The War of 1812: Writings from America’s Second War of Independence
A complex and controversial war comes to life in this bicentennial collection of eyewitness accounts
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We have met the enemy and they are ours . . . Don’t give up the ship! . . . O! say can you see? . . . Even as these words have lived in America’s national memory, the war that gave rise to them remains little remembered and less understood. Now, for the bicentennial, this first-of-its-kind collection brings together letters, speeches, diary entries, newspaper and magazine articles, memoir excerpts, poems, sermons, songs, and military reports to provide a rich firsthand panorama of the War of 1812 as it was experienced by a wide range of participants—Americans, Britons, Canadians, and Indians.
Opening with President James Madison’s war message to Congress, the volume traces the debate surrounding the U.S. declaration of war against Great Britain, a controversial decision that divides the nation and precipitates a series of bloody riots in Baltimore. Meanwhile tensions between the United States and Indian tribes flare as future presidents William Henry Harrison and Andrew Jackson fight regional wars in the Old Northwest and Old Southwest.
Carefully selected sources, including some only recently uncovered, record the unfolding of a far-ranging conflict that was waged from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, and from Chile to the Azores. Ordinary seaman Moses Smith presents a gripping account of the USS Constitution’s defeat of HMS Guerrière; Shawnee leader Tecumseh criticizes the strategy of his British allies; Washington Irving describes the making of an American war hero; Laura Secord recounts the courageous nighttime adventure that would make her a Canadian national icon; Benjamin F. Browne of Salem, Massachusetts, recalls (with some help from his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne) his wartime imprisonment in England; Dolley Madison and her slave Paul Jennings offer differing accounts of their flight from the White House as British forces march on the nation’s capital; the Duke of Wellington, fresh from his victory over Napoleon’s forces in Spain, advises the British prime minister to cut his losses in America; former president Thomas Jefferson provides spirited commentary from the wings in letters to Madison, John Adams, Madame de Staël, and others. Here is the War of 1812 as it has never been seen before: a complex story, profound in its implications for the national destinies of its combatants, and rife with lessons for today.
The War of 1812 includes an introduction, headnotes, a chronology of events, biographical and explanatory endnotes, and an index, as well as endpaper maps.
Donald R. Hickey, editor, is professor of history at Wayne State College in Wayne, Nebraska. He is the author of The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict and Don’t Give Up the Ship!: Myths of the War of 1812, and co-author of The Rockets’ Red Glare: An Illustrated History of the War of 1812.
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