And Burning Down the White House Was a Big Deal Because…?


Let's establish one thing right now. This is not a political post about President Donald Trump's inauguration on Friday.

So Democrats, please extinguish your torches. Republicans, lay down those pitchforks. And FBI, put away the handcuffs.

I’m not starting anything. I swear.

All I’m doing is contemplating something that already happened way back in 1814, when the British – the British, FBI; not me. The British! – burned down the White House… an event I’ve been studying for the third book in my Founding America series, Proving America.

It was during the War of 1812, which started when America got ticked off with its former motherland for stealing our sailors and trampling on our trading rights.

To be fair to Britain, it did all of that in large part to help it fight against evil mastermind Napoleon Bonaparte. So you could look at it today as one of those “bad actions for good reasons” kind of deals.

Though, for accuracy’s sake, I don’t know if the Brits viewed it that way at the time. The impression I’ve gotten is that most of them saw it more along the lines of “perfectly acceptable actions for good reasons.”

Regardless, after roughly a decade of train wreck negotiations, America declared war.

That didn’t go over very well across the sea. Britain retaliated big time, first with a series of devastating coastal raids along the Chesapeake Bay and then with a land invasion that culminated in – you guessed it – the White House being burned, along with the Capitol Building and other government structures.

Now, it makes sense that Americans wouldn’t take too kindly to Washington, D.C., going up in smoke. But even some prominent Brits were appalled by the act, condemning it as being unbecoming to the British spirit and civilized societies in general.

Honestly though, despite being about as patriotic as they come, I don’t get that sentiment. Here’s why:

  1. Thanks to the honorable commander of the expedition, Major General Robert Ross, no private property was damaged during the attack and no private citizens were hurt.

  2. It was a war. And while there are definite rules to honorable warfare, I think Ross pretty much covered them.

  3. The intent of going to war in the first place is to end it in victory, whether by killing enough enemy soldiers to make them unable to resist any longer or by changing enough enemy citizens’ minds about the cost involved that they pressure the government to give up. (Negotiating with the government itself is kind of moot by that point.) And what better way to accomplish the latter than to burn down the enemy’s capitol?

Seems reasonable to me even if it clearly didn’t work, since Trump was just sworn in as president of the United States of America, not prime minister of the United States of Britain.

In closing, just to reiterate for the FBI or NSA or whatever government agency might be reading this – and whatever legal proceedings might come of this post – I’m not condoning burning down the White House now. I'm just talking history.

Though if you want to do some further research on me just to make sure I’m on the up-and-up and everything, feel free to start right here.

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