The war of 1812 began long before war was declared. It began right after the war of Independence. The British were not too fond of us breaking away from their empire, and they soon figured out that many revolts were because we had fought and won. They taxed our merchants, and hassled our ships, but they crossed the line when they began to impress our sailors into their navy. They claimed that these people had "deserted" the royal navy and should be given back. Though they may have been right on a few occasions, it has been proven that many innocent people were forced to be in the royal navy.
On June 22, 1807, the English frigate Leopard attacked the United States frigate Chesapeake, and took from her certain of her sailors who, the Leopard's captain claimed, were British citizens. (John K. Mahon, The War of 1812) This is what broke the straw on the proverbial camel's back. Many citizens wanted war, but Jefferson, seeing the problems in war with Britain, calmed the public. Congress began to prepare for war, by authorizing the construction of 20 ships of war.
France and Britain, Europe's two most powerful nations, had battled almost continuously since 1793, and their warfare directly affected American trade. Hostilities began during the French Revolution (1789-1799) when England joined other European nations in an unsuccessful attempt to restore the French monarchy, and then continued as Britain led the efforts to stop French expansion under Napoleon I. American presidents from Washington to Madison tried to keep the United States impartial during these conflicts, but both France and Britain flagrantly disregarded the rights of neutral countries (War of 1812).
For the Americans, the greatest irritant was Britain's practice of impressment, or the seizure of American seamen for service in the British navy. The British government claimed that it only seized subjects of the Crown who sailed under the American flag to avoid wartime service in their own navy. In fact, the British seized not only their own deserters, but also impressed a sizeable number of United States citizensestimates suggest 6000 or more (Encyclopedia Encarta).
Public outrage over the issue of impressments grew increasingly vocal after an incident between the American naval frigate Chesapeake and a British vessel, the Leopard. In June 1807 the Leopard approached the Chesapeake only a few miles off the American coast and demanded to search the ship for British deserters. The Chesapeake's commander, James Barron, refused, and the Leopard opened fire. A number of American sailors were killed or wounded during the attack, and the Chesapeake surrendered. The British then sent a party aboard and dragged four crewmen from the vessel. After the incident, Jefferson ordered British warships to leave American waters and demanded an end to the practice of impressments. The British did make some apologies and restitution for the...