Saturday, December 8, 2012

1812: A Nation Emerges

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: through January 27, 2013

Although I suspect this is the war most Americans would now forget, if asked to list our country's major conflicts, the War of 1812 was an important conflict in American history.  Called the Second War of Independence, this war brought us not only the Star Spangled Banner, but also the figure of Uncle Sam.  It was responsible for a great surge in nationalist feeling among the citizens of the time; they felt themselves to be Americans, distinct from Europe and united as one people in a way they had not before.

It is a myth that the U.S. won this war; in reality it was a draw.  The Americans did get some of the things they wanted in the Treaty of Ghent, an actual copy of which is on display here, thanks to a loan from the National Archives, but they didn't get everything they wanted - some demands were ignored completely.

At the time of the War, the United States was completely unrecognizable - very few people were spread across the states in largely agricultural communities, and transportation was very bad.  There were any number of reasons to avoid going to war, but John C. Calhoun, one of the War Hawks in Congress, declared this conflict a "second struggle for our liberty."  Calhoun, by the way, was the only person to serve as Vice President under two different presidents: John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson - a feat unlikely to be repeated.  Among the many portraits on display in this very large show is one of Lighthorse Harry Lee, hero of the Revolutionary War.  This second war was less kind to him, and he died some years later of wounds suffered in the conflict.  At the time, his son, Robert E. Lee, was only a child.

It's not only portraits on display here; there is, among other objects, a much reduced version of the Jackson statue that stands in Lafayette Park.  My office used to be across the street from the Park, and I saw the statue every day.  It was nice to see it again (I rarely get to that part of town now), if only in tabletop dimensions.  Also on display is a bust of Napoleon, which once belonged to Thomas Jefferson.

Another fun fact I learned: Dolley Madison's favorite flavor of ice cream was oyster.  Much as I admire her determination to save Washington's portrait from the invading British, I cannot join with her in her frozen dairy confection preferences.

Verdict:  If you're a history buff or have an interest in the War of 1812, you'll find this show right up your alley.  If not, you may want to skip it or skim, as it's a very large exhibit.  If you look at everything, you'll spend an hour easily.

No comments:

Post a Comment