The War of 1812

Written by  //  October 25, 2012  //  Canada, U.K./Britain, U.S.  //  No comments

‘Key to the victory’: Stephen Harper honours First Nations contribution to War of 1812
(National Post) Aboriginal warriors saved Canada from U.S. annexation during the War of 1812, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told a gathering of native communities at Rideau Hall on Thursday. The conflict was one of Canada’s few uncontroversial wars, as it pitted anglophone, francophone and aboriginal against a common enemy. But the war’s aboriginal component is a touchy subject in First Nations circles as it marked a civil war between U.S. and Canadian Iroquois, and signaled the beginning of the end for their traditional way of life. Here is how Mr. Harper framed the war Thursday…

11 October
Alan Hustak in Halifax:
the money Harperites paid to erect this “statue” on the Halifax Harbour would have kept the animation program at the Motherwell Historic Farm in Saskatchewan going for two years. Why? Why? Why are we commemorating the war of 1812?

 

23 June
Six Nations aboriginal delegation drops out of 1812 ceremony
Even before War of 1812 commemoration ceremonies could officially begin, a disagreement over scheduling has already driven a wedge between organizers looking to tout the historic conflict as a triumphant “war for Canada” and aboriginal members of the Six Nations who still view the event as a brutal struggle that split their confederacy and decimated their population.

15 June
James Traub: The Most Important War You Probably Know Nothing About
(Foreign Policy) Can you feel the excitement in the air? June 18 is the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812
One of the buried facts of our collective past is that the United States came very close to dissolving long before slavery sundered the union. America was in almost perpetual peril during the quarter century from the French Revolution to the Treaty of Ghent, which concluded the war with Britain in 1814. Throughout this period, the two great world powers of the time, France and England, sought to destroy each other; each tried to bribe, seduce, subvert, or intimidate the neutral states in order to tip the balance in their favor. In this great and cynical game, the United States, which at the time constituted what we would now call “an emerging nation,” was one of the most valuable prizes.
American politics consisted of, in effect, an “English” party and a “French” party. This was scarcely unusual at the time: Both republican Holland and autocratic Russia, among others, tilted back and forth between partisans of the two. In America, however, the Founding Fathers recognized that this contest for supremacy posed a mortal threat to the nation. In his brief farewell address, George Washington ardently defended the policy of neutrality to which he had consistently hewed. The president warned his fellow citizens that “excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other.”
Alexander Hamilton largely wrote Washington’s farewell address; and Hamilton, an Anglophile, was using the president’s immense prestige to warn of the susceptibility of Thomas Jefferson’s Republican Party to France and the doctrines of the French Revolution. Federalists like Hamilton derisively referred to the Jeffersonians as “Jacobins” — revolutionary camp-followers. France, for its part, sought to use the U.S. Republicans as an extra-territorial arm of the revolution. In 1792, France sent an ambassador to the United States with the express goal of enlisting Americans in its war with England. The minister, Edmond-Charles Genet, outfitted privateers in the pro-French South with the goal of preventing New England merchants from trading with England and encouraged the creation of “democratic-republican societies” to fight against alleged “aristocratic” tendencies in America — until an outraged President Washington demanded that he desist.
France was the chief provocateur during this period. Like Russia after 1917, France saw itself as the standard-bearer of a global revolution; a levée en masse produced a standing army of 800,000 prepared to overwhelm the reactionary forces of Europe. A combination of diplomatic insults and attacks on American shipping drove President John Adams to the very edge of declaring war against France in 1798 (as I described here). Later, Napoleon channeled those revolutionary energies into the more traditional French goal of dominating neighbors and bringing England to its knees. Napoleon even dreamed of sending a force from Haiti up the Mississippi in order to seize the western territory of the United States. The plan came to grief when his army was decimated by yellow fever and Haitian guerillas. The emperor reacted to his failure with a magnificent gesture of disgust: He sold Louisiana to President Jefferson in 1803.
Although it was the greatest windfall in the nation’s history, the Louisiana Purchase also came very close to dividing America in half. Federalists now feared — rightly, as it turned out — that the new citizens of the south and west would identify with the democratic Jeffersonians rather than with a party that looked back nostalgically to a pre-revolutionary European order. In late 1803 and early 1804, most of the leading Federalists plotted to secede from the union and seek an alliance with England. The conspiracy appears to have collapsed when Aaron Burr killed Hamilton in a duel (though Hamilton had not supported the secessionists).
France continued to intrigue against the United States, but even the most ardent American Jacobins lost faith in the revolutionary project once Napoleon placed the imperial crown on his own head. Washington’s warning now applied far more to the partisans of England than of France. British ships patrolled the waters of the Atlantic hunting for U.S. merchant vessels carrying goods from the French West Indies and regularly boarded American ships searching for English sailors who had fled the abysmal pay and dreadful conditions of His Majesty’s Navy. And while most Americans were outraged by these incursions on national sovereignty, leading Federalists sided with Britain and publicly excused their offenses. The party split between, in effect, a pro-British and pro-American faction, and the extremists, known as the Essex Junto, degenerated into precisely the kind of fifth column they had earlier accused the Republicans of being. At the Hartford Convention of 1810, the Junto once again sought to turn New England into a separate nation.
Both Jefferson and Madison went to great lengths to overlook British provocations, especially the impressment of American sailors into the British navy. Both understood, as Washington had also observed in his farewell address, that owing to America’s “detached and distant situation,” “the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance”– so long as the country could steer clear of European broils. They recoiled in horror from the pointless bloodshed of the Napoleonic wars, and worried that the United States would become a Europe of its own, divided into eternally warring states. Both men hoped that diplomacy would make war unnecessary; indeed, the U.S. had cause enough to go to war in 1807, when English depredations against American shipping began in earnest, though it would have been even more woefully unprepared than it proved to be in 1812.
The war itself was basically a draw: American land forces were humiliated in Canada, but sailors like Commodore Perry achieved stunning victories over the greatest navy the world had ever seen. The Treaty of Ghent merely restored the status quo ante. But the war had put a decisive end to the Federalists, who had barely been able to celebrate American victories. Even more important, the world war between France and England had ended with the ruin of the former. England no longer needed to block American shipping or to shanghai U.S. sailors to fill out a wartime navy. For the next century, Europe would basically leave America alone.
For the previous decades, American politics had consisted essentially of foreign policy. Only with the war’s end could rival political parties form around differing visions of the country’s own future: a strong versus a weak central government; a manufacturing versus an agrarian economy; and, ultimately, a nation of freemen versus one of owners and slaves. America was now free to fulfill its territorial, economic, demographic, and — for better and worse — political destiny.
So now you know. You still have two years left to organize the parade for the bicentennial of the Treaty of Ghent.


War of 1812 reinterpreted over the centuries
Comparing commemorations 100, 150 and 200 years after the war
… American historian Alan Taylor, the author of The Civil War of 1812— arguably the most important War of 1812 book from among those 400 published over the last four years — noted that the War of 1812 comes between the American Revolution and the 1861-65 Civil War, which both dramatically eclipse it in terms of historical importance for Americans.
“The civil war was massively more deadly, and transformative within the United States than the War of 1812 had been,” Taylor said. War of 1812 events in the U.S. are also competing for attention with Civil War sesquicentennial events. …
In both countries, it’s all a far cry from 1962.
“The sesquicentennial is difficult to celebrate enthusiastically,” Brooks Atkinson wrote in the New York Times in 1962. For Atkinson, the celebrations lacked enthusiasm because 150 years earlier, the war had been “a colossal snafu.”
At Fort Mackinac in northern Michigan in 1962, they were “celebrating the 150th anniversary of its capture by British forces,” as described in a short news story in the Toronto Star. The capture happened before the soldiers at the fort were even aware the U.S. had declared war, so it was a quick surrender with no casualties, making it a curious event to celebrate.
Across the border, T.J. Allen wrote in the Canadian Weekly that both countries remember the war as “a series of glorious victories for its own forces” even though, according to Allen, it was just a series of skirmishes “by boobs, dodderers and bumblers.”
“Even the blunders have become patriotic glory,” Allen argued.

Conservatives draw fire for War of 1812 spending
Harper government praised for celebrating past, but also questioned
(CBC) Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is spending more than $28 million on a war that happened 200 years ago, leaving no doubt it takes the War of 1812 bicentennial very seriously.
A special silver dollar coin (which sells for $60), a new national monument, funding for historical re-enactments, upgrades for historic sites, museum exhibits and even a mobile phone app are among the ways taxpayers are supporting the celebration of the anniversary.
The government has been investing in these projects for the last three years. … “This is also a government that’s slashing the national archives dramatically and killing the national library by cuts. On the one hand they’re good for history and on the other hand they’re bad for history — you sometimes wonder if they really know what they’re doing,” [historian Jack Granatstein] said.
The budget for Library and Archives Canada was cut by $9.6 million in the recent federal budget and an entire grant program for community archives was eliminated. [Emphasis added]

Ottawa to tread carefully in War of 1812 commemorations
(Globe & Mail) It’s a sticky question. Exactly how should Canada commemorate the 200th anniversary of a war in which our predecessors repelled an invasion by the United States – now this country’s closest ally and most valued trading partner?
The bicentennial of the War of 1812 is fast approaching. It’s a major formative event in Canada’s history – but like all wars, was wrenching and destructive. Both the White House and early Parliament buildings in Upper Canada were torched during the conflict.
For the Harper government in Ottawa, the approach to this anniversary is nuanced: energetically embracing military exploits and valour during the conflict – standing fast against invaders, for instance – while taking extra care to avoid inciting anti-American sentiment.
The Conservatives are launching a major drive to commemorate the conflict in 2012 and beyond – in keeping with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s penchant for making heroism in Canada’s military history a more important feature of the country’s national identity. The Tories even made an ambitious 1812 observance part of their winning 2011 election platform.

13 June
Historian Alan Taylor’s new take on the ‘civil war’ of 1812
For his latest book, renowned American historian Alan Taylor turned his attention to the War of 1812.
In The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, and Indian Allies, he presents the international conflict as, in effect, a civil war between related members of a founding nation.
Although the American Revolution had created a border between the U.S. and British North America, people on both sides were remarkably similar. Like most civil wars, those on opposing sides during the War of 1812 tried to persuade people on the other side to switch over. Brothers fought brothers, neighbours fought neighbours and, in the process, homes, farms and towns were plundered, changing the perceptions on both sides.
Taylor argues that the national histories of both sides “subtly distorted the war by imposing on the past the nationalism spawned after that conflict and because of it.”
The first quarter of the book is devoted to the events leading up the declaration of war by the U.S. on June 18, 1812. But Taylor writes that “no single cause can explain the declaration of war.”
As for the conflict itself, he says its ultimate legacy “was that the empire and the republic would share the continent along a more clearly defined border more generous to the Americans and more confining to the British — but most ominous to the Indians.”

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