Most of us know little about the War of 1812. What were its causes, when did it start, who were its heroes and how did it end? If we remember anything at all, it may be the burning of Washington, D.C., the bombardment of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry – the event that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen our national anthem – and perhaps Andrew Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans (fought two weeks after the signing of the treaty that ended the war). For most of us the rest is a long-forgotten chapter in dusty old textbooks. An upcoming exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery will assemble a remarkable number of paintings and artifacts from the War of 1812 in an effort to remind us that it was this war that completed the unfinished business of the American Revolution and secured our true independence from the British, once and for all.
As the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812 approaches, two artifacts stand out as enduring symbols of this era: the original Star Spangled Banner, on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and the USS Constitution, the victorious naval vessel, still commissioned and now docked at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston.
On October 20, I had the honor of announcing our new Affiliation with the USS Constitution Museum, thus symbolically joining these two great artifacts into one family. Both tell us much about the sacrifices of prior generations and the many hardships endured along the road to freedom. Both are also amazing examples of the combined efforts of generations of concerned citizens, public officials, historians and museum professionals to preserve these precious legacies of our nation’s early and fragile years.
We hope that the upcoming Bicentennial of the War of 1812 will draw further attention to the work that museums are doing to preserve our nation’s past and draw lessons for our future. Are there any War of 1812 stories, artifacts, or historic landmarks in your communities? Let us hear from you so that we can work together to present the fullest picture of this critical part of our history.
Harold A. Closter
See more photos from Harold’s visit to the museum here.