Henry Clay, one of the most warlike of the Democrats, said: ’It is absurd to suppose that we will not succeed in our enterprise against the enemy’s Provinces. I am not for stopping at Quebec or anywhere else; but I would take the whole continent from them, and ask them no favours. I wish never to see peace till we do. God has given us the power and the means. We are to blame if we do not use them.’ Eustis, the American Secretary of War, said: ’We can take Canada without soldiers. We have only to send officers into the Provinces, and the people, disaffected towards their own Government, will rally round our standard.’ And Jefferson summed it all up by prophesying that ’the acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighbourhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching.’ When the leaders talked like this, it was no wonder their followers thought that the long-cherished dream of a conquered Canada was at last about to come true.
An armed mob must be very big indeed before it has the slightest chance against a small but disciplined army.
So very obvious a statement might well be taken for granted in the history of any ordinary war. But ‘1812’ was not an ordinary war. It was a sprawling and sporadic war; and it was waged over a vast territory by widely scattered and singularly heterogeneous forces on both sides. For this reason it is extremely difficult to view and understand as one connected whole. Partisan misrepresentation has never had a better chance. Americans have dwelt with justifiable pride on the frigate duels out at sea and the two flotilla battles on the Lakes. But they have usually forgotten that, though they won the naval battles, the British won the purely naval war. The mother-country British, on the other hand, have made too much of their one important victory at sea, have passed too lightly over the lessons of the other duels there, and have forgotten how long it took to sweep the Stars and Stripes away from the Atlantic. Canadians have, of course, devoted most attention to the British victories won in the frontier campaigns on land, which the other British have heeded too little and Americans have been only too anxious to forget. Finally, neither the Canadians, nor the mother-country British, nor yet the Americans, have often tried to take a comprehensive view of all the operations by land and sea together.
The character and numbers of the opposing forces have been even less considered and even more misunderstood. Militia victories have been freely claimed by both sides, in defiance of the fact that the regulars were the really decisive factor in every single victory won by either side, afloat or ashore. The popular notions about the numbers concerned are equally wrong. The totals were far greater than is generally known. Counting every man who ever appeared on either side,