right, these treaties were as confusing at the time as they are now.
The Treaty of Ghent makes a few references to the Treaty of Paris from 1783, which ended the Revolutionary War and established the original boundaries between the United States and Canada. In 1814, both sides saw a need to reconsider disputed territory within the context of the old treaty—hence the need for arbitration commissions established in Article Four.
Unlike Ghent, the Treaty of Paris had settled things in a way that decidedly favored the United States. Obvs—the British officially recognized that America was its own thing. The King lost thirteen colonies and got nothing back, although he got to keep Canada.
After the War of 1812, on the other hand, nobody got to keep anything. No wonder we don't celebrate December 24th as the day the Treaty of Ghent was ratified. That date on the calendar is a little cluttered, anyway.
The Jay Treaty was the equivalent of the United States yelling "uncle."
The U.S. had been angry with Britain since independence over some issues that never seemed to go away. Three in particular frosted their cookies: British goods flooding American markets while American exports were being tariffed to death; British impressment of American sailors; and Britain refusing to leave forts they'd agreed to give up way back in 1783 (source).
Treasury Sec Alexander Hamilton, played by Lin Manuel Miranda, convinced George Washington that despite all these problems, the goal should be to keep good relations with Britain, especially around trade matters. They sent John Jay to negotiate, but he didn't have much leverage, given Washington's commitment not to alienate Britain.
The 1794 treaty essentially gave Britain permission to bully the United States by seizing cargo on trade ships bound for France. In return, the British agreed to evacuate forts that they were supposed to have already given over after the Treaty of Paris (source).
The Jay Treaty was so one-sided in favor of the British that the American public hated it. It basically put a stamp on America's secondary status to Britain, but Washington believed it was necessary in order to avoid another war with the King (source).
The issue inherent in the Jay Treaty—the United States' trade rights—got kicked down the road until the Jefferson and Madison administrations, which reversed Washington's pro-British policies.
After surrendering in the Jay Treaty, America was about to demand a rematch.
Even though the text directly refers to them, no Native Americans were present when the Treaty of Ghent was negotiated. Arguing about the creation of a Native territory in between the United States and Canada, the Americans and the British were pretty much debating what to do with someone else's stuff.
The end of the War of 1812 ended up being a turning point in Native American history. Throughout the war, native tribes had mostly fought on the side of the British, with the goal of defending their homelands from American expansion. Although the treaty called for an end to wars with Native Americans, Britain's military withdrawal from the American frontier effectively opened the door for conquest. Eastern Native tribes would be driven west onto reservations or decimated.
The two sides treated the tribes more as chess pieces on the map than as a sovereign people. Britain didn't want the U.S. marching into Canada, but they weren't about to die on a hill for their native allies.
During the Ghent negotiations, British ambassador Henry Goulburn even remarked to a friend, ¨Till I came here I had no idea of the fixed determination which there is in the heart of every American to extirpate the Indians and appropriate their territory" (source).
Henry, you got that right.
From the British perspective, the Treaty of Ghent wasn't even the most important treaty signed in 1814.
That's because America's War of 1812 was a footnote in British military history. The main event starred Napoleon Bonaparte, the French general and emperor.
You might remember Napoleon as the guy who sold half of the United States to Thomas Jefferson in 1803 in the Louisiana Purchase. Britain was at war with Napoleon during the first decade of the 1800s, and this conflict was a direct cause of the 1812 sideshow in North America. Most of the British armed forces were tied up fighting Napoleon, and that was all that gave the U.S. a fighting chance in 1812.
An allied coalition of the British, Russians, Austrians, and Prussians finally defeated Napoleon in Paris in 1814, and signed what became known as the Treaty of Paris, or the First Peace of Paris. This treaty restored the French monarchy that had been overthrown during the French Revolution. Napoleon went into exile in Elba shortly before U.S.-British negotiations began at Ghent, giving rise to the awesome palindrome: "Able was I ere I saw Elba."
The prolonged struggle of the Napoleonic conflicts contributed to war fatigue in Britain, which is one reason the British ambassadors dropped their hardline demands in Ghent in favor of wrapping up the War of 1812 quickly. Even though the Americans had nothing to do with the Peace of Paris, it affected them as much as their own war.
Like the Treaty of Ghent, the Peace of Paris had territorial give-backs and commitments to end the slave trade (but not slavery) in France. Unlike Ghent, it included changes in government—the restoration of the French monarchy. Nobody in Ghent was messing with the other guy's chain of command.
The King's men had good timing: Napoleon briefly rose to power again in 1815, reopening the European conflict. He met his final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in June of 1815. He was exiled again, this time to the island of St. Helena, off the African coast.
Historians are still trying to come up with a palindrome for that.