Study Guide

Treaty of Ghent Quotes

By John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, J.A. Bayard, Jonathan Russell, Albert Gallatin, Henry Goulburn, William Adams, James Gambier

  • Equality

    His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America [are] desirous of terminating the war which has unhappily subsisted between the two Countries, and of restoring upon principles of perfect reciprocity, Peace, Friendship, and good Understanding between them. (Intro.1)

    The language in the first sentence of the Treaty sets a high benchmark for the peace. Not only is the treaty aiming to be fair; it aims for "perfect reciprocity," and friendship between the two countries that had spent the last couple of years shooting at each other.

    All territory, places, and possessions whatsoever taken by either party from the other during the war […] shall be restored without delay and without causing any destruction. (I.3)

    The end of this war was like resetting a chessboard. Instead of gaining land or cities, each side had to give them back. This aspect of the Treaty explains why many perceive the War of 1812 as a useless war. What concrete objectives did it accomplish? It's hard to point out anything based on the text of the treaty alone.

    In order therefore finally to decide upon these claims it is agreed that they shall be referred to two Commissioners. (IV.2)

    This part of the treaty refers to "claims," or disagreements, about the possession of certain islands off the east coast of the United States. Appointing commissioners to work things out was like cutting through a knot. Deliberating the possession of numerous islands during negotiations—or worse, turning things over to the legislatures—would have allowed the war to drag on.

    The said Commissioners shall by a declaration or report under their hands and seals decide to which of the two Contracting parties the several Islands aforesaid do respectively belong in conformity with the true intent of the said Treaty of Peace of one thousand seven hundred and eighty three. (IV.5)

    This quote shows Britain extending the hand of equality to the United States. Instead of trying to change the treaty of 1783, aka the Treat of Paris, aka the treaty that ended the Revolutionary War, the Brits shrugged their shoulders and let it stand as is. As opposed to, say, demanding New Jersey back.

    And His Britannic Majesty and the Government of the United States hereby agree to refer the report or reports of the said Commissioners to some friendly Sovereign or State to be then named for that purpose, and who shall be requested to decide on the differences which may be stated in the said report or reports. (IV.8)

    Here the two countries agree on a method of resolving disagreements between the Commissioners themselves: give the final call to another country. Agreeing to appoint an impartial judge or mediator is definitely a gesture in the direction of equality, kind of like hiring a divorce mediator. You hope it never gets that far, but if it does you can at least try to be fair.

  • Contrasting Regions: Britain and America

    […] His Britannic Majesty on His part has appointed the Right Honourable James Lord Gambier, late Admiral of the White now Admiral of the Red Squadron of His Majesty's Fleet; Henry Goulburn Esquire, a Member of the Imperial Parliament and Under Secretary of State; and William Adams Esquire, Doctor of Civil Laws: (2) And the President of the United States, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate thereof, has appointed John Quincy Adams, James A. Bayard, Henry Clay, Jonathan Russell, and Albert Gallatin, Citizens of the United States […]. (Intro.1)

    Notice the difference in the descriptions of the Plenipotentiaries? The British get their fancy titles while the Americans are just "citizens of the United States." Never mind that Henry Clay had just been the Speaker of the House and Adams had been a senator and Minister to Russia. When Congress was debating in 1789 how the first President was to be addressed, there were suggestions of "Excellency" and "Highness." Thomas Jefferson wrote to Madison that it was "the most superlatively ridiculous thing I ever heard of "(source). The respectful but less European "Mr. President" was chosen instead. "Citizens of the United States" seems to be in this spirit.

    Such of the Islands in the Bay of Passamaquoddy as are claimed by both parties shall remain in the possession of the party in whose occupation they may be at the time of the Exchange of the Ratifications of this Treaty until the decision respecting the title to the said Islands shall have been made in conformity with the fourth Article of this Treaty. (I.4)

    The Passamaquoddy Bay is right up against the modern Maine-Canadian border. Deciding who controlled what part of the bay would have an impact on the two countries' ability to trade at sea in the northern corner of the eastern seaboard. The final details weren't ironed out until the cleverly named Passamaquoddy Bay Treaty of 1910.

    It was stipulated by the second Article in the Treaty of Peace of one thousand seven hundred and eighty three […] that the boundary of the United States should comprehend "all Islands within twenty leagues of any part of the shores of the United States and lying between lines to be drawn due East from the points where the aforesaid boundaries between Nova Scotia on the one part and East Florida on the other shall respectively touch the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic Ocean. (IV.1)

    Much of the Treaty of Ghent deals with reinterpreting or clarifying the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War and decided on the original boundaries between the U.S. and Canada.

    One Commissioner shall be appointed by His Britannic Majesty and one by the President of the United States, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate thereof, and the said two Commissioners so appointed shall be sworn impartially to examine and decide upon the said claims according to such evidence as shall be laid before them. (IV.3)

    This was the mechanism the Treaty of Ghent invented to resolve all those pesky disagreements about islands in bays, lines between the Great Lakes, and river lands. It was kind of like giving two brothers a piece of tape and telling them to divide up their sides of the room. They both had to agree where to put the line.

    The said Commissioners shall have power to ascertain and determine the points above mentioned […] and shall cause the boundary aforesaid from the source of the River St Croix to the River Iroquois or Cataraquy to be surveyed and marked according to the said provisions. (V.3)

    Before they could debate land boundaries in the Great Lakes area, the Commissioners had to survey the land. They were allowed to hire surveyors, secretaries, and any other employees needed for the job.

    The said two last mentioned Commissioners […] shall be, and they are hereby, authorized upon their oaths impartially to fix and determine […] part of the boundary between the dominions of the two Powers, which extends from the water communication between Lake Huron and Lake Superior to the most North Western point of the Lake of the Woods;-to decide to which of the two Parties the several Islands lying in the Lakes, water communications, and Rivers forming the said boundary do respectively belong.

    A major battle in the War of 1812 was fought on Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes. Control of the lakes was considered important not only to the outcome of the war, but also to taking control of the upper-Midwest territories, then the American frontier. Take a look at any map of the U.S. and Canada and you'll notice that the border between the two countries cuts through the middle of the lakes. If you've ever wondered why, here's your answer.

  • Politics

    His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America desirous of terminating the war which has unhappily subsisted between the two Countries, and of restoring upon principles of perfect reciprocity, Peace, Friendship, and good Understanding between them, have for that purpose appointed their respective Plenipotentiaries. (Intro.1)

    Wait, I thought we just got done killing each other. Now we're perfect friends? Maybe these lines are more a formality than the real feelings the two countries had for each other. Still,the opening language of the Treaty sets up the rest of the text, which is all about cooperation and, most of all, "reciprocity."

    Immediately after the ratifications of this Treaty by both parties as hereinafter mentioned, orders shall be sent to the Armies, Squadrons, Officers, Subjects, and Citizens of the two Powers to cease from all hostilities. (II.1)

    It's significant that the Treaty refers to both countries as "Powers." It's a message that America is a real player on the international stage, not just a piece of meat slapped in the sandwich of trade wars between Napoleon and Britain.

    One Commissioner shall be appointed by His Britannic Majesty and one by the President of the United States, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate thereof, and the said two Commissioners so appointed shall be sworn impartially to examine and decide upon the said claims according to such evidence as shall be laid before them on the part of His Britannic Majesty and of the United States respectively. (IV.3)

    The willingness to give decision-making power to single representatives from each country shows a new willingness to cooperate on some of the issues that had contributed to the war. It shows trust, which had been sorely lacking on both sides for years.

    And His Britannic Majesty and the Government of the United States hereby agree to refer the report or reports of the said Commissioners to some friendly Sovereign or State to be then named for that purpose (IV.8)

    In the event of a failure to negotiate, the Treaty turns to international arbitration. Russia had already attempted to broker a peace between the U.S. and Britain prior to the Treaty of Ghent negotiations, and the two sides ultimately turned to the King of the Netherlands to rule on outstanding territorial disagreements (source).

    The United States of America engage to put an end immediately after the Ratification of the present Treaty to hostilities with all the Tribes or Nations of Indians with whom they may be at war at the time of such Ratification. (IX.1)

    One of Britain's tactics in the war was to pit Native Americans against the United States. The Brits would have preferred America's westward expansion to stop, seeing it as a threat to the Canadian provinces. Once the war was over, the American public was revved up at the opportunity to settle the frontier. In reality, hostilities with Tribes and Nations of Indians were just beginning. Historians see the Treaty as the last time the Indians were able to act politically on their own behalf.

  • Power

    No disposition made by this Treaty as to such possession of the Islands and territories claimed by both parties shall in any manner whatever be construed to affect the right of either. (I.5)

    This part of the treaty frames the negotiations as a matter of each country's "right," rather than focusing on who gained what during the war. It's a major concession of power by both parties.

    All Prisoners of war taken on either side as well by land as by sea shall be restored as soon as practicable after the Ratifications of this Treaty as hereinafter mentioned on their paying the debts which they may have contracted during their captivity. (2) The two Contracting Parties respectively engage to discharge in specie the advances which may have been made by the other for the sustenance and maintenance of such prisoners.

    Money is power in wartime and peacetime, and both sides were financially strapped by the conflict. The balance of power was even maintained in splitting the check fairly for the care and feeding of prisoners of war.

    One Commissioner shall be appointed by His Britannic Majesty and one by the President of the United States, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate thereof, and the said two Commissioners so appointed shall be sworn impartially to examine and decide upon the said claims. (IV.3)

    Using the Commissioners as their sole representatives in postwar matters, America and Britain agree on a total balance of power in the coming negotiations.

    The said Commissioners shall by a Report or declaration under their hands and seals, designate the boundary aforesaid, state their decision on the points thus referred to them, and particularize the Latitude and Longitude of the most North Western point of the Lake of the Woods, and of such other parts of the said boundary as they may deem proper. (VII.2)

    The "northwestern" (the modern upper-Midwest) part of U.S. territory was a major point of contention during the war, with battles taking place on and around the Great Lakes. Although neither side gained any territory, the designation of borders effectively gave the United States power to continue its settlement of the area without British interference.

    The United States of America engage to put an end immediately after the Ratification of the present Treaty to hostilities with all the Tribes or Nations of Indians with whom they may be at war at the time of such Ratification. (IX.1)

    When is a promise not a promise? If there was a party that lost power after the War of 1812, it was the Native Americans. Without the backing of Britain, and having suffered several major defeats at the hands of United States armies, Native Americans were weakened in their ability to resist American incursions onto their lands.