Although the dispute
leading to the War of 1812 was over freedom of the seas, the war itself
was fought chiefly on land. Madison believed that the motive behind
British policy had been to eliminate the United States as a maritime
trading rival, while the British, occupied with fighting France in a
battle for survival, considered the war with the United States a
sideshow, at least initially.
The Canadian campaign.
For the United States, the most obvious British target was Canada. Its
population was small, many Canadians were actually Americans by birth,
and a quick victory there would stop British plans to ruin American
trade. The military facts painted a different picture, however.
Thousands of Native Americans in the northwestern territories sided with
the British when the war began, bolstering their strength, while the
small U.S. army was composed of poorly trained state militiamen led by
elderly and incompetent generals.