Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Peace of 1814

Yes, in this year of 2014, we still enjoy the peace of 1814.  For that reason alone, read these two articles on the War of 1812.  That war put paid to further encroachments on British North America by the clearly expansionist Americans and led there to the creation of a professional military school in West Point.

Inside two generations, a united Canada was organized and founded by the sons and grandsons of those who had stood against the onslaught.  As the battle of Quebec in 1759 was utterly decisive, so also Colonial, Indian and British resistance was decisive in blocking an American take over.

It is also astonishing how well geographical facts on the ground were applied so well be the treaty makers back in 1814.  It literally ceased to be an issue in any form.  When needed, bilateral arrangements are generally easy to arrange.

C.P. Champion: The war that created Canada

This year marks 200 years of peace along the Canada-U.S. border, defended and undefended, since the Treaty of Ghent of Dec. 24, 1814. No doubt the Harper government will celebrate this anniversary as it did the war’s bicentennial. There are good historical grounds for including the War of 1812 as part of the build-up to the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017.

Some of the Fathers of Confederation had direct family links to the war. There were only two generations — 50 years — between 1814, when the peace was signed, and 1864, when Confederation was launched. By comparison, 50 years separated 1945 and 1995, when the Chrétien government marked the anniversary of “Victory in Europe.” Considering this proximity, denunciations of Harper’s bicentennial efforts by pundits and bloggers seem peevish and irrational.

ProgressiveBloggers derided “Harper’s bizarre obsession with the War of 1812.” TheGlobe’s Jeffrey Simpson accused Harper of “rewriting the past.” A blogger equated “the propagandistic opportunism of the Harper Regime” with a Nazi film, “The Triumph of the Will,” with “Hitler symbolically descending from the clouds.” Ian McKay, a leading light at Queen’s University, wrote in Canada’s History magazine that “Ottawa, its streets bedecked with War of 1812 banners, has the martial air of … 1930s Berlin,” a classic reductio ad Hitlerum. Roger Annis, a fellow left-wing activist, asserted that “serious historians debunk the idea that the three-year War of 1812 … had much to do with the future Canada.”

Perhaps the federal heritage minister, James Moore, overstated his case when he toldMaclean’s, “This war leads directly to Confederation in 1867.” People are entitled to disagree. But Moore’s critics should read A.R.M. Lower, a Liberal historian, who wrote in Colony to Nation: “The sense of Canadian nationality dates from the war of 1812.” In his detailed Dorchester Review article, “The Myth of the Militia Myth,” former Parks Canada historian Robert Henderson demonstrated that Upper and Lower Canadians, Newfoundlanders and Maritimers all served in significant numbers in 1812-14.

For the Fathers of Confederation, the war was part of living memory and family lore. One of them, Étienne-Paschal Taché, at age 17 volunteered for the Canadian Militia, serving at Chateauguay in 1813 and Plattsburgh in 1814. Fifty years later in 1864, Taché was co-premier with John A. Macdonald in the coalition that launched Confederation.

Quebec’s lead negotiator was Taché’s protégé, George-Étienne Cartier, who also had a close link to the War of 1812: his father and grandfather had both served. Cartier’s right-hand man, Hector-Louis Langevin, was married to Sophie LaForce, whose father, Maj. Pierre LaForce, was one of Salaberry’s Voltigeur officers at Chateauguay.

Taché’s oldest brother served as a captain in the Voltigeurs in 1812. A nephew, Joseph-Charles Taché, was an early advocate of federation. Notably, French Canadians were very comfortable serving in British-Canadian military units at the time; their disillusionment with Canada, or rather Ottawa, came much later.

Upper Canada saw a similar link between 1812 and Confederation. Allan Napier MacNab volunteered to fight at age 14. After a subsequent career in politics, he served as a bridge between the aristocratic conservatism of Simcoe’s successors and the moderate counter-revolutionary Toryism of W.H. Draper and Macdonald.

Everywhere John A. Macdonald campaigned, he met ‘lawyers, merchants, farmers, young men … and old men who bore the medals of 1812 upon their chests’

Sir Charles Tupper, who inveigled Nova Scotia into Confederation, was born in 1812, his father having trained in the local militia. Tupper got his start in politics in the 1850s with an 1812 veteran, James W. Johnson, a pre-Confederation premier whose portrait hangs in the legislature. (In turn it is Tupper who brought Robert Borden into politics, which means our First World War prime minister was only two political generations removed from the 1812 war.)

Joseph Howe was eight years old in 1812: “The moment [war] came we prepared for combat without a murmur,” he recalled in 1862, the 50th anniversary. “I am just old enough to remember that war” when “great instincts … prompted us to oppose Bonaparte in 1812” as “we apprehended danger to freedom and civilization.”

Sir Oliver Mowat, the “father of provincial rights,” was a Father of Confederation, Ontario’s third premier and eighth lieutenant-governor. His Scottish father, John Mowat, was a Peninsular War veteran who was among the 6,000 troops sent to Canada by Wellington, and served at Plattsburgh in 1814.

John Galt, the father of Sir Alexander T. Galt, the Father of Confederation from Sherbrooke, made part of his living with the Canada Company, which in the 1820s sought compensation for Loyalist settlers whose property had been destroyed by American troops.

Also among the Montrealers was Thomas D’Arcy McGee, who in 1858 published the ballad “Along the Line!” in the collection Canadian Ballads. It is subtitled “A.D. 1812” and captures the national spirit evoked by Canada’s defence.

And what of Sir John A. Macdonald, who immigrated to Upper Canada with his family in 1815 at age five? While attending Midland Grammar School, young Johnny lived with his cousins whose father, Lt.-Col. Donald Macpherson, saw action in Chauncey’s attack on Kingston harbour in 1812, where one of his six daughters remembered bullets penetrating “the wooden walls of the pretty white cottage that then did duty as the commandant’s residence.”

Johnny Macdonald was 14 years old when his uncle died in 1829, buried in Kingston with full military honours, “the minute guns from the city battery being answered by those from the fort.” Later, everywhere Macdonald campaigned in 1860 he met “lawyers, merchants, farmers, young men … and old men who had fought in a dozen political battles and bore the medals of the War of 1812 upon their chests,” according to Donald Creighton.

Historians have paid less attention than they should to the War of 1812-14. Théodore Robitaille, MP for Bonaventure after Confederation, was a longtime Tory loyalist, a mostly a backbencher until Macdonald made him fourth lieutenant-governor of Quebec in 1879, and afterwards a senator. Even here we find a link to the past, Robitaille’s great uncle having served as a Roman Catholic chaplain in the Canadian Militia during the War of 1812.

In 1887, the House of Commons dealt with the question of 1812 pensions. Remarkably, there were in 1887 as many as 271 living veterans of the War of 1812, of whom 221 were receiving a pension of $30 each, 49 were getting $80 each, and one pensioner in Quebec $60, the total allocation being $6,630.

Obviously military memory is only one of many influences that shaped the Canada of 1867. By then the 1812 war had receded into the background — though the extant Brock monument in Queenston had been opened as recently as 1859.

What is clear is that Harper’s critics have gone overboard in saying the war had nothing to do with the future Canada. In 2014 we still enjoy the peace of 1814. What remains to be seen is how much work is really being done to prepare for Canada’s 150th birthday three years from now.

C.P. Champion: The War of 1812 was Canada’s war of survival

National Post | October 11, 2011 | Last Updated: Oct 11 4:44 PM ET

By C.P. Champion

Jeffrey Simpson, a columnist at The Globe & Mail, thinks Canada should not celebrate the upcoming 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 because the conflict was “stupid” and “dumb,” with “bad leadership” and “messy battles.” If that is the standard, we had better forget celebrating much of our history. Get out your calendar and scratch off Remembrance Day, November 11. That date commemorates the allied victory in 1918 that marked the end of the First World War — a conflict that presumably fits Simpson’s definition of a stupid and messy war.

Simpson says the War of 1812 was “unnecessary.” That would come as a surprise to the Canadians and First Nations whose lands and cities were attacked by armies of the United States. When an expansionist power invades your country, the natural tendency of the inhabitants is to defend it.

It is silly to say, as Simpson did, that “there was no sense of being ‘Canadian’ at the time.” Has Simpson never heard of Charles de Salaberry, the French Canadian officer who led a surprise victory over a much larger American force at the Battle of Chateauguay in 1813? Salaberry’s was an old military family, Canadian since the 1700s. His Voltigeurs Canadiens (whose traditions are carried on today by Voltigeurs de Québec, a Canadian Army regiment) and Mohawk warriors saved Montreal that day. The battle of Crysler’s Farm two weeks later has long been known as “the battle that saved Canada.”

In the Battle of Lundy’s Lane and other fighting in Niagara in 1814, Canadian units like the Glengarry light infantry, the 104th foot (New Brunswick) and Upper Canadian militia played instrumental roles. They knew they were defending their homes and rights. The Provincial Marine, an embryo navy, was recruited from across the colonies, had French Canadian officers, and wore a badge featuring a beaver symbol and the word “Canada.” They knew they were Canadians fighting for Canada.

Contrary to Simpson’s misconceptions, the War of 1812 meant the difference between Canada’s survival and our absorption into the United States. That alone is reason for Canadians to remember and celebrate the outcome. It was thanks to Canadians like Salaberry and Laura Secord, as well as Britishers like Sir Isaac Brock, that the U.S. invasion failed. That in turn meant that Canadians, with British support, could go on to found a country independent of the United States in 1867, the Dominion of Canada.

There would be no Canada today had we lost the war. And yes, that pronoun “we” regrettably includes perfidious Albion, the British whom Simpson apparently admires so much less than the Yankees. That is because there was no one else around who could co-ordinate the defence of Canada on the scale required.

Nor was everything about that defence “dumb.” Brock’s mustering of the colony’s defences was nothing short of brilliant. His capture of Detroit while suffering only two wounded was one of the great coups de main of military history. The tactics and initiative of Britain’s Indian allies, such as Tecumseh of the Shawnee, were also daring and decisive.

Simpson claims to disdain “the cardboard version of history taught in Canada.” But if anything is made of “cardboard,” it is the Globe writer’s imagination. If he cannot see the origins of an independent Canada in the battlefields of 1812-14 after reading Alan Taylor’s The Civil War of 1812 (which Simpson calls “outstanding”), he should pick up a text on basic philosophy: specifically, the principle of potentiality. Just as a tree grows from an acorn, Canada grew from its colonial origins — but only because there was not an American takeover to cut it off.

If the Americans had won the war, Toronto would probably be called “Dearborn” or “Pike,” after the American commanders who attacked and burned it in 1813, or perhaps “Madison,” after the President who authorized the war with the support of the war-hawks in Congress. Quebecers today would be about as French as the Cajuns of Louisiana. The First Nations would have suffered something closer to extermination than survival. Had the United States won the war, our provincial legislatures would be state houses filled with Republicans and Democrats.

As Mr. Simpson notes, 200 years of peace means that millions of Americans and Canadians share ties of birth, family, and citizenship across our border with the United States. But we have never been annexed or absorbed. And for that, we have Brock, Secord, Salaberry, and Tecumseh to thank and to celebrate — the ignorant and disdainful musings of Jeffrey Simpson notwithstanding.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

West Point was established in 1802: a full decade before this war. The War of 1812 had NOTHING to do with establishing the US Military Academy.