Stump the President: The War of 1812


Yesterday, in a call to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President Trump accused Canada of burning down the White House in the War of 1812. Students of history will know that British forces were actually the ones responsible.

Let’s face it: a perilously small number of us are students of history. Luckily, through the magic of books, we have the power to change that in an instant. Read any of the following recommended titles about the War of 1812, linked to their excerpted Booklist reviews, to get a leg up on the man in the White House, burning or otherwise.


1812: The Navy’s War, by George C. Daughan

In 1812, the U.S. had a tiny navy, despite a vast coastline. Congress was chronically stingy in appropriating funds, fearing both the economic cost and political dangers of a large permanent naval force. On the other hand, Britain had the most powerful navy in the world, which allowed them to go where they wanted and when they wanted on the high seas. Daughan, an expert on naval warfare, demonstrates that the surprisingly effective performance of American warships led to the first national commitment to a strong navy and made European powers take notice.


Through the Perilous Fight: Six Weeks That Saved the Nation, by Steve Vogel

From the War of 1812, Vogel selects the British invasion of the Chesapeake Bay in the summer of 1814 for this tight-focus treatment. Few details escape his attention, from the appearances and characters of commanders to specifications of weaponry, ships, and forts, which he integrates into an active narrative of military events. Showing the British initiative conferred by their naval supremacy, Vogel depicts American leaders guessing where their opponents would land in the deeply incised coastline of the bay.





The War of 1812: Conflict for a Continentby J. C. A. Stagg

For most laymen, the War of 1812 conjures up a few striking images, such as General Andrew Jackson destroying the British forces at New Orleans, but general history texts often underplay the importance of the conflict. In this bicentennial year of the war, one can expect reappraisals. Stagg, professor of history at the University of Virginia, has written a short narrative history of the war that touches the important causative factors, battles, and key personalities.


When Britain Burned the White House: The 1814 Invasion of Washington, by Peter Snow

In June 1812, outraged by British interference with American shipping, convinced that Britain was supporting Indian attacks on the western frontier, and encouraged by War Hawks with designs on Canada, President Madison and Congress foolishly declared war on Britain. The result was a nasty conflict that left the major sources of hostility unresolved. The U.S. won a few naval battles and destroyed a British invasion force at New Orleans (two weeks after the peace treaty had been signed in Europe). But the U.S. government and people suffered the humiliation of enduring the British invasion of their new capital city and the looting and burning of the White House.



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