Michael White: 1812 ... The War That Canada Won

Roundup: Talking About History

Michael White is assistant editor at The Guardian.

In an anniversary-obsessed year – with the Titanic centenary, the bicentenary of Dickens's birth (and Shakespeare's 448th), and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee – one such opportunity is largely conspicuous by its absence. Yet not everyone gets to burn down the White House after eating a fleeing president's dinner. There is even a helpful clue in the title: the War of 1812. It followed the US Congress's indignant declaration of war on 24 June against – yes – imperial Britain, a country grappling with a mad King George III, a murdered PM (Spencer Perceval) and a 20-year struggle with France.
Strange that, apart from a couple of new histories, the 30-month conflict on land, sea and lake has had little attention in either country, though Canada pays more. Its existence as an independent country with an undefended 3,000-mile land border is one of several major consequences of a silly conflict that embarrassed both sides – and still does.
Britain had its hands full fighting Napoleon in 1812, and (as in 1914-17) Americans were cross with the way both sides' embargoes disrupted their trade. But they were especially cross with maritime Britain for seizing British-born sailors to serve in the Royal Navy, and for supporting tribal warriors like Tecumseh in the frontier wars...

comments powered by Disqus