They have never changed the misleading name of that war, but if they did, they should consider the “War of U.S. Certification.” Nobody thought we’d win, and we didn’t. But the British didn’t either. It was arbitrated as a tie, much like a spirited soccer match that no one should lose. The most powerful country in the world bowed to the country that would claim that mantle within the next hundred years. The net effect of the war was that in the resolution therewith, the United States of America became legitimized. The world watched us, as we were still standing, unvanquished, thirty years after the Treaty of Paris that had ended the American Revolution. Bookies in London realized it was no fluke.
History details much. We developed our national anthem from the experience. Francis Scott Key actually witnessed the annihilated Ft. McHenry with a flag still waving. Rock singers now botch his eloquent commemorative tune at baseball games and even at the Super Bowl. There are way too many Francis Scott out-of-Key singers left in America.
What was gained or lost? There were no land swaps. There was only a and contentious financial deal made of $350,000 going to the U.S. in repayment of escaped slaves that made it to Canada. Washington, D.C. was burned, but it gave room for a more modern White House, rows upon rows of Cherry Blossom trees and enough intersecting avenues to incorporate ‘gridlock’ into the lexicon. We Americans ventured into parts of Canada and claimed territory, temporarily. The Canadians whupped us in Detroit, but never saw its auto potential. They gave Detroit back, making way for bean-less chili, frosted mini-wheats and a trunk load of celebrities like Christie Brinkley, Charlton Heston, Madonna, Tim Allen, James Earl Jones and Lily Tomlin. We took over Lake Erie and kept it so that the lake border is on the other side. The Canadian beach faces the Southern breeze. We also defeated a Native American coalition devised by the British to block U.S. expansion to the West. Had it not been defeated, all of Ohio and Michigan would have been Canadian granted Indian Territory, even where the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds play baseball. Ironic, huh? The Battle of New Orleans was our number one hit war tune of 1815. Actually, the Andrew Jackson victory there happened after the war had ended but before the news of the end reached the combatants. The mere threat of the British returning again solidified defenses and inspired a commitment of military strength. It worked. The British have not challenged us since - unless you count David Beckham, Julie Andrews and Cary Grant finding L.A. to be better than London.
The War of 1812 was precipitated by another bigger war. We weren’t in that one. It was a long established conflict that included frequent British naval confrontations with the French on the open seas. The British and French were fighting before the War of 1812 and afterward. It was their nature. In fact, in a previous skirmish which they named the ‘Hundred Years War,’ they fought for 116 years. Everybody was dead who started it. But back to our little war…American merchant ships seemed to provide an opportunity for the British to recruit - under duress - American sailors to British ships. They had no right of refusal. And there was this other problem. That part about British intervention in the American West, well, it was bigger that the history books reported. The Canadian British outposts worked overtime to convince the many Native American tribes to overtake the Ohio Valley by a consortium of all Indian Nations. This was a flagrant and clear case of meddling, much like a busybody mother-in-law might do. American settlers were being uprooted and many killed. President James Monroe was angry. He promoted a new edict – and only a lack of naming creativity forced us to the last choice of what he named it – the ‘Monroe Doctrine.’ This was later enhanced, as with steroids, by Teddy Roosevelt when he said, “Walk softly, but carry a big stick.” Monroe, at 5’1” had a much er cane. But the heroic little guy was a master. He navigated us through, and now the U.S. Military is the best the world has ever known. The big stick? That was probably President Ronald Reagan.
So a treaty was forthcoming. They didn’t have faxes or emails, so they had to go to a neutral site like a Starbucks or a Barnes and Noble. Actually, they went to Ghent. It’s in Belgium. It was the original home of Ghentlemen. Our negotiators and the British team of cribbage players all sat around waiting for each other to blink. A lightning storm came along and they all blinked. A treaty was written awaiting signatures. They passed around some fish and chips and a few baskets of fried chicken. They turned the conversation to Napoleon, now out of exile and giving the Brits fits. He was the same standing height as President James Monroe. They used the same tailor. It was then that one of the British advance team picked up a piece of KFC extra crispy and began chomping away. There was one drumstick left, but a negotiator from each side reached for it at the same time and simultaneously concurrently. The agreement seemed in jeopardy. Not the Jeopardy television show. They were a bone apart, just like that man from Corsica, Napoleon. Fisticuffs began and they were just an Elba or two away from pushing the war into 1816. That’s when the American lead negotiator suggested that they cease and desist, taking a bathroom break. They went to the loo. The water loo. And so it was on June 18th, 1815 - exactly three years after the Americans declared war on the British - that a great battle took place in Belgium, not far from Ghent. Waterloo. Seriously, that’s the name. An inauspicious place, to be sure, but that’s what they called it. The treaty was signed and sent by turtles, snails and the infamous three-toed sloth back to America. The four-toed sloth was busy. By then, Andy Jackson had those redcoats a-runnin’. So, that victory in the Big Easy was a bonus. Johnny Horton, a folk artist singer wrote a song about it, but that tattered flag tune Francis Scott Key wrote earlier prevailed. The war was mostly about who had the best song, the biggest stick and the best fried chicken.
Incidentally, the two founding-father presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both passed away on the same day - July 4th, 1826 - exactly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. They both signed it. You can’t make that up. The two South Carolinians, Andrew Jackson and John C. Calhoun, lived on. Calhoun was Jackson’s vice president from 1828 to 1832. But he resigned in 1832 over differences with those in Washington that caused President Jackson to send federal troops to Charleston (the Nullification Acts). You can’t make that up either. Jackson died in 1845, Calhoun in 1850.
1812 does not mark the birth of a nation like 1776 does. But it certainly marks the establishment of that nation beyond the doubts of the entire world. And we got to keep Detroit.