DC at Night

DC at Night

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

1812: A Nation Emerges

The Battle of New Orleans
 Most Americans believe the United States won the War of 1812 against the British. But the idea of an American military victory is more myth than reality. At best it was a draw. The British won most of the land battles. They successfully blocked all the important American ports. They stymied a main American objective of invading Canada. And, in the Treaty of Ghent which ended the war, the stated cause of the conflict - interference with shipping and the impressment of Americans into the British navy - was never addressed.

However, the aftermath of the war definitely set into motion many factors that propelled America to become a dominant nation. First, of course, the war ended British control or influence in any part of the new nation. It created a tremendous surge of nationalism and belief in the American experience. It allowed for western expansion. Perhaps, most importantly, it firmly established that the United States was a real country that would play a strong part on the world stage.

Both the war and its aftermath are the subject of the impressive new exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery entitled 1812: A Nation Emerges.

... what so proudly we hail ...
As is appropriate for a portrait gallery, faces of all the major players, both those for the U.S. and those from Britain, are on display. Some are well-known. President James Madison. First Lady Dolley Madison. Francis Scott Key. Andrew Jackson. Others are not so well-known such as White House slave Paul Jennings, who is credited with helping save the famous George Washington painting from burning by British troops.

One section features art dealing with spectacular American naval victories—Oliver Hazard Perry on Lake Erie, Isaac Hull with the Constitution (“Old Ironsides” - "We have met the enemy and they are ours), and Jacob Lawrence ("Don't give up the ship").

The war gave America 2 of its most lasting symbols - "The Star Spangled Banner" and Uncle Sam - and both symbols are explained and presented pictorially.

No battle better captured the American idea of victory than did Andrew Jackson's crushing of British forces at the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson's rag tag troops caused more than 2,000 casualties while sustaining only 71 themselves. Ironically the famed battle, which led to so much national pride, occurred more than a month after the 1815 treaty officially ending hostilities had been signed in Europe. However, word of the treaty signing had not yet reached the United States.

The political impact of the war was great. Jackson, William Henry Harrison, and Zachary Tyler, all military commanders during the conflict, were elected president with much of their initial popularity coming from their wartime endeavors.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Obviously, since 2012 marks the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the War of 1812, there are a host of exhibitions, programs, and talks here in Washington dealing with the subject. Few have the comprehensiveness of the one at the National Portrait Gallery. If you want to see 1812: A Nation Emerges you have until Jan. 27 when the exhibition closes.

Blog Archive

Popular Posts