Local historian to discuss the misunderstood war

  • This year is the bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812, but it hasn’t gotten much notice.
  • By Don Steele
    Oct. 18, 2012 6 a.m.
  • DODGE CITY — This year is the bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812, but it hasn’t gotten much notice.
    Larry Burke, retired DC3 professor of history, will discuss the war in a presentation scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Dodge City Public Library.
    “The War of 1812 is one of the most misunderstood wars we ever fought,” Burke said in an interview at the Globe Monday.
    “It was perhaps our poorest effort – we were terribly unprepared,” he said.
    Thomas Jefferson and his party were intent on cutting government expenses so they cut the military budget drastically, leaving American’s defenses weak and under funded.
    At the same time, they slowed imports and exports, crippling America’s industry.
    At the time, America had legitimate grievances against the British and French and we were trying to be neutral in their conflict.
    But as British soldiers began to desert and take civilian jobs or even take jobs on American naval ships, the British began stopping ships and forcing the deserters to return to British service. Britain did not recognize the right of deserters to declare themselves American. In addition, the British government considered Americans who had been born in Britain to still be British subjects, so they began impressing American sailors into service.
    The complicated power struggle also involved British interference in the new American government’s negotiations with the native population as well as a battle over control of Canada.
    “America wanted to conquer Canada or at least use it as a bargaining chip,” Burke said.
    America’s generals were unprepared for the war; the Army fought poorly and a strategy of defending ports with small gunboats failed miserably.
    The British carried out a series of attacks on Washington, D.C. and burned the Navy Yard, the Capitol and the White House.
    It was the American Navy that turned the tide.
    The Navy fleet, which included possibly the most famous warship ever: the USS Constitution, nicknamed Old Ironsides, was able to win several one-on-one duels with British ships.
    “The Navy’s success surprised a lot of people,” Burke said. “Then the Army showed up and began to do a better job.”
    The war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent Dec. 24, 1814.
    Fighting continued, however, during the two months it took for news of the treaty to reach U.S. shores.

    The effects of war
    “Up to then, America had looked back to Europe – economically, culturally and for manufacturing,” Burke said.
    “The War of 1812 severed that look back. America became a united country with a sense of pride and we began to develop our own industry.”
    From the end of the war onward, America looked inward and to the west for strength and growth.
    The end of the war also marked the end of the Indian resistance.

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