Monday, May 21, 2012

‘FAIR LIBERTY’S CALL’—THE WAR OF 1812 AND AMERICAN NATIONHOOD



"Jacob was an American who signed on with the Magpie after the war, and he called this 'The Liberty Song.'" She hummed for a moment and then began to sing:
"Come, join hand in hand, brave Americans all,
And rouse your bold hearts at fair Liberty's call;
No tyrannous acts shall suppress your just claim,
Or stain with dishonor America's name.
"
Daphne sang two verses and the chorus before she realized Dr. Murray was staring at her, and the only way to describe the expression on his face--there was no way to describe the expression on his face. She'd never seen anything quite like it before.
"There are more verses," she said helpfully.
"Miss Farnham!" He shook his head and started again. "Miss Farnham, that was the most treasonous piece of trash I have ever heard. Do you know what melody that is? Heart of Oak! Heart of Oak, Miss Farnham! I implore you, never, ever sing those lyrics around a navy man, for I could not answer for the consequences if you do."

--Castaway Dreams, Darlene Marshall


I’ve been writing Regency era romance for years now, and yet it never fails to amaze me as an American that my countrymen and women are so abysmally ignorant, for the most part, about the War of 1812.

Of course, it’s not called that by most Brits.  To them it’s a blip during the long, drawn out Napoleonic Wars, a brief sidebar where those lousy Yanks objected to the Royal Navy impressing their (very necessary) sailors. Then the upstart Americans had the gall to try and take over Canada!  Burning the president’s mansion and Washington D.C (which, let’s be honest, was mostly wooden shacks in a swamp) was only what they deserved for burning York.

Aside from any lingering ill-feelings over that conflict, my fellow Americans would do well to brush up on their War of 1812 history.  After all, this is the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the war.  This makes it an excellent time to revisit the events that started with us still being viewed by much of the world as an interesting political experiment likely to fail, and ending with us a nation.

It was also in a sense the first world war.  Britain was fighting in Europe, in Africa, in the Caribbean, in the United States and Canada.  We were fighting in the South Pacific, all through the Atlantic and in the Caribbean as well. France involved the United States as a trading partner, and also through Napoleon’s sale of France’s territories in North America, the Louisiana Purchase. Spain and Britain fought the United States in East Florida, land that was not part of the fledgling country but which it very much desired.  And of course, every American schoolchild knows that the Battle of New Orleans was fought after the war officially ended.  What they may not realize is that it was a necessary battle, in that if Britain had won, they likely would not have left despite the peace treaty restoring the belligerents to antebellum status.  New Orleans was just too valuable a piece of real estate, controlling water traffic into the Gulf of Mexico from the Mississippi.

America’s winning strategy in the war most often involved its fighting men on the water.  Some of my books have dealt with the fledgling American Navy (Captain Sinister’s Lady) and the Revenue Marine aka the Coast Guard (Smuggler’s Bride), but I have a particular soft spot for America’s privateers (Sea Change and Castaway Dreams).  Privateers and pirates are often spoken of together, but there is a major difference between them: A pirate will stop and rob you on the water, a privateer has a license to stop and rob you on the water. This license, called a letter of marque, is a right enshrined in the US Constitution.  Article 1, Section 8, reserves to Congress the right “To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.”

Congress exercised this right in 1812 with the enthusiastic support of merchant sea captains who knew arming their ships and capturing British merchant ships was a great get-rich-quick scheme (if you survived) and the patriotic thing to do. The US Merchant Marine to this day proudly traces its roots to the privateers of 1812.  They did so much damage to the British economy that newspapers in London were calling on the government to settle its differences with the US or face ruin.

There were amazing exploits by the US Navy, especially in its frigates, but they were a handful of ships and men facing down the mightiest nation on the water.  The US needed the privateers to harass shipping, causing Britain to have to divert valuable naval resources to convoys and blockades, and keeping war materiel from reaching British ports.

If you’d like to learn more about the role of privateers in US history and the War of 1812, I recommend these books:

1812: The Navy’s War—George C. Daughan
Patriotic Pirates—The Privateer War for Freedom and Fortune in the American Revolution, Robert H. Patton
The Prize Game—Lawful Looting on the High Seas in the Days of Fighting Sail, Donald A. Petrie
Patriotic Fire: Andrew Jackson and Jean Lafitte at the Battle of New Orleans, Winston Groom
The Other War of 1812: The Patriot War and the American Invasion of Spanish East Florida, James G. Cusick

Award winning author Darlene Marshall’s latest release from Amber Quill Press is historical romance Castaway Dreams: “A dour doctor (after a fashion), a dizzy damsel (more or less), a darling (and potentially delicious) doggy. Unlikely companions sharing adventure on a desert island. One may have fleas.”

On sale now in print and ebook: http://www.amberquill.com/CastawayDreams.html
For more information on Darlene’s novels: http://www.amberquill.com/bio_Marshall.html
    

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