August 25

This is a memorable date in the history of the republic. The event which made it outstanding was the burning and partial destruction of the capital city of Washington in 1814. The guiding spirit behind this feat of British arms was a rear admiral of the Royal Navy, Sir George Cockburn. Good friend and fighting shipmate of the esteemed Lord Nelson, Sir George enjoyed a long and whimsical career in the service of his King. Actually the incident in Washington was but a minor incident but he was rewarded with a K.C.B. for it.

The entire Chesapeake area had long known the depredations of the swashbuckling admiral who had scarcely known shore duty during his twenty-six years of service. Elevated to flag rank at forty years of age, Cockburn had the seaman’s splendid disdain for the landsman and appeared to enjoy every moment of his American service.

Sir George, on that sunny August day, broke into the annals of the printer’s craft by virtue of his zeal as a minor conqueror. For the past year he had been reading in the Washington newspaper of the contempt in which he was held. He appeared at the door of the National Intelligencer and called for Editor Joseph Gale to come forth and eat his words or “watch his rag go out of business!’

Gale was of course some time departed from the premises. The admiral thereby contented himself with ordering the library of the newspaper brought out to the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue and put to the match before a goodly crowd of citizens, declaring the volumes to be traitorous. Cockburn became so enthusiastic at the sight that he forgot the traditions of an officer of His Majesty by actually joining in the destruction of the printing plant, helping to smash the presses with his own hands.

In the matter of the type, Sir George’s instructions were more explicit. He told the soldiers to pi the type. “Be sure,” he said, “that all the C’s in the boxes are destroyed so that the rascals can have no further means of abusing my name!”

Editor Gale exhibited remarkable restraint when he later was able to resume publication of his newspaper. In an editorial he wrote, “Greater respect was certainly paid to private property than has usually been exhibited by the enemy in his marauding parties. No houses were half as much plundered by the enemy as by the knavish wretches of the town who profited by the general distress!’

Sir George went from service in the War of 1812 to greater glory, serving as the jailer of Napoleon upon St. Helena, becoming First Naval Lord, and finally retiring as Admiral of the Fleet in 1851. For a period he was also a Tory Member of Parliament, during which time he no doubt was pleased that the English printers were always sufficiently supplied with cap C’s.

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