On Christmas Eve of 1814 the Treaty of Ghent was signed, creating what amounted to an armistice where American and Britain stopped fighting and agreed to a restoration of all conquered territories following the War of 1812. Interestingly, the Treaty of Ghent studiously avoided addressing the American grievances that acted as ignition for the war in the first place, such things as controlling the aggression of certain Indian tribes and search and seizure laws on the high seas. If the War of 1812 was itself an exercise in how meaningless a war can be, the peace treaty was equally an exercise in the mediocrity of treaty drafting.
Strangely enough, the genesis behind the Treaty of Ghent was the Tsar of Russia. Tsar Alexander I was hardly what you would call eager to have his country square off against the might of Napoleon alone and wanted nothing less than to see England stretching its power overseas in a war almost guaranteed to go on too long and accomplish little. For purely personal political reasons, Tsar Alexander I sent a mediator to discuss drafting a peace treaty. Eventually American sent a party of five to Ghent, Belgium, headed up by John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay.
What the Americans faced in Ghent were British counterparts riding a wave of confidence following their surprising military victories. The British contingent went so far as to demand a neutral buffer state for Indians around the Great Lakes as well as control of the Great Lakes themselves. (You call a country a naval power and it’s only to be expected that they think they control all the waters in the world, I guess.) Even worse for the America, the British were also insistent on claiming conquered parts of Maine for themselves. Needless to say, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay and the rest of the gang instantly rejected the British offers. The Treaty of Ghent appeared headed for a Mexican standoff; or at least a Belgian standoff.
Things might well have turned out significantly different if American troops hadn’t made some decisive turnarounds at home. Word began to reach the British envoys that their boys were not doing too well in New York and Maryland. Combined with the fact that the folks back home were tiring of the war and the bad news from the front, the British suddenly became much more attuned to compromise. Also helping to change their minds was the Congress of Vienna and the uncertainty surrounding France. The only reason left to push their demands was to exert a measure of revenge on America for showing them up during the Revolutionary War. But revenge was simply too expensive a dish for the British to go forward. In a sense, then, the real reason that America came out on top of the War of 1812 was due to the upheaval taking place in Europe.
Following the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, the Americans back home were overjoyed. John Quincy Adams and the gang had left when things were still looking quite bleak. Nobody expected to see a treaty signed that wouldn’t result in the loss of some territories. Despite the fact that America looked absolutely no different following the treaty, Americans were quite happy. It is a testament to the utter neutrality of the Treaty of Ghent that the slogan of the time was the less than inspiring “Not One Inch of Territory Ceded or Lost.”