No Good Feelings: Native Americans and the Outcomes of the War of 1812

native americans
Buddy Secor

The War of 1812 conflict affected Native American tribes, drawing them into alliances and battles. Some of these battles were directly tied to the war, and some were opportunities for tribal conflict. The end of the war and the United States’ victory put many tribes in a difficult or threatening situation for land loss either as retribution or part of westward expansion. Their experience was not an "Era of Good Feelings" like others felt after the end of the war.

Native tribes in North America faced divided loyalties and decisions grounded in their hopes for the future during the War of 1812. While this conflict—fought between 1812 and 1815—was waged between the United States and Britain, sovereign tribes’ alliances brought them into the conflict. Tribes often hoped to defend or gain territory and secure treaties that would protect their traditional homelands.

native americans
Buddy Secor

British military leaders in North America relied on their Native American allies to assist in the war since many of their enlisted troops were deployed fighting Napoleon in Europe at the beginning of the War of 1812. Promises to tribes included restoration of tribal lands and borders that would limit the United States’ westward expansion. Tecumseh, a Shawnee leader, led his confederacy of tribes to join the British, staking hopes on a victory that would protect tribes’ interests. Tecumseh and his warriors fought in the territories of Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. They attacked supply lines and forts, but Tecumseh’s death at the Battle of Thames River ended the coalition and United States troops secured the fought-over territory.

Meanwhile, in the South, Tecumseh’s 1811 visit to the Creek towns sparked a civil war within the tribe. A faction called the Red Sticks wanted the Creeks to join Tecumseh and fight against American settlement. However, a more peaceful majority preferred to avoid instigating conflict with settlers. In August 1813, Red Stick Creeks attacked Fort Mims in Alabama, and American state and territorial leaders responded quickly with military action. Some Creeks fought alongside the Americans against the Red Stick Creeks, and warriors from the Choctaw tribes allied with the Americans. At the Battle of Horseshoe Bend on March 27, 1814, the Red Sticks suffered 75% casualties and this battle essentially ended the Creek War. General Andrew Jackson arranged a treaty, demanding 23 million acres of the Creek’s land; the treaty was signed on August 9, 1814. Despite this significant loss of territory, many Creeks continued to live until 1836 and forcible removal. 

A group of Native American Choctaw warriors volunteered and fought in General Andrew Jackson’s army during the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. For varying reasons, tribes chose sides with United States troops or British armies during the War of 1812. However, no matter which side they had supported, the Native American tribes were at a disadvantage in the aftermath of the war.

The Treaty of Ghent—drafted in 1814 and ratified in 1815—made no territorial changes between the United States and British territories, released prisoners, restored most of the captured lands, made efforts to reduce the slave trade. However, Spain lost claimed land by allying with the British and the Red Stick Creeks. Mobile, Alabama and West Florida Territory remained in American claims and the Treaty of Ghent did not force American settlers to withdraw from this area. 

The American victory in the War of 1812 meant that Britain would not be a reliable ally for Native American tribes. Tribal leaders had hoped that a British presence or a territorial zone would protect their lands from the United States’ westward expansion. In the following decades, as the “Era of Good Feelings” swept through the states, westward movement and Manifest Destiny took hold, threatening Native Americans’ lands and treaties. In the south, Cherokee and Choctaw tried to adapt white ways of living and somewhat assimilate into the new culture. However, even these allies of the United States from the War of 1812 faced forcible removal from their lands by the 1830s. Desperate for land to turn into cotton farming or plantations, white settlers wanted the lands and farms of the Native Americans. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 forcibly moved natives from their traditional homelands to Indian Territory, modern-day Oklahoma. 

While many people in the United States celebrated victory, nationalism, and the Era of Good Feelings, the outcome of the War of 1812 produced little happiness or good feelings among the Native American tribes, no matter which side they had fought alongside. Many hopes to secure their homelands had been crushed with Tecumseh’s Confederacy and the Creek War, and for the tribes who had sided with the United States, broken treaties and little sincere thanks followed in the immediate after-decades of the conflict.