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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

Troubles came thicker and thicker upon her


The

war opened prosperously for the Republic, with the destruction by Commander Perry of the British fleet on Lake Ontario--an incident which still is held in glorious memory by the American Navy and the American people. Following on this notable success, an invasion of Canada was attempted; but here Fortune changed sides. The invasion was a complete failure, the American army was beaten, forced to fall back, and attacked, in its turn, upon American soil. Instead of American troops occupying Quebec, English troops occupied a great part of Ohio.

Meanwhile, Jefferson's frigates were showing their metal. In many duels with English cruisers they had the advantage, though we in this country naturally hear most--indeed, it is almost the only incident of this war of which we ever do hear--of one of the cases in which victory went the other way--the famous fight between the _Shannon_ and the _Chesapeake_. On the whole, the balance of such warfare leant in favour of the American sea-captains. But it was not by such warfare that the issue could be settled. England, summoning what strength she could spare from her desperate struggle with the French Emperor, sent an adequate fleet to convoy a formidable army to the American coast. It landed without serious opposition at the mouth of the Chesapeake, and marched straight on the national capital, which the Government was forced to abandon.

No Englishman can write without shame

of what followed. All the public buildings of Washington were deliberately burnt. For this outrage the Home Government was solely responsible. The general in command received direct and specific orders, which he obeyed unwillingly. No pretence of military necessity, or even of military advantage, can be pleaded. The act, besides being a gross violation of the law of nations, was an exhibition of sheer brutal spite, such as civilized war seldom witnessed until Prussia took a hand in it. It had its reward. It burnt deep into the soul of America; and from that incident far more than from anything that happened in the War of Independence dates that ineradicable hatred of England which was for generations almost synonymous with patriotism in most Americans, and which almost to the hour of President Wilson's intervention made many in that country doubt whether, even as against Prussia, England could really be the champion of justice and humanity.

Things never looked blacker for the Republic than in those hours when the English troops held what was left of Washington. Troubles came thicker and thicker upon her. The Creek Nation, the most powerful of the independent Indian tribes, instigated partly by English agents, partly by the mysterious native prophet Tecumseh, suddenly descended with fire and tomahawk on the scattered settlements of the South-West, while at the same time a British fleet appeared in the Gulf of Mexico, apparently meditating either an attack on New Orleans or an invasion through the Spanish territory of Western Florida, and in that darkest hour when it seemed that only the utmost exertions of every American could save the United States from disaster, treason threatened to detach an important section of the Federation from its allegiance.


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