My commute is a reverse retreat

I reverse the retreat of the President every morning. That is, the retreat of President Monroe in 1814, who fled Washington, DC to our small town to avoid capture by the British.

But for one weekend this summer, the president returned to our fair town. Or, as Jewel would have it, the fake president came to our town. Being patriots, of course we turned out. He came on horseback. We rode our bikes.

Monroe spent one night in our town along with some other government officials and a number of troops. As a result of this, the town claims the title of U.S. Capital for a Day, which is quite a big thing for a place where the population has probably never exceeded 300.

The town put on more of a show of his visit this time around, not so scared that the British army level it in an artillery barrage or ride in and burn it to the ground. There were hundreds of people in period costume, each acting the role of a person who had been in town when the non-fake President had arrived.

In addition, there were many re-enactors showing off period woodworking techniques, blacksmithing methods and surgical procedures, including trepanning. Not sure how that last one was relevant, even if the British were a headache for Madison. But I let the surgeon be, since I didn’t wonder about the Ben & Jerry’s truck parked up the street from the house Madison stayed in.

Maybe the surgeon was there to treat brain freezes.

I went with the kids and we had a good time talking about horses, soldiers, surgeons, saws, and playing with period musical instruments. We also talked a bit about the government, the war, why we like the British now and so forth.

I pointed out that the President isn’t the entirety of our government, so the claim of Capital for a Day is a bit shaky, but it was August, so Congress and the Supreme Court were in recess. Because of this, President Monroe did embody our government more than a President typically does. And what a coup it would have been for the British to capture him, regardless of the position of the other branches of our democracy.

Of course, as 3B said, “Americans would have kept fighting the British, though.” Yes, which is what they did while Monroe was on the run. And since communication was so slow in those days, by the time anyone learned that the Union Jack had flown over the Capitol and White House, Monroe was back in DC.

As I ride into work on an air-conditioned train, texting and emailing, I sometimes think about how fraught Monroe’s journey must have been. He wasn’t the fake President, and the British Army troops in Washington were regulars, not re-enactors, so Madison wouldn’t have stopped long, if at all, and would have been out of contact with his commanders. But he would have known that Americans would continue fighting, though that might have been his only comfort. When he returned from days on horseback, separated from his wife, he would have found his official residence burned down, along with the Capitol and most major buildings of the relatively new government of the republic.

All of which puts any bad commute I may have in some perspective, and reminds me that it’s an honor to serve in the city I do–in a building also burned by the British, but that still stands. Because, just as Madison returned, so did citizens, masons, plumbers, electricians and so many others, ready to raise our Capitol and our capital city to new heights.