The Citizenship War
The War of 1812 was a complex event in the early history of the United States. In many ways, this war was like a braided rope, made up of many strands.
If we tease out the strains, we may see that they bring with them some of the same issues we face today. One of these issues is the meaning and value of U.S. citizenship
The document that created U.S. citizens, the Constitution, was only 25 years old when the War of 1812 began. At that time, northeast merchants wanted to trade freely with Britain and France, who were at war. The citizen-settlers on the U.S. frontier wanted to move westward with protection from the federal government.
In 1807, five years prior to the declaration of war, the British ship Leopard fired upon the American frigate Chesapeake off Hampton Roads, Virginia. When the American captain raised the white flag, four men, three of them American citizens, were impressed into the British navy.
According to historian Henry William Elson, this act by the British of ignoring U.S. citizenship "[r]aised the ire of the American people as nothing had done for many years."
The new nation of the United States of America was now aware that its citizens had to be defended not only against the British, but against the world.
By 1812, the affronts to U.S. trade and citizenship were too much to be overlooked. "As many Americans rallied around the slogan 'Free Trade and Sailors' Rights,' President James Madison (and the U.S. Congress) declared war on England on June 18, 1812."
The embarrassing War of 1812
Two hundred years later, many cities in the United States seem embarrassed and reluctant to commemorate the War of 1812. How can this be? The War of 1812 is sometimes called the Second War of Independence.
Perhaps the answer, like so many answers to questions these days, is political. This embarrassment and reluctance is most often seen in multicultural, Democratic Party-controlled cities like Chicago, where the Fort Dearborn Massacre, a battle in the War of 1812, occurred on August 15.
Many of those who died in the massacre on the shores of Lake Michigan were part of that first generation of U.S. citizens. Captain William Wells was one of them. Kidnapped when he was a boy and raised by Indians, Wells chose to be a U.S. military scout and affirm his U.S. citizenship.
Ensign Ronan, killed in the Fort Dearborn Massacre, was one of the first graduates of West Point. He was proud to be a U.S. citizen and a representative of the federal government.
Just one of many other incidents from the War of 1812, if better-known, would highlight the importance of U.S. citizenship for those living under the new Constitution. We learn of this incident in Teddy Roosevelt's great history of the naval battles of the War of 1812.
At one of the bow-guns was stationed a young Scotchman, named Bissly, who had one leg shot off close by the groin. Using his handkerchief as a tourniquet, he said, turning to his American shipmates: "I left my own country and adopted the United States, to fight for her. I hope I have this day proved myself worthy of the country of my adoption. I am no longer of any use to you or to her, so good-by!" With these words he leaned on the sill of the port, and threw himself over board.
Two hundred years after the War of 1812, how many Americans know or care about this sacrifice or share Bissly's patriotic sentiments? In the course of two hundred years, the concept of American citizenship has been so watered down that appeals to U.S. citizenship are hardly able to stir the hearts of a multicultural, urban population.
When we say that U.S. citizenship has been diluted, we mean not so much the civil rights that attend U.S. citizenship, but rather the cultural values and beliefs that accompany citizenship. In 1812 the country was young, and its citizens were eager to prove the values of its new Constitution.
Two hundred years later, after wave upon wave of immigrants came to settle, the United States is no longer young. For many, the country now seems old and forgetful. The values and beliefs that motivated the generation of 1812 do not motivate many members of the current multicultural generation.
In the United States today, as in many advanced Western democracies, citizenship can be granted without granting the values and beliefs of a generation born 200 years ago.
When our politicians say they want to "fundamentally transform" the United States, they have in mind transforming the values and beliefs that motivated the generation of 1812. These politicians will not commemorate something they believe is in need of transformation.
The DREAM Act, undocumented workers from Mexico, the refusal of the federal government to enforce immigration laws -- all of these current challenges to U.S. citizenship make the concerns of those who fought the War of 1812 almost impossible for young Americans to understand.
So, too, when politicians advance the lie that "we are all immigrants" to attract votes, they are simply denying important events of U.S. history, and thereby suggesting that there is no difference between immigrant and citizen.
To be clear, George Washington was not an immigrant, nor was President Madison, who almost lost the War of 1812. They were born British subjects and died U.S. citizens.
Abraham Lincoln was not an immigrant. Lincoln was a natural-born citizen, a class of citizen that the U.S. Constitution states is qualified to be President of the United States. Many believe that this qualification is blatantly ignored today.
Likewise, the slaves brought from Africa to the New World were not immigrants. The truth is that the United States is only partially an immigrant nation.
At the end of his short history of the War of 1812, Henry William Elson concludes, "The war also played its part in bringing about a feeling of national pride that was unknown before."
What does national pride mean to the millions of Mexicans who are living illegally in the United States? They are not assimilating to U.S. culture and have little pride in the U.S. Go to a soccer game in Los Angeles when team USA plays team Mexico, and you will see where the pride rests.
Many Latinos refuse to learn English and have distorted the idea of "America" by claiming that "somos Americanos," -- "we are all Americans" -- to falsely imply that "we are all U.S. citizens."
When you visit Chicago, the most segregated city in the United States, and wonder why so little is being done there to commemorate the War of 1812, remember that Chicago is a sanctuary city. Can we expect people in Chicago, a multicultural sanctuary city with a failing system of public education, to appreciate the values of Americans 200 years ago?
Chicago is a city that does not ask questions about who is and who is not a U.S. citizen. In Chicago, non-citizens already vote in school board elections. The last thing Chicago politicians need is a ceremony that calls attention to U.S. citizenship.
A commemoration of the War of 1812 would expose the insult that being a sanctuary city is to traditional ideas about U.S. citizenship. Chicago politicians have decided that it's best to ignore what happened two hundred years ago and focus on multiculturalism.
In spite of the politicians, it would be interesting to listen into a conversation between the Scotsman Bissly and the Mexican illegal alien Elvira Arellano on the topic of U.S. citizenship.
Bissly believed so strongly in the ideals of the United States that he gave his life for his adopted country. Elvira Arellano had other ideas about citizenship. As an illegal alien from Mexico, she sought sanctuary in a Chicago church.
Arellano was eventually arrested and deported back to Mexico. She probably saw the United States as a chance to go shopping or as a country that had to be fundamentally transformed by the Mexican workers of the world.
Elvira Arellano also used her son as a human shield to stay in the U.S. illegally as long as she could. You must wonder about illegal aliens like Arellano. If her greed was so great as a "worker of the world" that she would ignore U.S. immigration laws, then what does she think of her Mexican citizenship?
Beyond the first stanza
Perhaps the most lasting memory of the War of 1812 that Americans recognize today is "The Star-Spangled Banner," whose lyrics were written by Francis Scott Key. Few, however, go beyond the first stanza of Key's poem.
Francis Scott Key also wrote, "Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, / And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.' / And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave / O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!"
Because the meaning of U.S. citizenship has been so diluted these days, many Americans no longer share Key's sentiments. These American forget that when we water down the meaning of U.S. citizenship, we undermine also the nation and flag that Key celebrated.
To forget the importance of U.S. citizenship is to open our society to the evil and corruption of alien cultures and Marxism. In undermining the meaning of U.S. citizenship, we waste also the sacrifices made by men like Bissly and the other 30,000 Americans who died in the War of 1812.
Robert Klein Engler lives in Des Plaines, Illinois, a city northwest of Chicago, first settled in 1837, twenty-five years after the Fort Dearborn Massacre.