Home Affairs - War with America

Some changes had in the meantime taken place in the British administration. On the 11th of May, 1812, the premier, Mr. Perceval, was shot in the lobby of the House of Commons, by a man named Bellingham, whom some private losses had rendered insane. Lords Liverpool and Castlereagh then became the ministerial leaders in the two Houses of Parliament, but were quickly voted down by a majority of four, upon a motion made by Mr. Stuart Wortley, afterwards Lord Wharncliffe. The ministry was finally rendered satisfactory to Parliament by the admission of Earl Harrowby as president of the council, Mr. Vansittart as chancellor of the exchequer, and Lord Sidmouth (formerly premier while Mr. Addington) as secretary for the home department Lord Liverpool continuing as premier, and Lord Castlereagh as foreign and war secretary.

Notwithstanding the successes which were at this period brightening the prospects of Britain, the regent and his ministers did not enjoy much popularity. The regent himself did not possess those domestic virtues which are esteemed by the British people, and he had excited much disapprobation by the steps which he took for fixing a criminal charge upon his consort. The general discontents were increased by the effects of the orders in council, for prohibiting the commerce of neutral states. Vast multitudes of working people were thrown idle by the stagnation of manufactures, and manifested their feelings in commotion and riot. The middle classes expressed their dissatisfaction by clamors for parliamentary reform.

At this unhappy crisis, provoked by the orders in council, as well as by a right assumed by British war-vessels to search for and impress English sailors on board the commercial shipping of the United States, that country (June 1812) declared war against Britain. Before the news had reached London, the orders had been revoked by the influence of Lord Liverpool but the Americans, nevertheless, were too much incensed to ret race their steps. During the summer and autumn, several encounters took place between single American and British ships, in which the former were successful. It was not till June 1, 1813, when the Shannon and Chesapeake met on equal terms, that the British experienced any naval triumph in this war with a kindred people. On land, the Americans endeavored to annoy the British by assaults upon Canada, but met with no decisive success. The British landed several expeditions on the coast of the States and were successful at Washington, Alexandria, and at one or two other points, but experienced a bloody and disastrous repulse at New Or leans. The war ended, December 1814, without settling any of the principles for which the Americans had taken up arms. But while thus simply useless to America, it was seriously calamitous to Britain. The commerce with the States, which amounted in 1807, to twelve millions, was interrupted and nearly ruined by the orders in council, and the hostilities which they occasioned: henceforth America endeavored to render herself commercially independent of Britain, by the encouragement of native manufactures - a policy not immediately advantageous perhaps to herself, and decidedly injurious to Great Britain. The fatal effects of the Berlin and Milan decrees to Napoleon, and of the orders in council to the interests of Britain, show how extremely dangerous it is for any government to interfere violently with the large commercial systems upon which the immediate interests of their subjects depend.