James Madison had an opportunity to end the War of 1812 almost as soon as it began. The British had repealed the Orders in Council – rules that curbed American trade with Europe – and thus one of Madison’s major reasons for war was now moot. If the British had foregone the right to impress American sailors, Madison could well have gone back to Congress with the suggestion that hostilities cease immediately. However, the British considered impressment their right by custom, and believed it essential to their naval might. And so James Madison took his country to war.
The situation was particularly serious for the United States because the country was bankrupt by the fall of 1814, and in New England opponents of the war were discussing separation from the Union. The Hartford Convention that met in Connecticut in December 1814 and January 1815 stopped short of such an extreme step but suggested a number of constitutional amendments to restrict federal power. Like its beginning, the end of the War of 1812 much depended on what transpired in Europe. With Napoleon defeated, the British could siphon their forces off to North America. This meant invasion and possible defeat of the United States. For Britain, this meant security for Canada and the possibility of a more favorable bargaining position in case of a peace settlement.