The Bugler

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E Pluribus Unum

In 1794 our young nation was struggling with many issues but one of the most annoying problems were the ones with Great Britain. Great Britain and France were fighting in Europe in a series of wars lasting through 1815 known as the French Revolutionary Wars and later years the Napoleonic Wars. The young President George Washington tried to stay neutral. There were many flaws with this strategy. America had been independent for over ten years but relations with Great Britain still caused us trouble. Britain still had troops in forts in the west. The west in this case was Detroit and Mackinac in Michigan, Niagara in New York and part of the Miamis in Ohio. Another continuing problem was that Britain's Royal Navy was capturing hundreds of neutral ships as part of its blockade of France and the British in Canada were continuing to support Native American tribes in their resistance to American settlers in the Ohio River Valley. However, Washington believed that the cost of war to this young country, with a small army and a virtually nonexistent navy, was too great to engage in war with Great Britain so soon.

It was in British interest to improve relations with the United States because they didn't want the United States to support France. Great Britain was our leading trading party but that could easily change to France if war was declared. This was also the real beginning of a two party political system in the U.S. Thomas Jefferson and John Madison, led the faction known as the Jeffersonians, in favoring the French. The Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, were much keener on maintaining a strong relationship with Britain, especially given the United States strong trade relationship with its mother country. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Jay, was sent to negotiate compromises, the Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation, or commonly called the Jay Treaty. This treaty was signed in 1795 and delayed war for almost two decades.

Supreme Court Justice John Jay. Painting by Gilbrt Stuart. Public domain.

However, war became inevitable for many of the same problems that had existed twenty years before. This time the young nation was ready to identify itself. The war consisted of sea attacks as each side attacked the other's merchant ships. The British blockaded the Atlantic Coast and several battles ensued on the American-Canadian frontier borders. There were also big land battles in American south culminating with the Battle of New Orleans, where the United States forces defeated the British and their Indian allies.

Chalmette Monument, Chalmette Battlefield. Photograph by Infrogmation.

This week commemorates the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans, the last battle of the war of 1812. Just downriver from New Orleans in Chalmette is the site of the January 8, 1815, Battle of New Orleans, the Chalmette Battlefield. According the National Park Service website, "Many people believe that this last great battle of the War of 1812 between the United States and Britain was unnecessary, since the treaty ending the war was signed in late 1814, but the resounding American victory at the Battle of New Orleans soon became a symbol of a new idea: American democracy triumphing over the old European ideas of aristocracy and entitlement. General Andrew Jackson's hastily assembled army had won the day against a battle-hardened and numerically superior British force. Americans took great pride in the victory and for decades celebrated January 8 as a national holiday, just like the Fourth of July."

Although the War of 1812 officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814, "the men and women of 1815 saw the American victory on a field in Chalmette as the war's true end. It was also the beginning of a true American identity: no longer would Americans think of their country as a collection of states with different interests, but rather as a nation which drew its strength from its differences. E pluribus unum - Out of many, one." (www.nps.gov)

The War of 1812 receives less notice than other American conflicts, but so many images that made America strong came from this conflict. Some are just memories like the Star Spangled Banner was written during this conflict. We can envision Dolley Madison fleeing the burning White House with the picture of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart (only later would she learn it was a copy) and we can all see in our minds the pictures of Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans. The war also made us realize that a strong nation had to have a strong Navy, since "despite the brilliant victories, and despite the successes of the campaign waged by the U.S. Navy and hundreds of American privateers against British commerce, the costs to the United States because it lacked adequate naval power were quickly driven home. Great Britain was able to send numerous naval squadrons and several armies across the Atlantic. The United States found its ports blockaded and its trade all but destroyed. The British raided the coast at will. In the summer of 1814 a small British force captured Washington, the national capital, and burned many public buildings and facilities, including the navy yard and the White House. This would never happen again."

Be sure and visit the National Park Service website, commemorating the bicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans. This website does a great job of telling the stories of our country and giving us great ideas of ways to explore different parts of our country. For example, if you are lucky enough to visit the Chalmette Battlefield, the website will give you a link on how to reach the battlefield on a paddle wheeler from New Orleans, and about climbing the battlefield's 100-foot-high obelisk, the Chalmette Monument.

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