You might not have noticed, but today marks the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. Yes, 200 years ago today, President James Madison declared war against Britain, its Canadian colonies and its Native American allies.
Our Forgotten War?
In the U.S., the War of 1812 is sometimes overlooked, squeezed out by sexier conflicts like the American Revolution and the Civil War.
But in its time, the War of 1812 was a pretty awesome affair, as a piece in the BBC reminds us. It was the first time the United States declared war against a foreign nation. It resulted in a British army torching the White House and much of Washington, DC. And a British attack on Baltimore’s Fort McHenry in 1814 provided the inspiration for our national anthem. The bullet-torn Star-Spangled Banner, which flew above the fort that day, still resides in the Smithsonian.
One Hell of a “Sailabration”
Baltimore is one city that marked the bicentennial well: it held a week-long festival called “Sailabration,” featuring period and modern warships from all over the world.
An elderly lady named Martha was certainly moved by the event: “I have lived here all my life and I am proud of where I’m from,” she told the BBC. “When I see the news and think about everything I’ve seen in my lifetime, the world is so complicated. But I’m part of something big and bold, and we may not always agree but we are all Americans.”
A “Sailabration” photo gallery from The Washington Post is available here.
North of the Border
In Canada, the anniversary is drawing more attention. The War is generally credited with establishing a Canadian identity, although some historians disagree with that assessment. As Elaine Young of Guelph University told the CBC: “We have this Canadian pre-occupation with finding our identity, looking to the past to find out who we are, then moulding it to fit who we are as a nation now . . . [Canadians] always need to find some sort of defining moment and right now it’s the War of 1812.”
The CBC reports that the Canadian government has spent $27.3 million for bicentennial events. Toronto, which American troops burned during the war, has been preparing its festivities for five years.
The CBC piece also contains a look back at previous celebrations of the war’s anniversary in Canada. One fascinating — and sad — tidbit: the moment in 1914 when Chief Hill of the Iroquois Six Nations said in a public address that Canada treats its natives unfairly. “We are sorry to mingle complaints with this celebration,” he remarked, “but it seems to be the only place that we can get a hearing.”