Anniversary of the War that Nobody Remembers
On June 18th, 208 years ago, the War of 1812 was declared. Why was this war important? you might ask. Last night, as I was watching Chapter 4 (Season 1) of the Amazon Prime Series The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel, one of the stand-up comedians that features in the show was making a joke out of the fact that no one remembers what that war was about. The punchline was on the very name of the war: “I think it was because it was 1812”, the comedian said, implying that that is all we know.
In fact, the reasons and the outcomes of the war were not the significant part of this event, but rather the symbols and ideologies which sprang up from it. Put shortly, among the heterogeneous reasons for the war the main one was Britain’s disrespect for American autonomy, as the former metropolis was constantly interfering with the newly-formed country’s overseas trade and expansionism to the West (Jenkins 1997, 71). After several years of boundary fighting in the northern frontier (Jones 1995, 103) the war results were inconclusive and peace was signed at Ghent because of the inconclusiveness of the conflict (105). Curiously enough, after the peace treaty was signed (but news had not reached the American continent), the victory at the Battle of New Orleans, the biggest in the conflict, made Andrew Jackson a national hero (Jenkins 72; Jones 105). Despite the irrelevance of this battle for the war results, it boosted the American confidence on itself as an independent power (Remini 73-4), and a period of exacerbated nationalism followed (Remini 2008, 74).
This part of the war may help to understand why Andrew Jackson, as a General during the First Seminole War in 1817 and as a president authorising the removal of the Cherokee Indians from their lands in Georgia, which led to the so-called “Trail of Tears” in 1832, was so hard on native Americans (Jones 1995, 109; 141). And the reason lies behind the fact that one of the issues during this war was that “the British had incited Indian border warfare,” or at least so claimed James Madison’s war message to Congress (Jones 1995, 101). As Maldwyn A. Jones claims, “Jackson’s lack of sympathy for the red man was only to be expected from such an old Indian fighter” (141). In addition, during this very war the Creeks started an insurrection in Tennessee, where Jackson was sent in order to subdue them, an event which ended in the cession of much Indian land belonging to the Creeks to the United States (Remini 2008, 72-3).
Regarding other prevalent effects of the war, rather than a matter of international politics, those can be found in two symbols that are crucial for the identification of the American nation: its anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner – composed by a lawyer while he was witnessing a bombardment in Baltimore (Jones 105) – and the figure of Uncle Sam, based on Samuel Wilson, a meat supplier during this war. Because his nephews and nieces used this affectionate nickname to refer to him and his barrels were stamped with the acronym “U.S.”, the two ideas merged and came to create a personification of the nation in the image of a likeable old man (Hickey 2015, 681).
In short, the relevance of certain events cannot only be measured through their political and economic consequences, but rather paying attention to their role in the shaping of the national consciousness of the factions involved, undoubtedly a more enduring and long-lasting repercussion.
Hickey, Donald R. 2015. “A Note on the Origins of ‘Uncle Sam,’ 1810-1820.” The New England Quarterly 88(4): 681-692. The MIT Press Journals.
Jenkins, Philip. 1997. A History of the United States. Basingstoke and London: Macmillan Press LTD.
Jones, Maldwyn A. 1995. The Limits of Liberty: American History. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
Remini, Robert V. 2008. A Short History of the United States. New York: Harper Perennial.
Sherman-Palladino, Amy, creator. 2017-2019. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Produced by Dhana Gilbert, Matthew Shapiro, Salvatore Carino and Sheila Lawrence. Amazon Prime Video.
SUGGESTED CITATION: Fernández Jiménez, Mónica. 2020. “Anniversary of the War that Nobody Remembers.”PopMeC Research Blog. Published June 18, 2020.