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Tough Loss

Why did the British lose the War of 1812… consensus history teaches that the Napoleonic wars kept mighty England from crushing the upstart Americans.  As expected, consensus historical lessons are wrapped too tightly, strangling the complexities from our past.  America won the war, but Britain lost it just as much.  We cannot pin this all on the French.

Right on the nose !

  • Poor strategy and execution– As in the Revolutionary War, Britain attempted a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy.  Simultaneous invasions would divide American forces and allow the British to defeat the disorganized American armies.  Unfortunately, the invasions were far from timely; poorly organized and executed, British forces were unable achieve any strategic success during the invasions of upstate New York and Maryland.  The third invasion at New Orleans ended in disaster.  The first graduates from the American military academy (like Winfield Scott)  were able to rally American forces, including the unreliable militiamen, to resist the uncoordinated assaults.
  • Political disunity– The government of Spencer Perceval had taken a stand against American attempts to trade with France their during the war.  Perceval’s ministers enacted the Orders in Council and did little as the tensions with America continued to rise.  Diplomats serving in Washington did a poor job communicating Britain’s positions on key issues.  Perceval’s assassination on May 11, 1812 brought to power Lord Liverpool, who sought to ease tensions with America.  The repeal of the Orders in Council just two days before America’s declaration of war was not accepted by all British ministers.  The disunity in  Liverpool’s government continued as the hostilities escalated.
  • Swatting flies– The British military machine was not built to fight an enemy like the United States.  The British army was recruited and trained to fight on the sweeping fields of Europe, not the wilds of North America; geography proved to be a keen enemy in both wars Britain fought in America.  The small, but powerful American fleet did not give the Royal Navy its Trafalgar of the west.  The power frigates of the US fleet held their own in ship to ship combat.  These small victories boosted American morale during the dark days of the conflict.  The British dependence on its Indian allies on the frontier proved as detrimental as in the Seven Years War.  The United States used its home field advantage to keep the British war machine from operating efficiently.

No contest, one on one.

But it is said that we are not prepared for war, and ought therefore not to declare it. This is an idle objection, which can have weight with the timid and pusillanimous only. The fact is otherwise. Our preparations are adequate to every essential object. Do we apprehend danger to ourselves? From what quarter will it assail us? From England, and by invasion? The idea is too absurd to merit a moment’s consideration. –Henry Clay, 1811



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Abusing History: Original Intent, the First Amendment, and Religious Freedom (Part I): A Critique of Vincent Phillip Muñoz’s “The Original Meaning of the Establishment Clause and the Impossibility of its Incorporation”

History Chick in AZ

In 1946 Everson v. Board of Education borrowed Thomas Jefferson’s simple phrase, “a wall of separation between Church and State,” (1) to describe the meaning of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. While the memorable metaphor caught the public’s imagination it also provoked the ire of those who sought a more prominent role for religion in public life. Unhappy with the implications of this separationist interpretation of the Establishment Clause (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”), conservatives mounted a campaign aimed at undoing Everson. While they have been largely unsuccessful in achieving that goal, they have had some success in chipping away at the wall of separation. The power of the Establishment Clause has been brushed aside in recent years to make way for an ever more expansive interpretation of the Free Exercise Clause by the conservative Roberts Court (see Trinity). A fatal blow…

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Revisited Myth # 141: Colonial-era bread ovens were constructed outside the fireplace, to one side of the hearth.

History Myths Debunked

Above: 18th-c. New England fireplace with rear bread oven; below: Michie Tavern fireplace with right side oven.

This is more misunderstanding than myth, but Cindy Conte of Michie Tavern, Charlottesville, Virginia, asked me to address the subject, so I will! 

“The 18th-century hearth is one of the most romanticized and iconic images of colonial times,” writes Cindy Conte. “Early depictions feature a woman in colonial garb cooking over a roaring fire. Sadly, this romantic hearth cooking image has been stamped into our mindset as permanently as it has been inked into old history books. At least once every season a tourist will point to the bread oven which is tucked to the side of our fireplace and exclaim, ‘That has to be wrong. A person would get burned baking bread if the oven were placed there.’ Surely, they are thinking of that colonial woman, a roaring fire and possibly a…

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Review of “Being Nixon: A Man Divided” by Evan Thomas

My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies

Being Nixon: A Man Divided” by Evan Thomas was published in 2015. Thomas was a writer and editor for over three decades at Newsweek and Time Magazine and served as visiting professor at Harvard and Princeton. He is the author of nine books including “Ike’s Bluff: President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World” which I read and enjoyed.

This ostensibly comprehensive, full-length biography is the product of significant research and is consistently fluent, fluid and eminently readable. And it proves far more balanced than I expected given its reputation for being too sympathetic to Nixon.

One question which proves difficult to unravel is whether this book intends to serve as a biography or a character study. During its early pages it feels firmly like the latter – exploring Nixon’s thoughts and actions and analyzing his personality. As the narrative approaches his presidency, though, it…

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Santo Tomas Internment Camp

Pacific Paratrooper

Santo Tomas Internment Camp, aerial view.

Santo Tomás Internment Camp [STIC] was the largest of several camps in the Philippines in which the Japanese interned enemy civilians, mostly Americans, in World War II. The campus of the University of Santo Tomás in Manila was utilized for the camp which housed more than 4,000 internees from January 1942 until February 1945.

Over a period of several days, the Japanese occupiers of Manila collected all enemy aliens in Manila and transported them to the University of Santo Tomás, a fenced compound 50 acres (22 ha) in size. Thousands of people, mostly Americans and British, staked out living and sleeping quarters for themselves and their families in the buildings of the University. The Japanese mostly let the foreigners fend for themselves except for appointing room monitors and ordering a 7:30 p.m. roll call every night.

American flag draped over balcony of building as…

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Review: The Girls in the Picture

Amy's Scrap Bag: A Blog About Libraries, Archives, and History

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie BenjaminGirlsinthePicture

Delacorte Press, 2018.  Hardcover, 448 pages.

Benjamin is noted for her previous best-selling works,The Aviator’s Wife andThe Swans of Fifth Avenue, brought forth her latest work of historical fiction last week.  The Girls in the Picture brings to life the story of Frances Marion and Mary Pickford.  Not only were they the best of friends, but the pair were also a creative tour-de-force in the early years of the motion picture industry.

The story opened in 1914 when Frances first met Mary on a Hollywood set.  She had come to see about drawing the actress and they connected.  Alongside the new-found friendship, Frances became enthralled with the industry, but did not want to act, and tried various rolls before setting in as a writer, then called a scenarist.  And once that niche was found, Frances and Mary…

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Grant and Buckner: Three Conversations

Presidential History Blog

The quintessential General Grant

U.S. Grant and S.B. Buckner were cadets at West Point.

Cadets Grant and Buckner

Ulysses S. Grant, class of 1843, and Simon Bolivar Buckner, class of 1844, were both midwesterners of middle-class standing both financially and academically.

West Point classes were small prior to the Civil War, perhaps 40 or 50 cadets. Most students had at least a passing acquaintance with their upper and lower academy mates.

Grant, an Ohioan, was a year ahead of Buckner, unremarkable except for his “U.S.” initials and his superb horsemanship. He graduated mid-class.

Simon Bolivar Buckner, a Kentuckian was likewise unremarkable, except for his “namesake” monicker and his good looks. He also graduated in the middle of his class.

Confederate General Simon Bolivar Buckner

The acquaintanceship between them was pleasant, but casual.

Lts. Grant and Buckner renewed their cordial old-school-ties during the War with Mexico. Then they went…

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