The fall 1998 issue of White House History looks in depth at the most dramatic episode during the War of 1812—the burning of the White House by the British on the night of August 24, 1814. “Envisioning the White House in flames stirs fiendishly accurate images in the historical imagination. To Americans at the time, the burning was the premier symbol of defeat. Only Andrew Jackson’s victory in New Orleans five months later—after the peace treaty was signed—dimmed its glare and brought a final sense of triumph,” writes Robert L. Breeden, chairman of the White House Historical Association, in the forword.
The new issue of White House History begins with “The Burning of Washington” an essay on the entire episode by Anthony Pitch. “The White House before the Fire” by William Seale provides a detailed look at what was lost, while the article “Ruin and Regeneration” by William Bushong describes the eventual reconstruction of the White House. With “Reminders of 1814,” Betty Monkman describes the few surviving art and artifacts in the White House collection today. “In a Nantucket Graveyard” by Neil Horstman looks at the life of one of the British participants in the event. Mary Hackett presents an old poem that pokes fun at James Madison’s “escape” from Washington in “A Satirical View: Politics in Rhyme”; doggerel considered outrageous when it was published. “Dolley Madison has the Last Word” by David Mattern is a study of Dolley Madison’s transcription of a letter to her sister that describes events as they unfolded on August 24. Finally, “They Were There” provides four first-hand accounts of the fire.
Following the fire, the President’s House was rebuilt to look much as it had before. When in recent years the paint was stripped away, soot stains were found to still surround some of the windows and adhere to the original stones—much as fact and legend surrounding the fire cling to the story of the White House.
White House History is published twice each year by the White House Historical Association and features articles on White House History, architecture, fine and decorative arts, and gardens, as well as stories about the occupants of the White House and their experiences while living there. The Truman Renovations and the White House as a “Palace” will be featured in the spring and fall 1999 issues.
The fall 1998 issue on the burning of the White House is available for $6.50 per copy (including shipping and handling). Annual subscriptions are $12 and begin with the spring 1999 issue. Send payment to: White House Historical Association, 740 Jackson Place, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20503. For more information call (202) 737-8292 or visit www.whitehousehistory.org.
The White House Historical Association, established in 1961, is a nonprofit organization whose goal it to enhance the understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of the White House. All proceeds from the sale of publications, ornaments, and other association products are used to fund acquisition of historic furnishings and artwork for the permanent White House collection, assist in the preservation of public rooms, and further its educational mission.