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Boston

 

Washington had been sunny and warm, T shirt and shorts weather but in Boston it was still winter.  Is snowed for part of the time we were there.  Boston is a beautiful city and the home to some of the most famous universities and scientific institutions.  We took a drive through the snow to Harvard and on another finer day, walked to the city campus of MIT.

 

I find Boston fascinating for its place in history.  Tourists can take a walk along the Freedom Trail; we did.  In the Harbour is moored the USS Constitution also known as Old Ironsides.  This is still the official flagship of the U.S. navy.  It dates back to the war of 1812 when the United States declared war on Britain and attacked Canada.  This resulted in the British successfully invading and burning Washington, and generally marching up and down the country creating havoc, before signing a peace treaty and leaving. That's my potted view of history anyway. 

But the great British navy was brought to its knees by the upstart Americans who with a combination of superior seamanship and better ships decisively beat the British at sea on several occasions.  The British learnt a salutary lesson.  They also failed to take Baltimore and this is the subject of the Star Spangled Banner.  The ‘rockets red glare, bombs bursting in air’, are British rockets.

While the War of Independence gained popular support with the catch cry ‘no taxation without representation’ and a general feeling that the American Colonies were being set upon to pay for government in London, another more commercial motivation was in play.  This was the restriction on trade imposed by British treaties with the Native Americans, in particular those limiting the colonists’ expansion into the Northwest Territories and the remaining British colonies to the north, Canada.  After Independence these restrictions on further geographic expansion the led the United States to again declare war.

Another motivation for the war was the British habit of pressing American Sailors into the British navy.  This backfired as these were the sailors who, drilled in British navel tactics, out-sailed and outmanoeuvred them in superior ships like the Constitution.   

In its eventual outcome the war was a success for the United States as it opened the way to westward expansion and Britain ceased to be an enemy; but in general the actual battles did not go well for the Americans.

In popular culture this is an almost forgotten war, sandwiched between the American War of Independence and the Civil War.  The principal American land victory, the Battle of New Orleans, was won in January 1815 after the British had already agreed to leave.   A peace treaty, the Treaty of Ghent had been signed by both parties in December 1814.  Nevertheless it made Major General Andrew Jackson a national hero and the Battle of New Orleans was proclaimed a huge victory, in that a great number of British soldiers were pointlessly killed.  In 1803 the United States had acquired territory to the south with the Louisiana Purchase from the French; over eight hundred thousand square miles for $15 million.  It was alleged that certain British interests saw the war as an opportunity to seize this new territory.  The battle was ‘sold’ as having put an end to those aspirations.  Of course it achieved nothing of the kind; that battle was already won in December.

From a British perspective it was a relatively minor war, in the context of the Napoleonic wars at the time, but the treaty reconciled Britain and the United States and acknowledged the latter’s right to existence.  As a result they have generally been allies ever since.

Boston is where you learn most about the founding fathers.  When I am there I imagine I can understand them better.  Apart from their strong mercantile backgrounds there was a very strong Unitarian and intellectual sentiment amongst the group.  Several were polymaths and at least one, Benjamin Franklin, is widely regarded as a genius.  There is still a prominent Unitarian church and Unitarian of organisational structure in Boston and of course Harvard has always been a strong influence on intellectual development in the United States.

Interestingly Charles Darwin was also a Unitarian before he lost his faith altogether.  It is a strand of Christianity that embraces the enlightenment and enlightenment values.  It is sympathetic with the Masons as it holds that there is only one God, the creator of the universe, in contrast to the Roman and middle ages concept of a Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Some Unitarians are not theists in the strictest sense at all.

It is one of the interesting strands of early American cultural development, along with the various protestant sects that fled England and Europe with the Establishment of the Church of England as the state religion and various sectarian reprisals in Europe. 

 

This religious and intellectual parchment was then illuminated by successive waves of immigration largely from Europe, Germans; Irish; Russian and continental Jews; Scandinavians; and Italians.  With the southward annexation of Florida followed by the Mexican Territories and when the Republic of California joined the federation Spanish culture was melded into the mix.  The annexation, or ‘liberation’, of the bulk of the Spanish empire in the Caribbean and the Pacific, led to further waves of Spanish speaking immigration.  Australia is one of the few countries in the world that can boast the same level of cultural diversity as United States of America.   It’s an endlessly fascinating place.

 

From Boston we returned to New York down the coast from Massachusetts to Rhode Island; and on into Connecticut, stopping overnight in New Haven.

 

 

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