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August 30 1812: USS Constitution in Boston


On August 30, 1812, the USS Constitution and Captain Isaac Hull arrive in Boston with the prisoners captured after destroying the Guerrière. Henry Adams describes the importance of the defeat of the British ship in very grand terms. "However small the affair might appear on the general scale of the world's battles," Adams writes "it raised the United States in one half hour to the rank of a first-class Power in the world." Adams' full description of the arrival of the Constitution and its importance is reproduced below: 
.... arrived on the morning of August 30. The Sunday silence of the Puritan city broke into excitement as the news passed through the quiet streets that the " Constitution" was below, in the outer harbor, with Dacres and his crew prisoners on board. No experience of history ever went to the heart of New England more directly than this victory, so peculiarly its own; but the delight was not confined to New England, and extreme though it seemed it was still not extravagant, for however small the affair might appear on the general scale of the world's battles, it raised the United States in one half hour to the rank of a first-class Power in the world.
Hull's victory was not only dramatic in itself, but was also supremely fortunate in the moment it occurred. The "Boston Patriot" of September 2, which announced the capture of the "Guerriere," announced in the next column that Rodgers and Decatur, with their squadron, entered Boston harbor within four-and-twenty hours after Hull's arrival, returning empty-handed after more than two months of futile cruising; while in still another column the same newspaper announced " the melancholy intelligence of the surrender of General Hull and his whole army to the British General Brock." Isaac Hull was nephew to the unhappy General, and perhaps the shattered hulk of the " Guerriere," which the nephew left at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, eight hundred miles east of Boston, was worth for the moment the whole province which the uncle had lost, eight hundred miles to the westward; it was at least the only equivalent the people could find, and they made the most of it. With the shock of new life, they awoke to the consciousness that after all the peace teachings of Pennsylvania and Virginia, the sneers of Federalists and foreigners; after the disgrace of the "Chesapeake" and the surrender of Detroit, — Americans could still fight. The public had been taught, and had actually learned, to doubt its own physical courage; and the reaction of delight in satisfying itself that it still possessed the commonest and most brutal of human qualities was the natural result of a system that ignored the possibility of war.
Hull's famous victory taught the pleasures of war to a new generation, which had hitherto been sedulously educated to think only of its cost. The first taste of blood maddens; and hardly had the "Constitution" reached port and told her story than the public became eager for more. The old Jeffersonian jealousy of the navy vanished in the flash of Hull's first broadside. Nothing would satisfy the craving of the popular appetite but more battles, more British frigates, and more daring victories. Even the cautious Madison was dragged by public excitement upon the element he most heartily disliked.
Notes
Henry Adams,  History of the United States 1809-17 (New York, Library of America, 1986), pages 558-559 . The photograph of the USS Constitution is from U.S. Navy photo by Sonar Technician 2nd Class Thomas Rooney) and was posted 4GWAR.





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