On the night of August 24, 1814, Washington City lay abandoned and undefended as British troops entered and burned the President’s House, the unfinished Capitol, and other government buildings. For the young republic, it was the greatest disaster of the War of 1812, and some wondered if the city—indeed the government itself—would recover. Two hundred years later, during the “Star Spangled Summer” of 2014, the events surrounding the attack on Washington were examined and commemorated with educational and historical programs sponsored by museums, archives, libraries, and historic sites throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Culminating the commemorations, a bicentennial symposium, “America Under Fire: Mr. Madison’s War and the Burning of Washington City,” was hosted by the White House Historical Association’s David M. Rubenstein National Center for White House History in partnership with the U.S. Capitol Historical Society and James Madison’s Montpelier. We invited distinguished scholars from the United States and Great Britain to present papers exploring the geopolitics and causes of the War of 1812; the British capture of the national capital and burning of the public buildings; President James Madison’s interpretation of the Constitution in a time of war and crisis; First Lady Dolley Madison’s role as a political partner and heroine; the impact of invasion on civilians, particularly women and African Americans, and their responses to it; and the aftermath of fire and war, with implications for the future of the nation. These papers are published in this volume. The “America Under Fire” symposium was held on September 3–4, 2014, at the Decatur House, the historic home of one of the great naval heroes of the War of 1812, Commodore Stephen Decatur Jr., one block from the White House. The symposium was broadcast live by C-Span 3 to a much wider audience and followed by thousands on social media. This published volume is a permanent record produced to ensure that the collected scholarship from this symposium is readily available as a resource for future study of this significant time in our nation’s history. 205 pages. Includes 87 plates.
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