Remembering A Forgotten War

On Independence Day, shouldn’t we also remember the conflict that some have called America’s second War of Independence?

What’s that, you say?  A second War of Independence?  I’m speaking, of course, of what Americans call the War of 1812 — when they talk about it at all, which isn’t often.  Most people heard about the war in American History class, thought it was boring and confusing, and promptly forgot about it.  That reaction isn’t surprising.  Who wants to think about a war where Washington, D.C. was embarrassingly captured and burned?

The War of 1812 grew out of America’s status as a pawn in the global chess game between Great Britain and Napoleonic France.  Both countries tried to restrict trade with the United States, a bit player in the Euro-centric world of the early 1800s, and the British routinely “impressed” — i.e., kidnapped — American sailors the Royal Navy encountered on the high seas.  A fed-up Congress declared war on Great Britain, land and sea battles were fought, the White House and the U.S. Capitol were burned by British troops, and the British bombardment of Baltimore led to the penning of The Star Spangled Banner.  The war ended with the Treaty of Ghent, in which the British agreed to leave the U.S. border with Canada unchanged and promised not to roil up Indian tribes in the American West, and America stopped insisting that the British end impressment.  America then achieved its only significant land battle victory in the Battle of New Orleans, which was fought after the treaty had been negotiated.

Although most Americans have forgotten the inconclusive conflict, many Ohioans — including the Bus-Riding Conservative — are buffs of the War of 1812.  That’s because one of America’s notable victories, in the Battle of Lake Erie, was fought just off Ohio’s northern shores.  An American gunboat squadron commanded by Oliver Hazard Perry defeated a British squadron, and Perry wrote the deathless line “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”  Today any reveler at Put-in-Bay — and there are likely to be a few — can hoist a cold adult beverage to Commodore Perry and salute the nearby Perry Monument that towers over the lake’s shores.

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