The War of 1812 and the Ravages of War – Lessons NOT Learned

By Nathan Barton

This year we note the 200th Anniversary of the Battles of Baltimore and Fort McHenry, and of Washington, all part of the British invasion of the States in the War of 1812.

Although there were legitimate reasons (in my opinion) to go to war, Congress decided (with significant opposition) that this was an opportunity for imperialism: to conquer and annex Canada.  The British saw it as a chance to reverse the disaster of 1783, and invaded, again in the name of imperialism.  A lot of AmerInd nations got caught in the middle, as did ordinary Americans and Canadians (who fought courageously in defense of their own homes).

(I generally agree with Thomas Jefferson’s opinion on the war: [Great Britain threw] down to us the gauntlet of war or submission as the only alternatives. We cannot blame the government for choosing that of war, because certainly the great majority of the nation thought it ought to be chosen, not that they were to gain by it in dollars and cents; all men know that war is a losing game to both parties. But they know, also, that if they did not resist encroachment at some point, all will be taken from them, and that more would then be lost even in dollars and cents by submission than resistance. It is the case of giving a part to save the whole, a limb to save life. It is the melancholy law of human societies to be compelled sometimes to choose a great evil in order to ward off a greater; to deter their neighbors from rapine by making it cost them more than honest gains. * * * * Had we adopted the other alternative of submission, no mortal can tell what the cost would have been. I consider the war then as entirely justifiable on our part, although I am still sensible it is a deplorable misfortune to us.]—Jefferson Letter to William Short, Nov. 1814.)

But as a friend points out, in 1795, another of the Founders wrote that “Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.“War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few… No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” Who said that?  None other than James Madison (with whom I disagreed earlier this week).

Less than two decades later, he was presiding over just such a war and his actions and that of Congress proved the wisdom of his words from 1795.  Somehow, the States may have avoided the WORST of the penalties of war, and the states (especially New England states) ultimately gave the Congress and FedGov a pass.  But the American federation still suffered grievously from the “side effects” of war that Madison had warned about.

Sadly, the lessons were not learned, and just over 30 years later, (and many wars against AmerInd nations), once more a legitimate cause for war was grabbed as an opportunity for too many imperial ambitions.  And only a dozen years later, the REAL damage was revealed, in the War Between the States.

However, the States did NOT get through the War of 1812 unscathed.  No, I don’t mean the burning of Washington City, or the FAILURE of the Brits to take and burn and depopulate New Orleans. (What a blessing THAT would have been, if NO had been a national historic park instead of a scummy city, 190 or so years later!) No, it is a little-known theft by government that a friend shared with me, via Murray Rothbard. In his A History of Money and Banking in the United States, Rothbard wrote about it: “As the banks all faced failure [due to issuing counterfeit unbacked paper money to buy government war bonds to fund the war], the [most state and federal] governments, in August 1814, permitted all of them to suspend specie payments — that is, to stop all redemption of notes and deposits in gold or silver — and yet to continue in operation.

In short, in one of the most flagrant violations of property rights in American history, the banks were permitted to waive their contractual obligations to pay in specie while they themselves could expand their loans and operations and force their own debtors to repay their loans as usual.”   In other words, bailouts and “quantitative easing” and their like are NOT new in these formerly united States.

When I read this, my first thought was of Matthew 18:21-35, often known as the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.  A king demanded that one of his servants pay the debt of 10,000 talents (a staggering amount, which if silver talents (weight 130 pounds each) would have a value of $353 million in 2014), but the servant begged and got the debt forgiven.  However, the forgiven servant then jumped on and threatened another servant who owed him a mere 100 denarii (a denarius was the common laborer’s wage for a day’s work, or roughly equal to $60 in 2014).  The king learned of this and severely punished the first servant because he did not show the same mercy as he himself had received.

As my correspondent noted, “Gee… sound a little familiar?”  Indeed, it does, and it is a lesson the FedGov (and the Fifty States) have clearly failed to learn.  Can we pray that the new governments of the States who want both freedom and liberty might learn, here in the near future?

Mama’s Note: I fear your hopes and prayers are a lost cause. The governments have no real incentive to learn because they have never faced any real reason to think that the people will not allow them to continue as they have for as long as they wish.

About tpolnathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (christian), Pahasapan, Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer.
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One Response to The War of 1812 and the Ravages of War – Lessons NOT Learned

  1. Paul Bonneau says:

    For a long time I thought that the only justified American wars were the ” “revolution” (secession) and 1812. But then when I looked into it a little more I had to remove 1812 from this short list.

    As Wikipedia puts it, “The United States declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions brought about by the British war with France, the impressment of American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy, British support of Indian tribes against American expansion, outrage over insults to national honour after humiliations on the high seas and possible American interest in annexing British North American territory (part of modern-day Canada), which had been denied to them in the settlement ending the American Revolutionary War.”

    In a true free society, let’s see how these would hold up. Trade restrictions? That’s a problem for shippers, not for everybody else. Let them smuggle or do whatever to get around it. Impressment? Again, a problem for shippers to deal with, not the rest of the nation. They should pay higher wages to compensate sailors for the risk, and build faster ships. Brit support for American indians opposing American expansion? Do people understand what a huge real estate scam existed in early America? Maybe they should have paid Indians for that land, as Quakers did, then they wouldn’t have to fight Indians. At any rate there is no need to fight the British for their aid to stop American imperialism. Insults to “national honour”? Don’t make me laugh. Only individuals can have honor. Annexing Canada? A justification for Brits and Canadians to go to war, but not Americans.

    So I’m sorry, Jefferson is wrong.

    I get the point that an individual should not let another individual push him around, but individuals are not nations. 1812 was not justified, from the American point of view.

    Like

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