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“Impressment of American Seamen”, wood engraving after a drawing by Howard Pyle, Harper’s Monthly, April 1884

Great Britain frequently forced sailors on American vessels into service with the Royal Navy. This impressment was one motivation for Congress to declare war.

 

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Impressment of American Seamen

War of 1812: Congress Declares War

The 1783 treaty that ended the American Revolution did not resolve all conflicts between the United States and Great Britain. Tensions escalated over Great Britain’s impressment of American sailors, interference with trade, occupation of U.S. territory, and relations with American Indians. In June 1812 Speaker of the House Henry Clay persuaded Congress to use its constitutional power to declare war for the first time. President James Madison signed the declaration into law, and the United States and Great Britain were at war for the second time.