This year marks the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, that conflict so often overlooked in the United States, seen as rather unimportant in Great Britain but which remains a pretty big deal in Canada. In each case, these attitudes are entirely understandable. The United States would not, understandably, enjoy recalling the War of 1812 since it saw some pretty embarrassing American defeats and the only time Washington DC was ever occupied by an invader (which was followed by the White House being burned down). For Great Britain, again, understandably, it was simply not that big a deal. It coincided with the much more significant war against Napoleonic France, Britain had not wanted the war, gained nothing and lost nothing by it and was one of many, relatively minor, colonial conflicts in the larger history of the British Empire. For Canada, however, it certainly was significant and it was a period that Canadians can take a great deal of pride in because their very existence as a different and finally independent country was determined by the War of 1812. That is why monarchists should celebrate this anniversary of the War of 1812 because, had America won the war, the Canadian monarchy would not exist and the proud Dominion of Canada today would simply be a frosty, under populated collection of states and territories within the American Union.
This can be taken to absurd extremes, given that “Canada” as we know it today did not exist in 1812, it was simply British North America and it was British troops (not Canadians) who defeated the U.S. army in Maryland and captured Washington DC. The great commanders of the Crown forces were almost exclusively British such Admiral Sir George Cockburn Bt, General Robert Ross and of course General Sir Isaac Brock, later known as the “Hero of Upper Canada”. The most significant figure who was born in Canada to play a part in the war was General Gordon Drummond, though many of his own soldiers preferred British commanders since General Drummond tended to be rather strict. It is hard to transplant modern ideas of nationality on to the people of two centuries ago. Much of the English-speaking population of Canada was, at that time, “American” in the sense that they had been born in what became the United States or were the children of colonists from what became the United States who had been loyalists and fled to Canada when Britain lost the U.S. War for Independence. Most of these people, like most people even at the start of the American Revolution, did not regard themselves as “Americans” or “Canadians” but English, Scottish, Irish and so on. In 1812 if one spoke of the “Canadians” most would assume you referred only to the French-speaking population.
Yet, at the end of the day, it was the fate of Canada that was decided by the War of 1812. Had the U.S. been victorious there would be no Canada today as that was the primary American goal of the war (the issues dealing with the frontier and the impressment of sailors were resolved before the war actually began). Canadians should remember the war, should be properly proud of the Canadian troops and First Nations who contributed to the defeat of the U.S. invasion and, significantly, they should remember what it was their forefathers were fighting for and what they were fighting against. Remember, this was not so simple as a foreign invasion as we would see it today since, for most of those involved, it was the same sort of people on each side. The biggest difference between the opposing forces was their form of government, monarchy versus republic, and the different values the two represented. This was something not lost on the participants at the time. Americans, for example, so believed that republicanism meant liberty and monarchy meant tyranny that their whole invasion of Canada was based on the belief that the oppressed, downtrodden Canadians would welcome them with open arms and rejoice at being delivered by the benevolent republic to the south. On the other side, Major General Sir Isaac Brock, who gave his life defeating the U.S. attack told his relatively small army that, “We may teach the enemy this lesson: A country defended by free men devoted to the cause of their king and constitution can never be conquered…” Make no mistake about it, the people of Canada at the time knew they were in a fight of monarchy against republicanism and had no doubt that their constitutional monarchy was greatly preferable to the republicanism of the States.
Canadian monarchists should take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 to drive this point home because the struggle of those two centuries ago continues to rage, albeit in slow, subtle, peaceful ways. Canada has already effectively become a protectorate of the United States. Since the British Empire dissolved, although no one likes to dwell on the subject, Canada has become dependent on U.S. protection for security and on U.S. trade for their economic well-being. Canadians watch American TV shows and movies, listen to American music, wear American clothes and even closely follow American politics. In many ways one could hardly tell the two countries apart. They speak the same language (outside Quebec anyway), celebrate most of the same holidays (with a few diplomatic date changes), have the same religions and lack of religion and enjoy the same pastimes though Canadians do insist on slightly different rules for football. It may seem a tired line at times but it is only because it is so obviously true. Amongst all these similarities, the biggest fundamental difference between the two countries is that the United States is a constitutional republic while Canada is a constitutional monarchy. Americans have their First Family, President and Vice President while Canadians have their Royal Family, the Queen’s Governor-General and the Queen’s Prime Minister.
In many ways, the situation is not much different now than in 1812 as concerns Canada and the United States. The same people, today the same variety of peoples, occupy both countries, Canada remains a monarchy and the United States remains convinced that it represents the greatest form of government which all people in the world aspire to have. This matters. If it didn’t, no one would bother about trying to change it. What the Canadians fought for (successfully) in the War of 1812 remains still for modern Canadians to defend. Of course, Canadians will do so with the utmost restraint and politeness, but American bombast is not the side to be confronted. It is, rather, the treasonous Canadian republicans who speak as though they wish the United States had actually conquered their country 200 years ago. They would never say so of course, but is that not the logical interpretation of their argument; that the U.S. is an independent country and Canada is not? It seems they are still waiting for their American cousins to “liberate” them but loyal Canadian monarchists must set the record straight. If the Canadian monarchy is so unimportant, which is the same as saying there is really no important difference at all between the U.S. and Canada, they might consider the following question: Why did so many American loyalists, American Indians (First Nations), escaped slaves and others risk life and limb to flee the “Land of the Free” for the soil of Canada where the Crown held sway?
It matters. It mattered then and it matters just as much now. Hopefully, this year, there will be much more to come concerning the War of 1812 and the monarchy in Canada. I hope you will enjoy it.