In 1812, the United States declared war against Great Britain. For the previous twenty years, Britain had claimed the right to intercept American ships on the high seas, seize their cargoes, and search their crews for British navy deserters. At war with France since 1793, Britain defended these actions as necessary wartime measures; indignant Americans called them violations of their rights as a neutral and sovereign nation.
Fought between 1812 and 1815, the War of 1812 was defined largely by military incompetence and internal dissent. It ended with a treaty that was little more than a cease-fire; none of the substantive issues that had caused the war were addressed. Nevertheless, the war had profound effects on American politics and national identity. And it generated a cast of new American heroes, including two future presidents.
For many Americans today, the War of 1812 is all but unknown. Some may remember that it gave us our national anthem; a few will recall that it ended with an unnecessary but victorious battle at New Orleans. But beyond this historical trivia, the War of 1812 has left little to the popular memory.
But did you know that an entire region of the United States opposed the war's declaration, withheld supplies, refused to commit troops, and even threatened to secede from the union in protest?
Did you know that in many battles the soldiers simply refused to fight?
Did you know that the political future of one of America's most important presidents was launched by this war?
Did you know that the most important First Lady of the nineteenth century subtly strengthened the presidency and reorganized the political arena during this war?
Did you know that there was actually a war within the war? And that while one ended inconclusively, the other was brought to a final and portentous end?
Read on, and the War of 1812 will become more to you than a patriotic song.