first I thought the world was on fire. Such a flame I have never
Roberts recalling the burning of Washington, DC, which she observed
as a seven-year-old girl.
For the early decades of
the nations history, relations between the United States and
Great Britain remained strained. Their relationship deteriorated
sharply with the outbreak of war in Europe in 1803. Britain imposed
a blockade on neutral countries such as the United States. In addition,
the British took American sailors from their ships and "impressed"
them into the British Navy. In Congress, southern and western Democratic-Republican
"War Hawks," such as the new Speaker of the House, Henry
Clay of Kentucky, and Representative John C. Calhoun of South Carolina,
led the sentiment for war, calling for a defense of American interests
and honor. On June 1, 1812, President James Madison asked for a
declaration of war. Shortly afterward, Congress, despite the opposition
of every Federalist, approved the declaration.
Gen. Andrew Jacksons victory in the Battle of New Orleans,
the War of 1812 produced a string of American military disasters.
The most shocking of these was the British Armys burning of
the Capitol, the Presidents house, and other public buildings
in Washington on August 24 and 25, 1814. (Americans had previously
burned public buildings in Canada.) When Congress returned September
it considered moving to another city, but decided to stay after
securing a $500,000 loan from Washington bankers.