Give this war a chance, two centuries later
The Civil War is still big here.
After all, it started here.
"The Big One," aka World War II, is big here, too
After all, we've got the Yorktown -- and the Laffey.
But our "Second War of Independence," aka the War of 1812, doesn't get as much notice as it deserves in these parts -- or most other parts.
Congress declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812, when constitutional adherence was still in vogue. Thus, the 200th anniversary of that momentous event is less than five months away.
Yet the mostly naval war is still widely ignored -- even in Canada, where most of its epic land battles were waged.
According to a front-page story in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, despite $28 million in Canadian funding for commemorations of the war, our neighbors to the north don't seem particularly interested in -- or informed about -- that conflict. Sandra Shaul, Toronto's bicentennial coordinator, told the Journal she's trying her best to remind her fellow Canadians: "The Americans invaded, they burned our parliament."
Gee, taken out of context, that sounds quite unneighborly. But 16 months after U.S. soldiers inflicted that fiery fate in York (now Toronto), British forces burned the White House and the Capitol in Washington.
Anyway, two centuries is too long to hold a grudge. Indeed, some Canadians are averse to rehashing their past as a U.S. enemy. From the Journal: "The left-leaning New Democratic Party has accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of using the bicentennial to promote flag-waving nationalism centered on Canada's British roots."
Certainly there was plenty of flag-waving optimism on our side at the war's outset. A rookie U.S. House member destined for prominence even predicted: "I believe that in four weeks from the time a declaration of war is heard on our frontier, the whole of Upper Canada and a part of Lower Canada will be in our power."
That's not the only time South Carolina's John C. Calhoun was wrong. Still, he later became Secretary of War (now euphemistically known as Secretary of Defense) and vice president. And though forever tainted as an ardent defender of human bondage, Calhoun had plenty of slavery-fan company in his time.
He also had plenty of "war hawk" company in 1812.
Diminutive President James Madison, the slave-owning "Father of the Constitution," even sounded this muy macho theme five months after leading us into another war with our mother country:
"To have shrunk, under such circumstances, from manly resistance, would have been a degradation blasting our best and proudest hopes; it would have struck us from the high ranks where the virtuous struggles of our fathers had placed us, and have betrayed the magnificent legacy which we hold in trust for future generations."
And lest you imagine that the lack of significant War of 1812 military action in our state makes it no big deal for South Carolina, remember not just Calhoun's rabble-rousing role but a glorious victory led by S.C. native Andrew Jackson. Remember, too, that there's a nice War of 1812 monument in Mount Pleasant's Old Village.
OK, so Jackson's triumphant rout of the Redcoats came 15 days after the folks who signed the Treaty of Ghent thought that they had ended the war.
However, while that deal made the War of 1812 more or less a draw, it confirmed that the U.S. was here to stay. The post-treaty victory by "Old Hickory" gave our young nation icing on that cake.
Nearly a century and a half later, it even gave Arkansas high school history teacher Jimmy Driftwood the inspiration to write "The Battle of New Orleans." From that foot-stomping tune, which became a No. 1 hit on the Billboard charts for Johnny Horton in 1959:
"We fired our guns and the British kept a'comin',
There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago,
We fired once more and they began to runnin',
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico"
The war also moved Francis Scott Key to write a hit song of his own. He came up with the lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner," sung to the tune of an old English drinking ditty, after witnessing the successful defense of Baltimore Harbor in "the twilight's last gleaming" at Fort McHenry.
So don't underrate the War of 1812 for drama, impact and S.C. influence.
And don't forget this evidence that wars usually turn out much tougher than initially expected:
The War of 1812 lasted until 1815.