When the British Burned Down the White HouseToday the capital of the United States is one of the most popular destinations among tourists throughout the World. There are many interesting sightseeing places situated in Washington D.C.
and one of those places is the White House that is official home and residence of the U.S. President. While enjoying their visit to the President’s House, many Americans along with foreign visitors do not realize that just over two centuries ago the White House was attacked by the British. By analyzing the events of the War of 1812, the motivation behind why the British decided to invade and destroy the U.S capitol.The USA was already in war with Britain for half a year at the beginning of 1814.
This war was caused by America’s irritation at Britain’s interference in its sovereignty and shipment operations. While U.S navy held a strong position, conflicts in the land had huge destructive effects on America. At the end of August 1814, during the War of 1812, members of the British Military had dinner at White House. These soldiers were not there by invitation of the President. Instead they “had invaded the capital of the United States” (Snow, 13) and the dining table was certainly not set for them. At this point of the history, America had already fought and won its independence for over thirty years but “..
.the British were back” (Snow, 14). What was the motivation for the British to come invade the Capital of the United States years after the Revolution had ended? With a closer look on the events of the War of 1812, a clearer picture is created for what the motivation behind the British invasion of the United States Capitol and the White House was.The War of 1812 was initially caused by claims that Britain “had not come to respect the United States as a legitimate country” (Civilwar.org, 1). In many ways, the War of 1812 was considered as the “..
.sequel to the earlier war with that nation. Britain” (Stagg, 19) Britain tended to argue that America “had become free but not independent” (Stagg, 19). War of 1812 was the first one to end with America being declared as a free nation, the decision that came with a lot of delegation and thought. There are several reasons why America decided to be involved in war with Britain: to “stop British impressment, reopen trade lanes with French, remove the British support from Native American tribes, and to secure their territorial honor and integrity in the face of their old rulers.” (Civilwar.org, 1). Many relationships between America and other countries had been infringed due to Britain cutting off ties between America and its main suppliers, such as France.
The United States depended on these countries that were once their alliances, in order to be able to supply the needs of the population. (Civilwar.org) Basically, during the War of 1812 America wanted and needed to prove to Britain that they were an actual and self-sufficient country that could meet its own needs without the help of anyone. However, Britain was putting a damper on their success as a country. Even though wars bring only drawbacks alone, the present day relationship between Britain and the United States would not be anywhere close to the same if this war had not been fought.Further reasons of the war were that America was still supporting Napoleon’s military actions. France was considered as America’s oldest ally.
America claimed for the control on seas and declared a war on Britain for that. This decision was also impacted by America’s streaming to control trade restrictions with France. Besides that, the U.S.
was claiming to set its governing on Canada, that was under impact of Britain at that time. (History.com Staff, 1)In 1814, when the invasion occurred, James Madison was in position of the fourth U.S. President.
James Madison is considered as one of those people who influenced forming America. (History.com Staff, 1) He was the one who led the U.S.
into the controversial War of 1812. President Madison chose to lead the United States into the War of 1812 as a “divided” country, which is a very difficult thing to do (WHHA, 1). Just two days prior to the raid of the Capital, the President had left Washington in order to go meet with the generals on the battlefield. The President headed to Maryland that was only about seven miles east of Washington. After the President Madison had left his residence to meet with army generals, the only people remaining in the White House were his wife, Dolley Madison, and members of the staff. (WHHA, 1)Dolley Madison states in her diaries that she and several members of the White House staff, were watching out of the windows and “waiting for either Madison or the British army to show up”.
The day before the raid had occurred, the Secretary of State at the time, James Monroe sent President Madison a message that stated: “The enemy are in full march for Washington… You had better remove the records” (WHHA, 1). James Monroe was clearly trying to warn and prepare the President and the rest of the capital for British attack. After getting the message from the Secretary of State, another message was put out that the President is leaving Maryland and would be heading back to the capital, along with the war council.
After three hours of the meeting, the President along with attendees of the meeting received a message that “British were marching on Bladensburg” (WHHA, 1). After receiving this message, the meeting session ended and all of the attendees headed to Bladensburg to defend their country. (WHHA, 1)At that time many of America’s regular troops were busy with attempting to occupy British Canada. They were enthusiastic against the british military, although they lacked some skills.
Upon their arrival to Bladensburg, a battle broke out and left the United States defeated by British Military. Despite the fact that the battle started well for Americans, British army was brilliantly disciplined and had significant advantages over Americans. (WHHA, 1) Immediately after the battle the President headed straight back to the White House in order to protect the First Lady and start the process of evacuation. When Madison arrived at the White House, he found that the First Lady had left. She had already prepared a meal for over forty members of the United States Government in hopes that they would be the ones to return to the White House.
The President denied to eat and had a glass of wine before beginning a flight to avoid capture. After the President and remaining members of the staff had fled from Washington, there was nobody left to protect the road to the capital from British. (WHHA, 1)British Military were ordered to burn the capitol first and then they moved towards White House. The mansion was only 14 years old at that time. (WHHA, 1)As the British entered empty White House, they felt inclined to eat the meal that was definitely not prepared for them.
Invaders entered the dining room in their blood-stained clothes and found the table prepared for 40 people to celebrate the victory. (History.com Staff, 1) This shows an extent to which they did not respect America as an independent and free nation. The fact that the British chose to sit down and eat the food that was previously prepared for members of the United States military to eat after the conclusion of the Battle of Bladensburg, really exemplifies the amount of disrespect that Britain had for The United States of America as a freestanding and independent country. This act is marked as being beyond the boundaries of civilized behavior.After finishing their meal, the British set fire to the White House. There were 50 soldiers outside the mansion waiting for the order to burn down the place. The moment they received an order from their Generals, they hurled in torches.
The fire completely destroyed the White House and other treasures it held. It was burned to the ground and specialists contemplated moving the capital to another city. Besides President’s residence, there were also other buildings damaged from fire such as War Department and Treasury.
However, The President and First Lady were able to return to Washington only three days after the initial raid. After returning to the capital, they lived in the octagon house for the remainder of James Madison’s term. (WHHA, 1)The Octagon House was about one hundred miles away from the White House in Washington D.C. in the City of Richmond County Virginia.
During their stay in in Octagon House and the remainder of Madison’s presidency, the White House was reconstructed. (Washington, DC–Octagon House, 1) After reconstruction, newly elected President James Monroe moved back into the reconstructed building once the election of 1816 was completed. (History.com Staff, 1) At the conclusion of the War, the Treaty of Ghent was signed.
The Treaty of Ghent was the result of negotiation attempts that occurred in Belgium. (History.com Staff) This treaty was signed in the Octagon house that the Madison family was currently living in (Washington, DC–Octagon House, 1). After the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, peace was formed between the two countries and no territorial changes were made as a result of the War of 1812.
This battle has left a taste of victory in Americans, though the country’s pre-war objectives were not achieved. It is integral that our country remembers the destruction of the White House in 1814 as a major factor in our relationship that we currently have with Britain today.