MYTH #96: Because trans-Atlantic communication was so slow, the Battle Of New Orleans occurred after the War of 1812 had ended.



Thanks go to Ralph Eshelman, a historian who specializes in the War of 1812 and who busts this common myth, below. It’s one we find in many history books. I confess, when I was teaching, I presented this to my students as fact. Sorry kids . . .

This commonly held myth is based on the fact that the American and Great Britain peace commissions did agree to terms of a treaty on December 24, 1814.  But the British were fearful of the US Congress failing to agree to the recommendations of their own peace commission such as occurred with the Jay Treaty. So the British demanded that all hostiles would cease only after the treaty had been ratified and exchanged by both countries. 

This is very clear in the wordage of the treaty as found in the first sentence of Article 2: “Immediately after the ratifications of this treaty by both parties, as hereinafter mentioned, orders shall be sent to the armies, squadrons, officers, subjects and citizens of the two Powers to cease from all hostilities.”

Great Britain ratified the treaty on December 30.  The treaty did not reach Washington City until February 14, 1815 and was not ratified by congress until February 16.  The United States and Great Britain exchanged ratifications of the treaty on February 17. At this time the treaty became binding.  The Battle of New Orleans took place on January 8, 1815, forty days before the war was officially over and hostilities were to cease.



7 Responses to MYTH #96: Because trans-Atlantic communication was so slow, the Battle Of New Orleans occurred after the War of 1812 had ended.

  1. says:

    WOW! All of the history books we used when I was teaching for 30 years perpetrated this myth! Thank you for clarifying.

  2. Pauline says:

    Thank you so much for busting this absurdly stubborn myth. As a descendant of those who stood on the line with General Jackson, I rant about it frequently at Triple P. Good to hear it coming from some place else!

  3. Bob Huddleston says:

    You left out part of Article: … and to prevent all causes of complaint which might arise on account of the prizes which may be taken at sea after the said Ratifications of this Treaty, it is reciprocally agreed that all vessels and effects which may be taken after the space of twelve days from the said Ratifications upon all parts of the Coast of North America from the Latitude of twenty three degrees North to the Latitude of fifty degrees North, and as far Eastward in the Atlantic Ocean as the thirty sixth degree of West Longitude from the Meridian of Greenwich, shall be restored on each side:-that the time shall be thirty days in all other parts of the Atlantic Ocean North of the Equinoctial Line or Equator:-and the same time for the British and Irish Channels, for the Gulf of Mexico, and all parts of the West Indies:-forty days for the North Seas for the Baltic, and for all parts of the Mediterranean-sixty days for the Atlantic Ocean South of the Equator as far as the Latitude of the Cape of Good Hope.- ninety days for every other part of the world South of the Equator, and one hundred and twenty days for all other parts of the world without exception.

    So New Orleans was “legal” until March 20. Of course, when word reached New Orleans before that both sides were bound to stop fighting.

  4. Callie says:

    So are you saying that the Battle of New Orleans still would have taken place if the armies involved knew that the British had agreed to a treaty? Or are you saying that they did know, but since the US hadn’t ratified the treaty they fought anyway? If the treaty (and presumably news of the treaty) didn’t arrive until February and was approved immediately thereafter, I don’t see that it makes a battle fought in January any less of an unnecessary tragedy. Since the Battle of New Orleans was fought a little over a week after Britain ratified the treaty, is it not still correct to say that it was fought because news of the treaty took so long to travel?

    • Mary Miley says:

      I believe Eshelman is saying that the commonly held belief that the battle occurred after the war had ended is wrong. The war ends only when the treaty is ratified by both countries. Until then, the fighting would continue. And did.

  5. ohdotoh says:

    “… that all hostiles would cease only…” should that be hostilities?

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