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In January 1815 the news radiated across the country: Andrew Jackson had decisively defeated the British in the Battle of New Orleans. Along with spectacular American naval victories—Oliver Hazard Perry on Lake Erie and Isaac Hull with the Constitution (“Old Ironsides”)—Jackson’s triumph established the great myth in American history that we won the War of 1812.

In actuality it was a draw. The British won most of the land battles, successfully blockaded American ports, and stymied American attempts to invade Canada. The Treaty of Ghent, ending the war, did not even address such American grievances as Britain’s interference with American shipping and the impressment of our sailors.

Myths, however, often express aspects of reality. Americans at the time believed the war had made them far more independent of Great Britain and Europe; there was a renewed sense of nationalism; and the Northwest Territory was finally rid of British soldiers. Britain’s alliance with Native American tribes, a barrier to American expansion, was ended, with dire consequences to American Indians.

Out of the war emerged two of our most important national symbols—Uncle Sam and the Star-Spangled Banner—even if Americans today cannot place the “rockets’ red glare.” The outpouring of art devoted to the significant figures involved in this war, much of which—from institutions and private homes throughout the United States, Great Britain, and Canada—is brought together in this exhibition for the first time.

Teachers, use this website to help teach your students. Lesson plans available for grades 4 - 12.
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National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

June 15, 2012 through January 27, 2013

For more on 1812, purchase 1812: A Nation Emerges by Sidney Hart and Rachael L. Penman. Read More →

HISTORY and TD Bank logos

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Thomas Jefferson 1743–1826
Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828)
Oil on panel, 1805/1821
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12 at Midnight; the Hibernia Attempting to run the Comet Down
Thomas Whitcombe (c. 1760–c. 1824)
Oil on canvas, 1814
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We Owe Allegiance to No Crown
John Archibald Woodside (1781–1852)
Oil on canvas, c. 1814
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