CHAPTER I. BACKGROUNDS
This "right of search" controversy involved then, two basic points of opposition between the two governments. First America contested the British theory of "once a citizen always a citizen"; second, America denied any right whatever to a foreign naval vessel in time of peace to stop and search a vessel lawfully flying the American flag. The right of search in time of war, that is, a belligerent right of search, America never denied, but there was both then and later much public confusion in both countries as to the question at issue since, once at war, Great Britain frequently exercised a legal belligerent right of search and followed it up by the seizure of sailors alleged to be British subjects. Nor were British naval captains especially careful to make sure that no American-born sailors were included in their impressment seizures, and as the accounts spread of victim after victim, the American irritation steadily increased. True, France was also an offender, but as the weaker naval power her offence was lost sight of in view of the, literally, thousands of bona fide Americans seized by Great Britain. Here, then, was a third cause of irritation connected with impressment, though not a point of governmental dispute as to right, for Great Britain professed her earnest desire to restore promptly any American-born sailors whom her naval officers had seized through error. In fact many such sailors were soon liberated, but a large number either continued to serve on British ships or to languish in British prisons until the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
There were other, possibly greater, causes of the War of 1812, most of them arising out of the conflicting interests of the chief maritime neutral and the chief naval belligerent. The pacific presidential administration of Jefferson sought by trade restrictions, using embargo and non-intercourse acts, to bring pressure on both England and France, hoping to force a better treatment of neutrals. The United States, divided in sympathy between the belligerents, came near to disorder and disruption at home, over the question of foreign policy. But through all American factions there ran the feeling of growing animosity to Great Britain because of impressment. At last, war was declared by America in 1812 and though at the moment bitterly opposed by one section, New England, that war later came to be regarded as of great national value as one of the factors which welded the discordant states into a national unity. Naturally also, the war once ended, its commercial causes were quickly forgotten, whereas the individual, personal offence involved in impressment and right of search, with its insult to national pride, became a patriotic theme for politicians and for the press. To deny, in fact, a British "right of search" became a national point of honour, upon which no American statesman would have dared to yield to British overtures.
In American eyes the War of 1812 appears as a "second war of Independence" and also as of international importance in contesting an unjust use by Britain of her control of the seas. Also, it is to be remembered that no other war of importance was fought by America until the Mexican War of 1846, and militant patriotism was thus centred on the two wars fought against Great Britain. The contemporary British view was that of a nation involved in a life and death struggle with a great European enemy, irritated by what seemed captious claims, developed to war, by a minor power. To be sure there were a few obstinate Tories in Britain who saw in the war the opportunity of smashing at one blow Napoleon's dream of empire, and the American "democratic system." The London Times urged the government to "finish with Mr. Bonaparte and then deal with Mr. Madison and democracy," arguing that it should be England's object to subvert "the whole system of the Jeffersonian school." But this was not the purpose of the British Government, nor would such a purpose have been tolerated by the small but vigorous Whig minority in Parliament.
The peace of 1814, signed at Ghent, merely declared an end of the war, quietly ignoring all the alleged causes of the conflict. Impressment was not mentioned, but it was never again resorted to by Great Britain upon American ships. But the principle of right of search in time of peace, though for another object than impressment, was soon again asserted by Great Britain and for forty years was a cause of constant irritation and a source of danger in the relations of the two countries. Stirred by philanthropic emotion Great Britain entered upon a world crusade for the suppression of the African Slave Trade. All nations in principle repudiated that trade and Britain made treaties with various maritime powers giving mutual right of search to the naval vessels of each upon the others' merchant vessels. The African Slave Trade was in fact outlawed for the flags of all nations. But America, smarting under the memory of impressment injuries, and maintaining in any case the doctrine that in time of peace the national flag protected a vessel from interference or search by the naval vessels of any other power, refused to sign mutual right of search treaties and denied, absolutely, such a right for any cause whatever to Great Britain or to any other nation. Being refused a treaty, Britain merely renewed her assertion of the right and continued to exercise it.