The Richmond History Podcast

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Who names these wars?

Perry's Victory On Lake Erie, Library of Congress
"The American Revolution"... makes sense, The United States of America revolted against England.
"The Vietnam War"... makes sense, it was fought in Vietnam.
"WWI" and "WWII"... makes sense, a lot of the world was at war.
"The Persian Gulf War"... it was fought around the Persian Gulf, that makes sense.
"The War of 1812"... That makes sense it was a war that lasted from roughly 1811-1815... wait... what?

Congress did officially declare war the first time in 1812, but, it is not called "The First Declared War".  In fact it is commonly said The Battle of Tippecanoe was the first battle of the war and that was way back in 1811. 1  Tippecanoe is an important enough event that it propelled William Henry Harrison to the presidency1 but not important enough to get naming rights.
Battle of Tippecanoe, Library of Congress

Americans didn't even do so well during the war's name sake year.  What the heck?
Some highlights from the year 1812 include three failed US attempts to invading Canada2, riots in Baltimore against the war1, and the Americans lose of Ft. Mackinac when the Brits invaded what is today Michigan1.  The US did get a huge victory when the USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides") defeated the HMS Guerriere. Big win USA!!! But not big enough to merit the whole war being named after it.

1813 was a bit better.  At The Battle of Frenchtown the British and Indian allies did repel Kentucky troops and the American survivors were killed in the Raisin River Massacre, but the Americans are able to defeat the British at The Battle of Lake Erie under Captain Perry,  give a good whipping at The Battle of York (Toronto) taking control of Great Lakes and burning York2, and win at The Battle of Thames (Ontario, Canada) where Tecumseh the great Indian warrior is killed.2

Now, 1814 was even more worthy of a name.  Washington DC was burned and President Madison fledleaving Dolly Madison the opportunity to save George Washington's Portrait from the White House. That has got to be one of the three most famous and romanticized scenes of this multi-year war.  Another one of the three famous scenes happened in 1814, The Battle of Fort McHenry, when Francis Scott Key penned the Star Spangled Banner.  Not an easy song to sing, but it is still the US national anthem and that's got to be worth something.  1814 isn't just about good stories, the US also secured its northern boarder at The Battle of Plattsburg on Lake Champlain and diplomats agree to the treaty of Ghent which returns to the prewar status quo.1

Now 1815 was the year that the war should be named after... in the US anyways.  In that year we see Andrew Jackson CRUSH the British at The Battle of New Orleans and the peace treaty is ratified and President Madison declares the is war over.1  So what if one of the biggest US victory was after peace was already negotiated.  The battle gave Jackson enough fame to put him in the White House.

It is sometimes known as "Mr. Madison's War", "The Second Revolution" and "The Forgotten War".  I like The Forgotten War, but if it gets a better name we may not forget about it so much.  Maybe something like "The War That Took Place Loosely Around 1812" or "The War That Launched A Couple of Presidents" or "The Super Sweet War That Didn't Decide A Lot".
Suggest some better names in the comments below, even if you are Native American, British, or Canadian.

I think with American/Canadian/Native American/British ingenuity we can come up with a better name.

Maybe the naming rights could be sold to a corporation like a stadium.  "Pepsi War"... sounds good.


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  1. How about the "Stupid War" we didn't need it!!!!!

  2. See:

    In response to Anonymous, I agree that war is destructive and perhaps not always the best solution to solving problems. Conversely, I'm sure as heck glad that Hitler is dead and we aren't promoting National Socialism of the Third Reich...

    1. Any story that includes the possibility of someone taking there own ear with them to a meeting is a good one. I wonder if he used the dramatic flare that I want to believe he should have. If he just pulled it out that was a real wasted opportunity.
      Thanks for the comment.