Wade G. Dudley
THAT SPLINTERED WALL: THE BRITISH BLOCKADE OF THE UNITED STATES, 1812-1815.
(Under the direction of Professor Michael Palmer) Department of History, November 1997.
The purpose of this thesis is to challenge the existing interpretation of the effectiveness of the British blockade of the United States during the War of 1812. Historians, especially noted naval theorist Alfred Thayer Mahan, portray the blockade as extremely effective. It annihilated American commerce and coasting, while paralyzing the U.S. Navy. The damage done to the United States by the British blockade was instrumental in achieving a final peace.
This thesis relies on the same source documents available to previous historians, as well as upon numerous secondary works. Interpretation is based upon two factors. The first factor is analysis of blockade theory as it had developed by 1812, and upon the realistic expectations of a blockade in that era. The second factor is the use of quantifiable data to measure the actual effectiveness of the blockade. Such qualities as civilian outrage and national morale, along with a host of other difficult to quantify concepts, are not eliminated from the interpretive process, but are weighted less than what can be actually measured.
Analysis indicates that the blockade, though not ineffective, was much less effective than historians have expressed to date. The Royal Navy could not contain American raiders in port, and was unable to protect its own merchantmen from those raiders. The commerce of the United States was greatly reduced, though the coasting trade continued reasonably strong throughout the war. Neither carriers nor coasters were annihilated. Finally, the blockade was instrumental to the Treaty of Ghent, though as much in the sense of a self-inflicted British wound as in any positive measure.