Washington, D.C. On Fire?

Big Stock Photo

Big Stock Photo


Imagine enemy soldiers coming into Washington, D.C. by night. The President and the top leaders have already left town. The Declaration and the Constitution have been hidden. A few national treasures are saved by the First Lady.

But the soldiers burn the major government buildings, including the Capitol Building.

Americans are devastated.

This isn’t the work of terrorists. Nor is it some dystopian future depicted in a novel or movie.

This happened–200 years ago on Aug. 24, 1814.

The U.S. had been at war with Britain since 1812. The U.S. was upset about Britain’s navy impressing sailors off of American ships, and some Americans wanted land in Canada.

Much of the war did not go well for the U.S., and the burning of Washington, D.C., was the lowest point. However, it reinvigorated the Americans, and the next month the Americans held off the British at Ft. McHenry, near Baltimore. This, in turn, inspired Francis Scott Key’s penning of “The Star Spangled Banner.” By the way, the American heroine of the burning of Washington, D.C., was First Lady Dolley Madison.

The War of 1812 is largely unknown to modern Americans. We didn’t win it, but it shaped our fledgling nation. Here is an excellent article on the Public Broadcasting System website about the significance of the war. The war also had other theaters besides the D.C. and Maryland area, including Canada (which we invaded), the Great Lakes and the nearby territories, and New Orleans.

The Americans were at war with the British, but the Native Americans were also involved, on both sides of the war. In fact, Salt, a wonderful children’s novel by Helen Frost, is set in the Ohio/Indiana Territories in 1812 and shows the friendships and strife between the settlers and the Native Americans.

What stories, true or fictional, do you know about the War of 1812?



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