The War of 1812: It’s Importance to America
The War of 1812 is probably our most obscure conflict. Although a great deal has been written about the war, the average American is only vaguely aware of why we fought or who the enemy was. Even those who know something about the contest are likely to remember only a few dramatic moments, such as the writing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the burning of the nation’s capital, or the Battle of New Orleans.
Why is this war so obscure? One reason is that no great president is associated with the conflict. Although his enemies called it "Mr. Madison's War," James Madison was shy and deferential, hardly measuring up to such war leaders as Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, or Franklin Roosevelt. Moreover, the best American generals in this war – Andrew Jackson, Jacob Brown, and Winfield Scott – were unable to turn the tide because each was confined to a one or two theaters in a war that had seven or eight theaters. No one like George Washington, Ulysses Grant, or Dwight Eisenhower emerged to put his stamp on the war and to carry the nation to victory. Although these things are true though, the War of 1812 is the most important event for America, because it officially broke us as the United States of America apart from Great Britain.
Another reason for the obscurity of this war is that its causes are complex and little understood today. Most scholars agree that the war was fought over maritime issues, particularly the Orders in Council, which restricted American trade with the European Continent, and impressment, which was the Royal Navy’s practice of removing seamen from American merchant vessels. In contemporary parlance, the war was fought for "Free Trade and Sailors' Rights." These issues seem arcane today. Moreover, the only way that the United States to strike at Great Britain was by attacking Canada, and that made it look like a war of territorial aggression. Even today Canadians are likely to see the...
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