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Gateway Museum hosting lively discussion of the War of 1812

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MORRISTOWN – Who won the War of 1812?

That’s the question up for debate during Thursday’s War of 1812 lecture at the Morristown Gateway Museum, 309 Main St. Held to commemorate the ongoing 200th anniversary of the war, experts from the north country and Canada will discuss the politics, local impact and ultimate meaning of the War of 1812.

Dr. Alexander E. Kuehl, a retired Gouverneur doctor, former St. Lawrence County Public Health director and summer resident of Morristown, said 1812 marked the beginning of America’s first preemptive war.

“I make the analogy that this was an unnecessary war, much like George Bush’s invasion of Iraq,” he said.

Dr. Kuehl is in the process of writing a book about the political wrangling that transpired prior to and during the war. His book is tentatively titled “1814: America’s first preemptive war.”

Because the north country was a hotbed of activity during the war, Dr. Kuehl said Thursday’s presentation will be especially interesting for budding history enthusiasts who may not be aware of the role the region played in the conflict.

“The people in the north country are just unaware of just how much history was here during the War of 1812,” he said. “Essentially the war started [in the north country].”

Michael P. Whittaker, president of the Canadian Friends of Fort de la Presentation, will also present a Canadian perspective on the war at Thursday’s lecture.

Mr. Whittaker agreed that the war was unnecessary. “However, it was instrumental in leading to the formation of a modern independent nation of Canada,” he said.

James E. Reagen, a local historian, will add further nuance to the discussion by looking closely at the local reality during the war.

“What a lot of people here along the northern border have never grasped is that, if you look at the southern border of Canada, these communities were settled by refugees of the 13 colonies who wanted to stay loyal to the king,” Mr. Reagen said. “The reality is that the north county was the front lines of the war.”

He said the war is of more tangible significance to Canada than to the United States.

“It probably did more than anything to solidify a Canadian identity,” he said.

Furthermore, Mr. Whittaker and Dr. Kuehl believe the war was in large part the result of political realities within the United States government – a point they will explain in greater depth during the lecture.

Dr. Kuehl said the fact that 1812 was a presidential election year is a significant clue leading toward a better understanding of the war.

And Dr. Kuehl, Mr. Reagen and Mr. Whittaker also believe there was one clear loser in the war: Native Americans.

Following the war, Mr. Whittaker said, any discussion of a sovereign homeland for the Native Americans was lost.

“The United States was not interested in negotiating any homeland or national land for the native people,” he said. “It was simply dropped from the discussions.”

Dr. Kuehl said, “Some people would say that the last best chance for the Native Americans to have a country of their own in North America was lost with the end of the War of 1812.

“There were Native Americans all over the eastern seaboard of the United States and Canada, but within about 20 years after the War of 1812 there essentially were no Indian reservations east of the Mississippi River,” he added.

The event will take place at 7 p.m. on the museum’s second floor.

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