War of 1812

June 17, 1812: Congress Declares War on Great Britain

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On June 18, 1812, President James Madison signed the declaration of war passed by Congress on June 17, 1812, starting the War of 1812.  I think it is safe to say that rarely has the United States gone to war more ill-prepared than in 1812, with an Army of 7,000 men and a Navy with 12 combat vessels, which is odd considering that there was no precipitating crisis that mandated a declaration of war at the time.  The United States could have prepared for the conflict and then declared war, but no such pre-war preparation occurred.

The vote totals in Congress, in the House 79-49 and in the Senate 19-13, indicated that the war was largely at the desire of one political party, the Jeffersonian Republicans, and opposed by the Federalists.  The opposition of the Federalists would continue throughout the war, and the conflict would be bitterly divisive in the United States.

The whole undertaking has a fairly surreal quality in retrospect, with the Madison administration, propelled by the War Hawks in Congress, undertaking a war that the President himself thought unwise and ill-considered against the mightiest Empire in the world.

Here is the text of the war message sent by President Madison on June 1, and which served as the basis for the declaration of war: Continue reading

The War That Gets No Respect

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When it comes to the War of 1812, the ignorance depicted in the above video is no exaggeration.  Of all our major conflicts, our Second War For Independence is the most obscure to the general public.  In this bicentennial year of the beginning of the War, I will do my small bit on the blog Almost Chosen People , the American history blog that Paul Zummo and I run, to help correct this situation.   The War of 1812 was an important struggle in American history for a number of reasons, a few of which are:

1.      Until the War of 1812 the British tended to treat the United States as if it were a wayward colony that would ultimately become part of the British Empire again.  After the War the British understood that we were an independent power and a permanent factor in their calculations.

2.     The War established the United States Navy as an aggressive and resourceful combat force, unafraid to pit daring and skill against the massively more powerful Royal Navy.

3.     The War ended American dreams of conquering Canada.

4.     As a result of the War, the Indian tribes east of the Mississippi could no longer provide serious resistance to American expansion into the Northwest and the Southwest.

5.     The Star-Spangled Banner symbolized the new surge of nationalism that the country experienced as a result of the War. Continue reading

American Swashbuckler: Joshua Barney

It is a pity that Errol Flynn during the Golden Age of Hollywood never had the opportunity to do a biopic on Joshua Barney.  Barney’s life was more adventuresome and filled with derring-do than the fictional characters that Flynn portrayed.

The scion of a Catholic Maryland family, Barney was born on July 6, 1759 in Baltimore, one of 14 children.  At 10 he announced to his startled father that he was leaving school.  His father found him a job in a counting shop, but Barney refused to spend his life chained to a desk.  He left his father’s farm at 13 to seek his fortunes on the sea.  He became an apprentice mate on the brig Sydney engaged in the Liverpool trade.  The captain of the brig died suddenly on a voyage  to Europe and  the 14 year old Barney assumed command and successfully completed the voyage.

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