America’s second Declaration of Independence

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By Bill McHugh

This July 4 marks the nation’s 236th anniversary from British rule. However, 2012 is also another important date in our nation’s history. This year marks our 200th anniversary from our second independence from British domination during the War of 1812.
In June 1812 America once again went to war against the greatest military power in the world. Britain along with Canadians and Native Americans were the targets of America’s bourgeoning spirit of independence and international liberty. It was a small but bitter war that most Americans have forgotten. Yet it not only brought us our national anthem but it forged the destiny for the country and the North American continent for 200 years.
The antagonist of this war was Britain and it’s seizing of American cargo as well as its impressment of American sailors. Britain was at war with France during this time. The United States was exercising its independence by trading with countries across the globe. Thomas Jefferson had hoped this would spread liberty of the seas and trade amongst all nations. As a result, America openly traded with both Britain and France as they waged war against each other.
Britain resented the United States supplying France with supplies. Britain therefore began seizing all US cargo headed for France as well as impressing American soldiers into the service in the British Navy. Their excuse for impressment (unpaid service) was once a British citizen, always a British citizen. Americans were also resentful of the fact the British in Canada were using Native American’s to harass American settlers in the growing Northwest Territory.
The protagonist for the war was Kentucky’s one and only Henry Clay, the “War Hawk.” Clay was agitating for war, due to British violations of maritime rights as well as Britain's encouragement of Native American hostility towards American expansion in the West. Clay and his War Hawks convinced President James Madison that a declaration of war was necessary to stop British hostility and promoted American independence and prosperity. On June 18, 1812, the president signed a declaration of war against the British Empire.
Initial campaigns did not fail well for the Americans with numerous defeats along the Canadian border. Kentucky governor Isaac Shelby under stood that Kentucky soldiers needed Kentucky leadership. He personally took charge and led Kentuckians at the Battle of the Thames. At this battle Kentuckians again distinguished themselves as the leaders on the battlefield and won a resounding victory.
However, U. S. forces suffered the most humiliating experience of the war when the British captured and burned Washington, D.C.  This was not before British forces ate a warm meal prepared for President Madison and wife Dolly at the White House. British troops then proceeded to burn the White House, the US Capitol, and most of the rest of Washington, D.C. When they left Washington they set their sights on Baltimore Maryland but they had to get by Fort McHenry first.
On September 13, 1814, Baltimore's Fort McHenry withstood 25 hours of bombardment by the British Navy. The shelling was unsuccessful and the invaders abandoned the attack. This event inspired Francis Scott Key to write The Star-Spangled Banner. Ironically, the lyrics were later set to the tune of an English drinking song that now represents America’s national anthem.
The British fleet then set its sights on America’s second busiest port in New Orleans. Andrew Jackson set out to defend New Orleans. When the Kentucky militia arrived for duty, Jackson said “I have never seen a Kentuckian without a gun and a pack of cards and a bottle of whiskey in my life.” Jackson’s defense consisted of a multiethnic and multiracial frontier militiamen, creole aristocrats, free blacks, slaves, Native Americans, and even pirates.
Andrew Jackson successfully defended New Orleans even though the treaty ending the war had already been signed. In fact, efforts to negotiate the end of hostilities had begun shortly after the war started. The war had a far-reaching impact for the United States. It ushered in the period known as the Era of Good Feelings; a time when America had no political parties, no conflicts, and unparalleled prosperity. The war's outcome boosted national self-confidence and encouraged the growing spirit of American expansionism that define the shape of the United States that still serves us to this day.