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The War of 1812 Books

Robert Allen Rutland, The Presidency of James Madison (1990)

Well written and straightforward in its analysis, this volume within the American Presidency Series published by the University Press of Kansas is a good place to start in sorting out the domestic and international challenges of Madison's presidency.

J.C.A. Stagg, Mr. Madison's War: Politics, Diplomacy, and Warfare in the Early Republic, 1783-1830 (1983)

Stagg, a leading Madison scholar, argues that the War of 1812 was an extension of the anti-British trade policies Madison advanced in the first session of Congress in 1790. He places less emphasis than other scholars on the bellicose nationalism of the War Hawk Congress. Instead, he concludes that this was, as we might guess from the title, "Mr. Madison's War." The book is academic, detailed in its analysis, and relatively long (500 pages). But it offers the best single-volume analysis of the politics surrounding the war and the military events within the war itself.

Donald R. Hickey, The War of 1812: A Short History (1995)

If you want a short, bare-bones history of the war written by a leading scholar, this is your book. Just 100 pages long, this is an abridged version of Hickey's The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict (1989).

Catherine Allgor, Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government (2000)

Only a small portion of this book deals directly with the War of 1812. Its larger purpose is to explore the roles women played in the political life of the nation's capital between 1801 and 1832. But it focuses largely on Dolley Madison and makes an interesting, if perhaps overstated case, that her contributions were essential to the completion of the American political order. The book also provides an interesting snapshot of life in Washington, D.C. during this period.

James Banner, To the Hartford Convention: The Federalists and the Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts, 1789-1815 (1970)

This book covers far more than the War of 1812. But it nicely traces the evolution of the Federalist Party through its self-destructive policies during the war. It is academic, but very readable.

R. David Edmunds, The Shawnee Prophet (1983)

Tenskwatawa, the younger brother of Tecumseh, the legendary Shawnee leader, is the focus of this useful and interesting book. Edmunds explores the nationalist vision of this Indian prophet, the conditions that contributed to his ascendance, and the rise and fall of the movement he initiated. The complexity of the story makes for a somewhat dense narrative, but the reader is rewarded with an appropriately nuanced portrait of British-American-Indian relations in the first decade of the nineteenth century.

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