Study Guide

Henry Goulburn in Treaty of Ghent

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Henry Goulburn

JV Captain

Henry Goulburn was a British aristocrat who spent his days serving in Parliament and being the absentee owner of a plantation in Jamaica. Seriously, the guy never even visited the vacation destination where he actually owned property. No wonder he was so cranky in Ghent.

Goulburn was elected to Parliament in 1808, and in 1812 was appointed Undersecretary of War and Colonies—sort of a counterpoint to the U.S. State Department.

In 1814 Goulburn was one of three British ambassadors sent to Ghent. His boss from War and Colonies, Lord Castlereagh, didn't attend (source). The British had essentially sent in their JV squad, with their more senior officials focusing on negotiations in Vienna, which were putting a lid on the long and bloody Napoleonic Wars.

Goulburn held down the meetings while the real leaders of Britain told him what to do from afar.

Petering to a Peace

Initially, Goulburn's team went in planning to pressure the United States into a settlement favoring Britain. The most important item on his agenda was the creation of a Native American territory between the northwestern United States and Canada.

The idea wasn't entirely altruistic. Goulburn said of the proposal, "When the boundary is once defined it is immaterial whether Indians are upon it or not. Let it be a desert. But we shall know that you cannot come upon us to attack us without crossing it." Them's fightin' words.

So how did Goulburn and company end up coming away empty-handed?

While the war dragged on, his superiors in London came to recognize that subduing the American continent would require a level of military involvement that they weren't up for. The British were also running up major costs and heavily taxing the public. The War of 1812 was like a second home with a leaky basement and holes in the roof—too expensive to keep up.

Seeing all this, the Duke of Wellington, who'd soon go on to defeat Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, urged negotiators at Ghent to hurry up and reach a peace (source). So that's exactly what they did.

Taking commands from the upper echelons of British leadership—the Prime Minister, Castlereagh, and Wellington—Goulburn's team fumbled the process to a ceasefire. Instead of reaping the rewards of burning the enemy's capital, the British shrugged and settled for the quick and easy out.

Like the other Henry at Ghent (Clay), Goulburn's early political achievements propelled him to a long career. He spent the rest of his life in British government, serving in Parliament until 1856 (source).

Seriously, though, he should have retired to Jamaica.

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