Ladies and gentlemen . . . let the bicentennial hoopla begin. It was 200 years ago this very month--June 18th, to be exact--when President James Madison signed the congressional "war bill" that made official our second armed conflict with Mother Britain. "Whereas the Congress of the United States, by the Constituted Authority vested in them," the president's proclamation read, "have declared that war exists between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and the dependencies thereof, and the United States of America and their territories; Now, therefore, I, James Madison, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim the same to all whom it may concern and specially enjoin on all persons holding offices. . . ." Well, you get the idea. From there it rather loses its way and becomes one hell of a badly punctuated run-on sentence, of the sort fashionable back then. And of the sort now used by lawyers seeking to confuse us.
As we mention in this issue's overview of the coming bicentennial events and festivities around the Bay ["In A Star-Spangled Manner," see page 38], after declaring war we spent the rest of 1812 failing to invade Canada. And early the following year, while battles continued on the Canadian border, the Great Lakes and what was then our western frontier, the Brits brought the war to our estuarine doorstep. They blockaded the Bay and spent the next couple of years burning, pillaging, attacking and generally making life difficult and terrifying for citizens of the Chesapeake. They burned Hampton, attacked Norfolk, burned Havre de Grace, attacked St. Michaels, burned Georgetown, attacked Queenstown, burned Washington, attacked Baltimore.
We persevered, however. And that was no small feat, when you consider we were taking on the most powerful navy the world had ever seen, not to mention disciplined, battle-hardened Redcoats who had been fighting Napoleon for nearly ten years. So news of the Treaty of Ghent, a status quo ante bellum deal hammered out in December of 1814, must have been an enormous relief to the citizens of the Chesapeake.
And of course now, all is forgiven. Our only dispute with Britain and Canada is that they waste all those u's in words like "colour" and "favourite" and "harbour." That's very annoying. Almost as annoying as saying "biscuit" when you mean "cookie." But I digress. We really have come a long way. I have both Canadian and British friends, and I hardly ever feel a need to attack them. And that, more or less, is what we're celebrating for the next few years, is it not?
Okay, I'm being told that is in fact not what we're celebrating. Rather, we are celebrating the rich history of the Chesapeake, the important role the Bay played in the nation's early history, in what many called the Second War of Independence.
Fine. That works for me too. As I said, let the bicentennial hoopla begin!
Tim Sayles, Editor