Maybe they're still mad they lost -

Maybe they’re still mad they lost

Canada is pouring millions into the bicentennial of the War of 1812. So why has the U.S. only set aside $5,000?


Mark Wilson / Getty Images

In the eyes of the world, the War of 1812 may always appear insignificant against its Napoleonic backdrop. But it did decide the destiny of a continent, persuading Empire and Union that it was better to have trade crossing the border than troops.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in Niagara Falls, Ont., on May 21, opening a new federally funded expansion to the city’s History Museum, which stands on the site of the ferocious July 1814 Battle of Lundy’s Lane. The federal and provincial governments are each giving the museum up to $3.2 million; for the feds, the money is part of a Throne Speech promise to commemorate the bicentennial of the war, “an event that was key to shaping our identity as Canadians and ultimately our existence as a country.”

Another $9 million in 50-50 federal-provincial cash is going to three Niagara Parks Commission sites: Old Fort Erie, McFarland House, and the Laura Secord Homestead. Ottawa has also set aside $12 million for improvements to 1812-related National Historic Sites along the frontier, including Gen. Brock’s monument at Queenston Heights. And Toronto is putting at least $5 million into a new visitors’ centre at Fort York.

But the only corresponding public funding on the other side of the border, as noted by the Buffalo News in April, has been a measly US$5,000 donation from the Niagara County legislature. Why isn’t Uncle Sam pulling his weight?

Mild embarrassment, perhaps. “Many Canadians view the War of 1812 as their own war of independence and, with great justification, they believe they handily won it,” says Colorado historian Walter Borneman, author of 1812: The War That Forged a Nation. “On the American side, the war is overshadowed by our own American Revolution and later wars, in large part because, except for naval victories on the seas and lakes and Jackson’s huge victory at New Orleans, there wasn’t much to cheer about militarily.”

In fiscally comfortable times, New York state spent lavishly on the 250th anniversary of what the Americans call the French and Indian War (1754-63). But the state still hasn’t covered all its expenses from that celebration, and last fall Gov. David Paterson vetoed a bill that would have created a state War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission. The story is similar elsewhere: in Alabama, where the war’s last major battle took place, the state House and Senate played ping-pong with a bicentennial commission bill this spring until the clock ran out on the legislature’s one annual session.
U.S. states, unlike Canadian provinces, face complicated legal restrictions on their ability to run deficits, so budget crises bite deep for governors like Paterson. Arlene White, executive director of the Niagara region’s Binational Tourism Alliance, has faith the private sector will pick up some of the slack, noting that “there are a lot more foundations stateside.”
Canadians forget easily that the War of 1812 was a cross-country phenomenon in the U.S., ranging from Maine to Ohio to New Orleans. Maryland, where Francis Scott Key witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814 and wrote The Star-Spangled Banner, has ambitious plans. The state’s budget is tight, but Democrat Gov. Martin O’Malley is a War of 1812 buff. He created a state Bicentennial Commission by executive order, and Congress is considering a U.S. Mint commemorative coin issue that would provide it with up to US$8.5 million.
Despite the general tight-fistedness, American culture is, on some fronts, stepping up. Florentine Films, the production company co-founded by Ken Burns, is working on a two-hour War of 1812 documentary for PBS. And the U.S. Navy, for which the story of the war constitutes holy scripture, plans to take a fleet of modern vessels and period sailing ships up and down the coast—perhaps even to Toronto.

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Maybe they’re still mad they lost

  1. I recently sat in a pub at Harvard with group of America's best and brightest. Somehow or other, the War of 1812 came up and I made a joke about our side winning. The Yanks looked confused. I explained. They were amazed. These young PhDs had never heard that the victory of the United States in the War of 1812 was seen somewhat differently north of the border.

  2. I had a similar experience years ago when I was working in California and got onto the topic of the War of 1812 with a few other coworkers. Most expressed surprise at my interpretation of events, though I did have one American coworker who was a bit of a history buff. She said she was embarrassed by how the war is covered in the US school system.

    I also had another coworker express surprise that Canada had fought in World War II, but that's another story…

  3. I've just never understood the American angle on this one.

    The war ended with the territorial boundaries pretty much exactly where they were when it began, and with none of the economic or trade policies of the Empire that the U.S. opposed being changed one iota. I'm sorry, but if you invade another country in an attempt to take some (if not ALL) of their territory, and at the end of the fighting you've failed to take any of their territory, nor did you manage to convince them of changing any of their policies towards you, then you LOST. It's seems kinda axiomatic, and you can make a simple and compelling argument that the war was an American loss without even mentioning the fact that we chased them out of their own capitol city and set their President's house on fire.

    • Okay, it's easy enough to explain.

      Invading Canada was not the end, but the means, to pressure Britain into ending its wartime restrictions on American trade with Europe and de facto policy of impressing American citizens into the Royal Navy. (Specifically, if Canada were in US hands and Scandanavia was still part of the Continental System, the British Navy would have to buy naval stores from the US, and that would give the US the leverage to demand policy changes.)

      With the war in Europe over, there was no longer a British blockade on trade with the continent or British impressment of US citizens. The reasons for the war gone, leaving the US with no actual reason to continue fighting. A peace was then made on the status quo ante bellum, no less a military authority than Wellington telling the British government it had no military grounds for making demands on the United States.

      So, the result was a draw, neither side having gained anything and the reasons for the war having evaporated with Napoleon's empire.

      • I'm not sure you can dismiss the invasion of Canada as a means to an end. Gaining territory was also a strong motivation.

      • balowny…. thats nothing but made up non-sence that the usa had "no more reason to fight any more so they just stopped"..
        the invasion of canada/Britons northern colonies, was by a bunch of renegade generals looking for a easy win, and yes, teritory was most of the goal, that and bragging rights.
        that "war" was not some planned out venture. It was poorly timed, not thought out, supplies where not planned for the harse winters, ect, ect.
        Canada/Britans northern colonies could not have stood for long against co-ordinated attack against a superior force, as the U.S.A. was, no matter how much spirt we had. We would of been out-gunned.
        If the usa had a real reason like what Lunatic was saying, and they had put any thought into it, i would be eating deep-fried turkey right now.
        some generals got trigger-happy, died, and no-one missed them. and it was an embarrassment, so best to forget it even happend.
        what president would continue a war that he didn't want or start? best to dismiss it as a minor skirmish.

    • If you fail to extract any territorial or policy concessions from your wartime opponent, then you didn't win.
      If your wartime opponent fails to extract any territorial or policy concessions from you, then you didn't lose.

      Ergo, the War of 1812 was a tie. And Canadians/Brits who claim that we "won" or the Americans "lost" are just as deluded as Americans who claim the opposite.

      PS- The (Upper) Canadians got chased out of their capital city and had their main government building set on fire, too.

  4. To add a little irony, the picture used in this article was taken at Jefferson Patterson Park in southern Maryland in 2003 at the annual War of 1812 re-enactment held there. The three 'Royal Marines' in the foreground are all American re-enactors!

  5. Lord Kitchener's Own misses the point that two weeks after the British took Washington, the same army and fleet attacked Baltimore and were soundly defeated by the Americans at Fort McHenry.

    The importance of the War of 1812 in American history is that it defined our identity as a nation. Moreover, Europe paid little attention to the United States for the rest of the 19th century, and Americans looked west. It allowed the US to stake claim to the west.

    Much in the same way, it is important in Canadian history. It allowed Canada to begin thinking of itself in its own right, more than just a British colony.

    On both sides of the border it's significant. Unfortunately we Americans lose sight of our own history.

  6. The US Army's Centre of Military History is commissioning a series of campaign studies for the War of 1812. It would be useful if the Canadeian War Museum or some other govt organization in Ottawa did the same–then we could fight our narratives against theirs!
    And let's be clear: the militia myth aside, the British regulars did almost all the fighting and "won" the war, not Canadians.

  7. The War of 1812 was a tie? WHAT NONSENSE!

    American History Professor Donald Hickey states in his new book (Don't Give up the Ship: Myths of the War of 1812): Who Won the War? "there are actually five groups of participants that must be considered: The biggest winner was Canada; then came Great Britain; and then the Indians living in Canada. The biggest losers were the Indians living in the United States [98% of them were exterminated by the end of the19th Century]; after them came the United States itself, which … for the first time in its history lost a war.”
    When the War of 1812 started America's leaders thought an invasion of Canada would be "a mere matter of marching," as Thomas Jefferson confidently predicted. How could a nation of 8 million fail to subdue a struggling colony of 300,000? Yet, when the campaign year of 1812 ended, the only Americans left on Canadian soil were prisoners of war. Three American armies had been forced to surrender, and the Canadians were in control of all of Michigan Territory and much of Indiana and Ohio.
    After two more years of War and another seven invasion attempts, none of Canada was occupied by American Forces and Canadian/British/Native forces occupied large chunks of land within the U.S..
    By the end of the War U.S. trade had been strangled to practically nothing, the economy was grinding to a halt, the US Navy was blockaded in port, the US Army faced increasingly hostile odds on land, and the nation's capital city lay in ashes. … And the issue over which America had gone to war — the impressment of seamen — was tactfully ignored in the peace treaty and the captured American territory returned. Too soon, the construction of reassuring myths in the immediate aftermath helped transform a futile and humiliating adventure that aimed to conquer Canada into one of defending the republic.
    These facts can all be found in books by Pierre Berton (2001), Donald Graves (1999), Jon Latimer (2007), James Elliott (2009) and Donald Hickey (2008).

    Yours respectfully, 
    Harold Cockburn

  8. it was a war won by the Native Americans, who could not read or write.  They did not gain any ground because the British Abandoned them on the field.

  9. who in there right mind would accept that bows and arrows defeated them
    a nation who could not read or write who still lived in tents.