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Feb. 28, 2013 Volume 34, No. 21

Canadian Studies holds symposium on the war that brought America “The Star Spangled Banner”


Nations involved in the war interpret its outcomes differently

Seventy-four percent of Americans remember nothing about the War of 1812. Not the burning of the White House, the Battle of New Orleans or even the invasion of Canada. 

Moreover, America, Canada and Great Britain have different interpretations of the war’s outcomes.

The Canadian Studies program hosted two experts at a Feb. 20 Bicentennial Symposium to help shed some light on the War of 1812. The event was a prelude to the March 4–7 Canada Days, which will include lectures on Canada and a screening of the film Monsieur Lazhar. The purpose of the events is to promote awareness on campus of America’s northern neighbor.

The War of 1812 actually didn’t end until 1814, though even then fighting continued into 1815 before news of the peace agreement signed in England reached America. The war, the second between America and Great Britain, reaffirmed America’s independence, James Endersby, associate professor of political science at MU, told about 100 attendees in Memorial Union’s Jesse Wrench Auditorium. 

Less appreciated in the states is that it also solidified Canada in its view of itself as separate from the United States, said Canadian Major John R. Fisher of Canadian Forces College in Toronto. “Today, all three protagonists, the U.S., Great Britain and Canada, claim victory,” said Fisher, decked in the bright red coat of the Canadian Forces. “This may be one occasion where all sides are right — depending on what their strategic aims were.”

Americans, he said, focus on their fight with Great Britain — how the U.S. went to war to stop British abduction and impressment of American sailors into the Royal Navy, suffered the burning of the White House, and ultimately beat back the redcoats at New Orleans. Americans also got their national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” written by Francis Scott Key in 1814 as he watched the Battle of Baltimore.

But Canadians remember how former President Thomas Jefferson predicted conquering Canada would be easy, just “a mere matter of marching,” Fisher said. Canadians also hold tight to how Canadian militia helped defeat invading Americans in battles near Detroit, Niagara Falls and Quebec.

The war was mostly an afterthought for Great Britain, which wanted to keep its Canadian territory, Fisher said. Great Britain was preoccupied at the time with defeating Napoleon in Europe. 

Even so, the war was a win for the U.S. Navy, one of the few bright spots for the Americans, said David A. Taylor, who wrote the book The War of 1812 and the Rise of the U.S. Navy (National Geographic, 2012). A decade before the war, Jefferson downsized the Navy as a means of paying off the national debt. But a strong Navy “became almost an unviable policy afterward,” Taylor said.

Check for Canada Days updates and itinerary.

— Erik Potter