By Michelle Shukis for Your Public Media
Two hundred years ago, the United States was at war with Great Britain. On September 10, 1813, an American naval force led by Major Commandant Oliver H. Perry captured six vessels from the British Royal Navy, the most powerful maritime force in the world. Perry’s famous exclamation, “We have met the enemy and they are ours,” reveals the growing confidence of the fledgling US Navy, whose string of victories over the British were a great source of national pride for 19th-century Americans. These successes proved that the United States was a legitimate world power and buoyed the public’s spirits until the war ended in 1815, after three years of intense battles on both land and sea.
There was ultimately no victor in the conflict, yet the United States’s naval ascendancy and effective repulsion of a British invasion reinvigorated the patriotism of the Americans, who felt the country had won a “Second War of Independence.” Despite its indecisive conclusion, the war’s outcome was seen as a validation of the freedom the United States had secured from Great Britain nearly three decades before.
Remembering the War of 1812
Later in the 19th century, artistic renditions of memorable US naval victories in the War of 1812 were widely disseminated, often as anti-British propaganda. Printmakers produced affordable lithographs of these battles for a public eager to display its nationalism. The Kellogg brothers of Hartford, Connecticut, were among the most prominent printmakers of their day, turning out thousands of different pictures during their 40-year career. Between the 1830s and 1850s they issued a number of prints of naval battles from the War of 1812. These included Combat between the Frigate Constitution and the British Frigate Guerriere, The US Frigate United States Capturing H.B.M. Macedonian, and Perry’s Victory on Lake Erie. The continuing popularity of these subjects demonstrates the impact these naval triumphs had on the American national identity for generations.
Michelle Shukis is a Public Outreach Volunteer at the Connecticut Historical Society, assisting with Adult Offsite Programs.
© Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network and Connecticut Historical Society. All rights reserved. This article originally appeared on Your Public Media