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Old Ironsides: A vessel to remember

John Bohn/Globe Staff

One hundred ninety-nine years ago today, the USS Constitution defeated a British warship, HMS Java, off of Brazil in one of the great triumphs in American naval history. After Old Ironsides’ victory, the British admiralty forbade its frigates from taking on the US Navy in single combat, for fear of being overmatched. The Constitution remains the pride of Boston Harbor, where it was built. It is well worth a visit to the Charlestown Navy Yard, a starting point for celebrating the bicentennial of the War of 1812.

The War of 1812 raised questions that are still relevant: When must the United States take military action? How deeply should the country entangle itself in foreign alliances? When is “a war of choice’’ appropriate? The United States experienced moments of glory - such as the defense of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, which inspired the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner’’ - and of abject humiliation, like the burning of Washington, D.C.


The Constitution was the vehicle for some of the greatest military victories of the war. Two centuries later, it should serve as an entry point for understanding a somewhat forgotten war whose lessons remain vital today.