Monday, June 18, 2007

Today in 1812...

The US declared war on Great Britain...again.

Yup, today is the day the War of 1812 started, the war that gets the short shrift in any and all public school history classes for two reasons:

1. Stuck between American Revolution and the Civil War, two popular wars for historians and students.

2. We damn near lost it.

The War of 1812 was our first ill-advised war. Granted the reasons were more compelling than the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. US Citizens were being impressed into the service of the British Navy, we couldn't trade with anyone in Europe without ticking off France (The Continental System) or Britain. I think it was finally at a point where the US had to say "Dammit! You all are being unreasonable! Dude, Britain, c' are being so uncool about us trading with the French and the Dutch. Fine, be that way, we're declaring war."

Now, granted if your reasons are sound, such as a naval base in Hawaii being attacked by surprise or insurgents fire upon a US Fort in Charleston Harbor after declaring themselves independent just so they could keep owning slaves, or trying to protect your rights in the face of two superpowers who are fighting each other, then ok I can give any country the benefit of the doubt on the wisdom of declaring war...but seriously we picked Britain?

The British Empire, the largest navy in the world at the time full of seasoned admirals and captains who had fought and learned their trade under Nelson? A British Army full of seasoned combat veterans who fought against the French? Are you bloody daft? Seriously why didn't we opt for France? Hell we could have beaten France. We could have told the English, "Dude, we have guns and ships. Give us 3 weeks and we'll have some people over to help." But noooooo. Jimmy Madison and the Congress picked Britain. That's a slam dunk there fellas.

What do we get:
The humiliating and sad defeat of the USS Chesapeake to the HMS Shannon in the Chesapeake Bay. :-( Booo.

USS Constitution capturing HMS Java. :-) Yay!

DC Burned in 1814 after a stunningly bad defense. The sitting Secretary of War...SITTING SECRETARY OF WAR...didn't believe the Brits would attack DC. Something he believed right up until the Battle of Bladensburg. We lost the entire Library of Congress in that fire!!! Fortunately for us Thomas Jefferson had a library of books and he needed to sell them to pay off some debts and hey...we needed a library! Two great tastes that go great together.

Another failed invasion of Canada. This makes the US 0-fer against Canadians.

A National Anthem. Okay not too shabby and it got Baltimore some everlasting press in the History books. I'll take that.

Andrew Jackson. Well I disagree with his Trail of Tears policy but his "If South Carolina even THINKS about leaving the US I will personally lead the army down there to kick your asses." policy speaks to me. If he hadn't won at New Orleans I don't think that threat would have carried the same weight. Also if you have a chance to see a movie called "The Buccaneer" see the 1950's version with Charlton Heston as Andrew Jackson. PERFECT CASTING! There's a scene where he comes in a room and basically yells, "What the hell is going on here!?!?!?" and I could see Jackson doing that.

The Treaty of Ghent. The only time Ghent ever gets any press in public school history. Sorry Ghent. Be glad you have this.

There are many more battles in here but these are the ones that stick out to me or are easiest to use for a cheap laugh in a blog. All in all we could have gotten away with not fighting this war, but it did tell the Brits that they couldn't keep pushing us around anymore. Americans can be a lot of trouble. Just ask Tony Blair.


Wacky Neighbor said...

Hamilton would have resoundingly agreed, much to your credit.

Abby said...

Two things on the War of 1812:

1) I remember loving the name "Treaty of Ghent" when I learned about it in school. However, I do not now remember where/what Ghent was or why the treaty was named after it.

2) My third grade teacher was a big local history buff, and I remember her teaching us that Lancaster, PA (where we lived) was capital of the US for one day in 1814 after DC was burned. They stopped to take care of some stuff while fleeing to NY.

Nick said...

Yes, I find myself much more drawn to Adams and Hamilton in terms of foreign policy than Jefferson and Madison.

Nick said...

Ghent is in Belgium, a friend is going to one of its suburbs for business later.

Yes indeed Lancaster was the capital. You should drive through Brookeville, MD one day you're down in the area and look at the plaque there. It was also a capital for an overnight stop.

Kim said...

Annapolis was a capital for a while too. YOu know, our government really got around for a while there.

I have not been to Ghent, but I'll betcha they've got excellent waffles.

Wacky Neighbor said...

Interestingly, Hamilton and Adams had far different takes on foreign policy. Hamilton advocated the Jay Treaty with England, was a major proponent of a standing army, despite Jefferson's and Madison's protests, and knew that a full-on confrontation with England would be bad for the United States. He also thought that they needed a military response to France during the Quasi-War.

Adams didn't want the standing army and sent out negotiators to France. While seen as a folly at the time, they actually reached an agreement which was rather useful for the U.S.

Despite their many differences, they clearly stood out from the francophilia of Jefferson and Madison. Yet Adams has recently been lionized and Hamilton falls further into obscurity.

Nick said...

Well, Alex did have some baggage and a temper. That doesn't help him with the "in crowd" at the time. Which is unfortunate. He was exceedingly smart.

Nick said...

Yes Kim, I actually think that may be a good thing to resurrect. Congress could be in session in various locations during a year.

It would make them more accessible as a whole to the citizenry as a whole.

I'm sure DHS and Secret Service would have a conniption fit though.

Nick said...

Speaking of the standing army...

People today have no idea what it was like before WW2 when the US had a standing army that was just bigger than Czechoslovakia's.

All the heavy lifting was on the Marine Corps and the Navy for putting out brushfires overseas or occupying troublesome regions outside the borders.

Now we live in a state where defense spending is a form of corporate and municipal welfare after a 50 year long military build up for a war that thankfully was never fought.

Kim said...

Who'd have thought that a post about the war of 1812 would get so many comments??

Wacky Neighbor said...

Yes, Hamilton did have some baggage (most notably his affair with Maria Reynolds - I could make an unbelievably snide joke about Jefferson here, but I won't) - and his long-lasting feud with Jefferson (as well as Madison and James Monroe - to the point that Eliza Hamilton refused to speak with Monroe after his presidency). Worst of all of Hamilton's baggage (save for his ill-advised interest in dueling) was the Alien and Sedition Acts, a horrible set of laws that flew in the face of the Constitution. He wasn't the only proponent of the laws, but he amongst all should have known better.

But, as for the military, he was truly one of the first great military minds of America. He founded the Coast Guard, championed West Point, and was a logistical genius - a great complement to Washington during the Revolution.

Nick said...

I think it just shows how intellectual we all are.