In 1976, there was this big bicentennial celebration of the United States Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. Currently, the country is in the midst of the sesquicentennial of various events during the American Civil War.
But what is being planned for the bicentennial of the War of 1812, which started on June 18? I’ve heard nothing, quite possibly because almost no American understands exactly what the heck it was all about.
The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including “trade restrictions brought about by Britain’s ongoing war with France, the impressment of American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy, British support of American Indian tribes against American expansion, outrage over insults to national honour after humiliations on the high seas and possible American desire to annex Canada.” The British first engaged in military rope-a-dope, which allowed the US to gain “control over Lake Erie in 1813, seize parts of western Ontario, and end the prospect of an Indian confederacy and an independent Indian state in the Midwest under British sponsorship.”
But once the British dealt with Napoleon in 1814, the British adopted a more aggressive strategy, sending in three large invasion armies.” And if Americans know ANYTHING about the war, it is from this latter period. “The British victory at the Battle of Bladensburg in August 1814 allowed them to capture and burn Washington, D.C.” The image we have is of First Lady Dolley Madison saving the picture of George Washington from a burning White House.
“American victories in September 1814 and January 1815 repulsed all three British invasions in New York, Baltimore, and New Orleans.” Baltimore, of course, is where Francis Scott Key wrote the words to the Star-Spangled Banner, inspired by seeing the flag shown above. And New Orleans was codified in an old Johnny Horton song called The Battle of New Orleans [LISTEN!].
Interestingly, both Canada and the United States “emerged from the war with a heightened sense of national feeling and solidarity, having repelled multiple…invasions,” Canada from the US, and the US from Britain. This led, in the US, “a sense of euphoria over a ‘second war of independence’ against Britain. It ushered in an ‘Era of Good Feelings’ in which partisan animosity nearly vanished.” It also seemed to codify the “manifest destiny” drive to go “from sea to shining sea,” to quote a different American anthem.
At some level, it is this war that made a squawking bunch of states into a nation, back in the days when Congress actually declared war.
The Year 1812, Festival Overture in E flat major, Op. 49, popularly known as the 1812 Overture…[was] written by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1880 to commemorate Russia’s defense of Moscow against Napoleon’s advancing Grande Armée at the Battle of Borodino in 1812. Interesting that music [LISTEN!] associated with the defeat of the erstwhile ally of the US has become a staple of US 4th of July celebrations.