Happy Fourth of July America! As you salute that Star-Spangled banner today, however, please remember that the war which spawned your anthem was a farrago wrapped in a fiasco inside a folly:
‘If Canada was the winner in the War of 1812, there was no doubt who the losers were. The Federalist Party, sensibly skeptical about the war from the beginning, was nevertheless a victim of its prosecution. If their fate was irrelevance, though, much worse befell the Native American population. In the years after 1815, the United States turned its eyes westward. Even tribes such as the Cherokee who had fought with the Americans against the British discovered this service afforded them precisely no protection at all as the Indians endured their long, appalling trauma.
By 1815 and Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo, the original reasons for the war had been rendered moot by events. The Royal Navy now had too many sailors, not too few; there was no need to impress anyone from American ships. Restrictions on American trade had been lifted before news of Madison’s declaration of war had even reached London, making the war an even more dubious misadventure.
Be that as it may, the British conceded nothing, and the Treaty of Ghent made no mention of either of the matters for which the United States had ostensibly gone to war. Treasury bonds soared by 13 percent as soon as news of the peace reached Washington. Elsewhere there was much relief that Madison’s reckless folly had ended at last.
[…] The war’s other legacy was the emergence of Andrew Jackson – the hero of New Orleans and hammer of the Indians – as a national figure whose eminence was soon beyond dispute. Jacksonian politics would make marks on American government that can still be seen today. His expansionist, individualistic, pugilistic, ethics-free brand of politics sowed seeds that still sprout and flower. Jackson’s genes are part of the modern Republican Party’s DNA, while the turn west would inspire Frederick Jackson Turner’s “Frontier Thesis,” making good American claims of manifest destiny.
This nationalist revival helped disguise that the War of 1812 had been a futile enterprise from the start – one in which the United States achieved none of its stated aims and which, far from uniting the country at the time, came closer to destroying it than any other American war, save the Civil War. Some 15,000 Americans perished (many of them from disease), and the navy, despite the manner in which its officers were feted as heroes, suffered an overwhelming (if also inevitable) strategic defeat.
Yet none of this could prevent the writing of another American myth: that the War of 1812 was a battle for liberty in which the United States bloodied Britannia’s imperial nose. The truth is that the war, almost wholly forgotten in Britain today, was an act of needless aggression from which Madison and his party were fortunate to escape relatively unscathed. Madison was fortunate; not every president has had the good fortune of seeing his acts of greatest folly end so comparatively well. Nevertheless, a folly it was. That Washington was rebuilt and the war subject to instant revisionism does not change all that. Perhaps this too is worth a thought when the Star-Spangled Banner is played this week and celebratory fireworks take the place of rockets and bombs bursting in mid-air.’
Finally, one small plea: can British Prime Ministers cease apologising for our boys burning the Presidential Mansion when the raiding British sacked Washington?Tags: America, Britain, History, War