The Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812

The 1814 Invasion of Canada

American Isolation

In the spring of 1814 President James Madison and the War Hawks received bad news. A succession of major events had upset the whole international scene: Napoleon's great army had foundered in the Russian snows and France was overrun. On March 31, 1814, the allied armies entered Paris, welcomed triumphantly by a people tired of the wars of the Empire. On May 11 Napoleon abdicated and withdrew to the island of Elba. Peace was proclaimed and the Bourbon monarchy was restored. The Americans had thus lost their greatest ally, although there had never been any formal alliance with France, and England could now concentrate all its efforts against the United States.

The Americans therefore tried to score points as quickly as possible: to invade Canada before large numbers of reinforcements arrived. The invasion plan was heatedly debated in the American Cabinet, though, and did not pass until June 7. The objective was to invade Upper Canada through the Niagara Peninsula.

Before the plan could even be approved, things began to go wrong. At the end of March General Wilkinson, hoping to improve his reputation after the fiasco of the previous autumn, crossed the border into Lower Canada, in command of approximately 2,000 men, to take a position to the south of Montreal. When he reached Lacolle, Wilkinson met fierce resistance. Faced with such determination, the Americans turned back over the border, with 154 dead, wounded and missing, whereas the British and Canadians suffered only 59 losses.