In many ways a forgotten war, the War of 1812 was America’s first test as a nation. Had it ended differently, we might have been colonies again.
Reenactors and Living Historians in 2013 reveled in the 150th anniversary of Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Vicksburg, some of the most monumental battles of the American Civil War. Thousands of participants, tens of thousands of spectators, and merchants of all kinds have gathered to relive these events that shaped our nation and its people forever.
2013 and 2014 have seen anniversaries of other battles from an earlier war which has also shaped American History, the War of 1812. Though overshadowed by its later, longer and bloodier cousin, the War of 1812 was the first major military test of new United States, the only conflict in our history in which a foreign power invaded our states, and the only one in which our capital, Washington DC, was captured. The War of 1812 is famous for Fort McHenry’s valiant stand against the British fleet, the setting of Francis Scott Key’s Star Spangled Banner, and for Andrew Jackson’s (Old Hickory) decimation of the British forces at the Battle of New Orleans.
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Ordinary people often feel powerless to improve our society, or even our lives. We can, and we do, but we can do it better.
Last night after dinner my family and I were discussing some of the Middle East events of the day, and the picture was not pretty. Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria were capturing more territory, killing more people, and destroying mosques and other religious sites. Hamas and Hezbollah were launching rocket attacks on Israel, who was retaliating with air strikes, killing many. Syria remained embroiled in its civil war, and the “Arab Spring” of 2011, with all of its hopes of democracy, has turned sour. My daughter, visibly troubled, asked what our government was going to do about all of this mayhem. I answered that no matter how powerful, governments have limited ability to intervene. The American President Barack Obama, who some consider to be the most powerful man in the world, has four main elements of American national power that he can use to accomplish US goals in the world, which in this case is to restore peace and stability and promote democracy.
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Complain as you will about the American political system, our elections and transfers of power are the best in the world, and in history.
Americans have waited long for this day to come; some because they are sick of the seemingly endless cycle of electioneering, and others because they are hopeful that their efforts will pay off, or at least their candidates and initiatives will succeed. Most people probably have a mix of these feelings. While understandable, such discomfiture is far better than the alternative. The purpose of elections in every country is to provide for a fair and stable transition of power from one person or group to another. Few countries in history have been able to pull this off.
Whatever happens today in any individual race, including the race for the presidency, power will change hands. The 112th Congress will give way to the 113th, some states will have different faces in their governors’ offices, and the legislative rolls will contain different names. Local governments also will not be the same in January as they are today. The amazing thing about America is that power changes hands with stability, if not civility, and money, not blood.
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