We all know what happened at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday this week. Over the past two days commentators have remarked repeatedly that the last time invaders stormed the Capitol was during the War of 1812. I was aware of this fact because of all the research I did for my historical romance Dawn’s Early Light (first published 1993). The story takes place outside Baltimore and inside Washington D.C. in August, 1814.
Washington Post opinion writer Eugene Robinson wrote yesterday: “Not since British Major Gen. Robert Ross set fire to the president’s residence and the Capitol building in 1814 have we seen such a scene at the hallowed citadel of our democracy, as an angry and disillusioned mob — whipped into a frenzy by Trump himself — forced its way into the Capitol to disrupt the official certification of Trump’s electoral defeat” (emphasis mine).
For the full op-ed, see: We Just Saw an Attempted Coup d’Etat
I don’t write about politics in my blog. (I have to point this out when something politically newsworthy happens to intersect with topics relevant to my blog). In the present case, British Major General Robert Ross is a character in Dawn’s Early Light. And, yes, in my story he does exactly what Eugene Robinson says he does.
I invoke my historical portrayal of the burning of Capitol in the context of the point Timothy Snyder makes in On Tyranny (2017). “It is a primary American tradition to consider history when our political order seems imperiled” (page 7).
Dawn’s Early Light: The Story
The book blurb: Jane Bennet is vexed with impertinent British solider James Stewart. He has an uncanny knack for turning up at the most inopportune times. Usually when she’s half-dressed. However, the truth of her activities becomes as hard to hide from him as her womanly charms are proving to be. Thus, putting in jeopardy her secret cause. Nothing less than the fate of the fledgling United States is at stake.
All characters in the story are fictional, except for Major General Ross. Obviously, I took poetic license in fictionalizing this historical figure.
What’s my point here? It is too much to hope that the rioters at the Capitol on Wednesday might have behaved differently if they had a better grasp – any grasp – on this country’s history. At the same time, over the last four years I’ve become aware of my own shortcomings. How I’ve either been ignorant of – or taken for granted – many of this country’s laws, norms and history. How I need to become a better informed citizen.
I like to get my history from history books and then scaffold a story around some fascinating or important incident. In whatever form you like to get your history, you might start with the period 1812-1814.
Dawn’s Early Light: Two Points of Information
One. Today we call it The War of 1812 . At the time they called it The Second War for Independence.
Two. For my international readers the phrase “dawn’s early light” is from the American national anthem. The Star-Spangled Banner commemorates what happened at Fort McHenry outside Baltimore in August, 1814. The anthem has a difficult melody. With equally difficult lyrics that form of one, long question.
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen