Two hundred years of trade, not war, has been a good thing for both the U.S. and the UK (and Canada, too)

This week marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans on January 8th, 1815—the last battle to take place between U.S. and British military forces. The two centuries of subsequent co-operation and friendly trade have been beneficial for both nations, an illustration that good things happen when nations choose to trade instead of fight.

The Battle of New Orleans was the final battle of the War of 1812 (a war which had in fact been ended two weeks earlier by the Treaty of Ghent, although news traveled slowly in those days and did not reach the combatants in time to prevent the battle.) The roots of that war lay in the Napoleonic conflict in Europe. But, with Napoleon Bonaparte defeated, the U.S. faced a changed global context and a redoubled incentive to end a conflict that—due to a British naval blockade—was proving economically calamitous. For the British, there was a choice to make between the pursuit of territorial gains in America and the pursuit of peace and trading opportunities with the troublesome young nation.

From the perspective of the investor or the economist the benefits of trade over conflict are obvious. For generals and politicians, not always so. Fortunately for us all, the trade argument prevailed. When Napoleon referred to England as a “nation of shopkeepers”, he did not mean it as a compliment. I say the world needs more shopkeepers and fewer Napoleons.

For the U.S., the War of 1812 cemented independence from Britain and provided a national anthem. For Andrew Jackson, the commander of the U.S. forces at New Orleans, it offered a step on the way to the Presidency and, indeed, a place on the $20 bill.

And let’s not overlook Canada—another major beneficiary of the choice of trade over conflict. Two hundred years ago, Canada was still British territory. The Treaty of Ghent meant the end of the threat of annexation by the U.S. and paved the way for the modern era and the independent nation we know today. Truly a win-win-win situation.

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