What I Learned About The War Of 1812
I propose this as a collaborative post; I invite all the Front Pagers to add to this article as they see fit. Especially Jonathan McLeod, for reasons that should be obvious in just a moment. I’ve written the entire post from memory and the rest of you are on your honor to do the same.
In high school, I had about one day of class on the War of 1812. I learned that it was started by the British Royal Navy impressing American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy. See, the British would send warships out to sea and find American merchant ships, and pick out some sailors and draft them into fighting Napoleon because they didn’t have enough men to man their own ships and the Americans didn’t have enough of a Navy to stop them from doing it.
Predictably, this pissed off a bunch of Americans, including a new generation of politicians who were sick and tired of having grown up listening to their fathers bragging about how heroic they had been back during the Revolution; they wanted stories they could dine out on for the rest of their lives, too. Also predictably, none of this worked out like anyone had planned.
So the Americans decided to try to invade Canada. Only it didn’t work out so well; more people wanted war than wanted to really prepare for it, so there was no real U.S. Navy to speak of, and the Army was grossly unprepared for what happened. The result was the British invaded Washington and burnt down the White House and then seized Baltimore, and round about that time they thought they could reconquer the U.S. Only that proved to be more to bite off than they could chew because eventually the U.S. got its act more or less together and managed to get things back up to stalemate.
Thanks to the Battle of Baltimore, the United States of America got its national anthem. We kind of lost the battle, but the story about the flag still flying despite a nonstop night of artillery barrage, and the guy writing a super-patriotic poem based on a drinking song that we still all sing off-key today even without booze, well, that’s just brilliant.
And then there was the Battle of New Orleans when Andrew Jackson should have lost but kicked Redcoat butt instead, only it turns out that a peace treaty had already been negotiated, proof of how quaint the old-fashioned communication network was back in the 1810’s. But it gave the nation its next war hero. And the borders between Canada and the U.S. stayed pretty much what they had been before the war, other than agreeing to split control of the Oregon territory, which seemed like a tinderbox of a way to handle political control, but it seemed to work out okay.
And then the U.S. and Britain were friends after that. The. End. Okay, great, See you tomorrow, please be sure to have read chapter twelve before class because the railroads are, like, really super-important.
The War of 1812 started 200 years ago yesterday (should have written this post then, but I was kind of busy). The war was unnecessary and ill-considered then, it didn’t really change much of anything in terms of geopolitics, it plunged the country into unnecessary mountains of debt, and recent evidence suggests that the timbre of our politicians hasn’t really changed all that much between then and now.