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The 2016 election is over and January will see a new host of politicians headed to Washington. Some suggest real and needed change is coming. I will believe that when I see it. However I would like to share some happy memories about a more honest approach to D.C.

Most do not remember the name of Robert Ross. He was not a terribly popular figure in his time, especially in America. And his time has long since faded into the history books.  Maj. Gen. Ross was for a short time the commander of the British army during the War of 1812. That fratricidal nonsense gave us two things: a catchy tune by Johnny Horton* and a lesson on handling the American Capital. The latter was courtesy of Ross.


Ross. U.S. Capitol Historical Society.

Ross was born in Ireland ten years before the American Revolution. He led a distinguished military career which culminated in his command of British forces on the east coast of America. He was killed just prior to the Battle of Baltimore in September 1814. This was just after his greatest success: The Burning of Washington, D.C.


On August 24, 1814 Ross and his men entered into Washington with the most noble of intentions, to level the place. The British torched the White House, the Capitol and numerous other government buildings. Interestingly, and greatly reflecting on Ross’s high character, he largely left private property alone. He was also persuaded to preserve benign public structures (most notably the Patent Office).

Negotiations also saved nearby non-government towns. They went something like this: Americans: “Please don’t burn our town.” British: “Okay”.

The very next day a hurricane came in from the Atlantic. The “storm that saved Washington” really didn’t. While it extinguished the flames, it caused equally substantial damage. For example, it took out the Patent building spared the day before by Ross. Admiral Sir George Cockburn regarded the storm as God’s assistance in cleansing the filth on the Potomac. Perhaps he foresaw what would eventually take shape there over the next two centuries.

And the growth came, just as nature springs back to life following a forest fire with greater vigor. From the ashes and water leapt one of the most insane conclaves of democratic tyranny ever known on Earth. From the ruins came a rebuilt government with laws, legions, and regulations enough to paper the globe.

Still, for his part in history, we may thank General Ross. For America’s official position, there are no hard feelings against the man. His portrait hangs in the Capitol building with honor. What happens in D.C. rarely ever makes sense. Yet for us, the freedom-minded, the lesson is simple: as a matter of last resort fire is the ultimate anti-septic.

*Horton’s famed The Battle of New Orleans is part of Americana. He made a lesser known version of the same name for the British, the lyrics essentially reversed. Ray Stevens updated the song following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.