Often overlooked, twenty-nine years after the end of the American Revolution, conflict between the new United States and Britain flared up, again.
The War of 1812 broke out for a variety of reasons, including Britain’s seizure of American ships, forced taking of American sailors into the British navy and restriction of trade between the United States and France.
In June 1812, James Madison became the first US president to ask Congress to declare war (he sent a war message to the Congress on June 1, 1812 and signed the declaration of war on June 18, 1812.) (The conflict ended with the Treaty of Ghent, in 1815.)
The tensions that caused the War of 1812 arose from the French revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1792–1815).
During this nearly constant conflict between France and Britain, American interests were injured by each of the two countries’ endeavors to block the United States from trading with the other.
In Hawaiʻi, the issue of interest was the export of sandalwood – the War of 1812 interfered with trade in the Pacific.
Exports were interrupted by the battling nations as warships were sent to protect their own commerce and destroy that of the enemy. Hawaiʻi was blockaded during the war.
In addition, several Hawaiians served with the US in the war, including Humehume (Prince Kaumualiʻi, son of King Kaumualiʻi,) Thomas Hopu and William Kanui (all three were also on the Thaddeus with the first missionary company to Hawaiʻi, in 1820.)
A lasting legacy of the War of 1812 was the lyrics of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the US national anthem. They were penned by the amateur poet Francis Scott Key after he watched American forces withstand the British siege of Fort McHenry (named for James McHenry, Secretary of War, 1796 – 1800.)
Following the Burning of Washington and the Raid on Alexandria, Key set sail from Baltimore aboard the ship HMS Minden, flying a flag of truce on a mission approved by President James Madison. Their objective was to secure the exchange of prisoners.
On September 13, 1814, nineteen British ships aimed their cannons and guns on the fort. Amazingly, an estimated 1,500 to 1,800 British cannonballs failed to cause any significant damage to a fort which was unable to fire back on the ships because they were positioned just out of range of the American guns.
During the rainy night, Key had witnessed the bombardment and observed that the fort’s smaller “storm flag” continued to fly, but once the shell and rocket barrage had stopped, he would not know how the battle had turned out until dawn. By then, the storm flag had been lowered and the larger flag had been raised.
Key was inspired by the American victory and the sight of the large American flag flying triumphantly above the fort. That morning, he penned the poem that eventually became our country’s National Anthem.
The flag, with fifteen stars and fifteen stripes, came to be known as the Star Spangled Banner Flag and is today on display in the National Museum of American History in the Smithsonian Institution.
The song gained popularity throughout the nineteenth century and bands played it during public events, such as July 4th celebrations.
On July 27, 1889, Secretary of the Navy Benjamin F. Tracy signed General Order #374, making “The Star-Spangled Banner” the official tune to be played at the raising of the flag.
I was fortunate to have attended a Coastal States Organization meeting in Baltimore, Maryland while I served as Director at DLNR. I took the time to visit Fort McHenry to better see and understand what it looked like.