After CNN reported Wednesday that in a May 25 phone call with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Donald Trump made a head-scratching — and incorrect — reference to the War of 1812, Twitter users were happy to give him a history lesson, and to have some laughs at Trump’s expense.
So what did Trump say to Trudeau that set off the latest Twitter feeding frenzy, and caused “War of 1812” to immediately jump to the top of the Twitter trending charts? According to the CNN report, after Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum, Trudeau pressed Trump in the call over Trump’s claim that the tariffs were a “national security” issue.
“Didn’t you guys burn down the White House?” Trump responded, according to the report.
But Canada did not exist as an independent country until 1867. The White House was burned in the War of 1812 — the attack on Washington took place in August of 1814 — by the invading British Army, including a unit called the Colonial Marines which was made up of freed African-American slaves emancipated by the British in their march through the south, according to a PBS historical account.
In fact, as the History Channel website recounts, in the early stages of the war, the United States invaded the northern territory that would later become Canada, in an attempt to wrest it away from the British.
Twitter users, including some prominent names, were quick to post memes and sarcastic remarks about Trump’s historical gaffe.
WHAT ELSE DID YOUR SOCIAL STUDIES TEACHER SAY ABOUT THE WAR OF 1812 pic.twitter.com/cR1yfIeAcw
— Jack Burton (@drknstormynite) June 6, 2018
Parent: Do your history homework.
Child: No, when am I ever going to need to know it?
Parent: What if you become President?
Child: Then I can mess up historical facts at whim and no one can do anything about it. #MAGA
— Bradley P. Moss (@BradMossEsq) June 6, 2018
As we speak some young Republican researcher is Googling frantically to see if any British-Canadian units did in fact participate in the War of 1812.
— Glenn Thrush (@GlennThrush) June 6, 2018
You’ve got to be kidding me.
(No, I didn’t fight in the War of 1812) https://t.co/mo5RFw4C3c
— John Dingell (@JohnDingell) June 6, 2018
BREAKING: Trump burns down the White House in celebration of The War of 1812. pic.twitter.com/QQxWOWIhrl
— Matt Lipton (@mattliptoncomic) June 6, 2018
Twitter is talking the War of 1812 and I'm here for it. pic.twitter.com/o2e9gga0j6
— Rory Cooper (@rorycooper) June 6, 2018
Though Trump apparently is confused about who fought whom in the War of 1812, it may not be surprising that the war was on his mind. Trump has made a major issue of the national anthem, even holding a brief celebration of the anthem at the White House Tuesday after canceling a visit by the NFL Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles, as Fox News reported.
Francis Scott Key wrote his poem, The Star Spangled Banner, after witnessing the Battle of Fort McHenry which took place shortly after the British sacked Washington, D.C., and set fire to the White House, as the Inquisitr wrote in an article about the national anthem last year. Key’s poem was adopted to serve as the lyrics to the U.S. national anthem.
But Twitter was eager to educate Trump as to what actually took place during the War of 1812.
— David Martosko (@dmartosko) June 6, 2018
British troops burned down the White House during the War of 1812. Historians note the British attack on Washington was in retaliation for the American attack on York, Ontario, in territory that eventually became Canada, which was then a British colony https://t.co/jzmxfP1tzM
— CNN (@CNN) June 6, 2018
Dear any teacher/professor/educator who teaches US History:
Your work is more important than ever. We must teach students (and adults, including @POTUS) the full force of American history. All of it, including, of course, the War of 1812.
— Jose Antonio Vargas (@joseiswriting) June 6, 2018
The history lesson quickly gave way to more snark, however.
I don't know why were still debating the War of 1812 when over 36 million people just to our nation's north are still living under the oppressive yoke of the British monarchy. We need to finish the work started by Richard Montgomery in 1775.
— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) June 6, 2018
During his call w/Trudeau, the president's comments on Canada, the War of 1812 (Canada didn't exist then, by the way) and the burning/ransacking of the White House etc. seemed downright embarrassing. It's not too much to ask that presidents know some basic American history
— West Wing Reports (@WestWingReport) June 6, 2018
On the other hand, not all pundits, on Twitter or off, were convinced that Trump had actually made a historical error. According to reporter Jeet Heer, writing on the New Republic site, Canada — then known as British North America — was still part of the British Empire at the time of the war.
“Pedants immediately jumped in to accuse Trump of an error. After all, wasn’t the torching of the White House conducted by British troops, under the command of Admiral George Cockburn?” Heer wrote. “These nitpickers are being too persnickety. When the United States fought a war with Britain from 1812-1815, it was, by definition, also fighting with Canada.”
And even some on Twitter made the same point.
Seems @acosta is unaware that Canada was not independent of Britain in 1814. And Canadian schools still teach the burning of DC as retaliation for US burning Toronto:https://t.co/2SRFia7wwthttps://t.co/o0nfEfK7s5https://t.co/xw8DUnvCbM https://t.co/vGC2hCyMeK
— Dan McLaughlin (@baseballcrank) June 6, 2018
1) Canadians take Ownership of the Burning of the White House in the War of 1812;
2) Trump references this;
3) The Press, ignorant of this, mock Trump.
— Lee Doren (@LDoren) June 6, 2018
And one Canadian television news journalist reported that Trump’s “burn down the White House” remark was no big deal anyway.
After speaking to three very high level sources in the government, all are telling me the call between Trump and Trudeau on May 25 was not testy and the "burning down the White House" comment was clearly intended (and received) as a joke. #cdnpoli
— Michel Boyer (@BoyerMichel) June 6, 2018
One Twitter user asked perhaps the most relevant question of all: regardless of the historical facts, why did Trump bring up the War of 1812 at all, given that the year is now 2018?
So even if this was true (it’s not) what the hell would the war of 1812 have to do with steel tariffs 106 years later?
— zack odle (@ranking_z) June 6, 2018
Another Twitter user was quick to offer a correction. The time between the start of the War of 1812 and today is actually 206 years.