Monday, June 18, 2012

Union 1812

Today, on the 200th anniversary of the official declaration of war against Britain, I finished my first book of the summer - A.J. Langguth's Union 1812.  This is one of many books I have read on this topic - especially as James Madison and the founding period was my focus in college.

In many respects, the War of 1812 was a disaster.  Once again, Americans were mismatched against the world's leading military power and the nation suffered many losses culminating in the burning of Washington in 1814.  Yet, this war marks an important turning point in the nation's early history.

Langguth makes the analogy that starting this war was the new republic's way of challenging Britain to a duel in order to preserve her sacred honor.  In the decades since the Revolution, Britain and France often trampled on America's neutrality and sovereignty.  Indian alliances, often encouraged by the British in Canada, represented a dangerous threat to frontier-seeking Americans.  To a younger generation of founders, those who did not fight in the first war for independence, the only solution was to stand up for the rights of the nation even though many of the older founders, men like Jefferson and Madison, were reluctant to support such a gamble.

Despite the limited successes and tremendous blunders of the war, the republic survived and as a result, gained more respect abroad.  With the defeat of the formidable Indian confederacies and a new sense of national pride at the end of the war, Americans vigorously moved west and laid the foundations for a market revolution.  An industrial boom in the North resulted from years of embargo and war and politically, the era that followed would be labeled one of "good feelings."  Sectionalism was dealt a black eye with the failure of the Hartford Convention, yet the long-term effects of this war would cause a resurgence of sectionalism as the nation pushed west and faced the inevitable question on the existence and expansion of slavery.

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