1812: The War That Forged a Nation

1812: The War That Forged a Nation

by Walter R. Borneman


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Although frequently overlooked between the American Revolution and the Civil War, the War of 1812 tested a rising generation of American leaders; unified the United States with a renewed sense of national purpose; and set the stage for westward expansion from Mackinac Island to the Gulf of Mexico. USS Constitution, "Old Ironsides," proved the mettle of the fledgling American navy; Oliver Hazard Perry hoisted a flag boasting, "Don't Give Up the Ship"; and Andrew Jackson's ragged force stood behind it's cotton bales at New Orleans and bested the pride of British regulars. Here are the stories of commanding generals such as America's double-dealing James Wilkinson, Great Britain's gallant Sir Isaac Brock, Canada's heroine farm wife Laura Secord, and country doctor William Beanes, whose capture set the stage for Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner." During the War of 1812, the United States cast off its cloak of colonial adolescence and — with both humiliating and glorious moments — found the fire that was to forge a nation.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060531133
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/04/2005
Series: P.S. Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 392
Sales rank: 275,397
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.88(d)

About the Author

Walter R. Borneman is the author of Alaska: Saga of a Bold Land, 1812: The War That Forged a Nation, and several books on the history of the western United States. He lives in Colorado.

Read an Excerpt

The War of 1812

Chapter One

To Steal an Empire

In the early twilight, the swollen waters of the Ohio River swept a wooden flatboat up to a landing on a small, tree-covered island. On the river's east bank lay the western reaches of the state of Virginia; on the west, the shores of the state of Ohio, now, in the spring of 1805, barely two years old. The flatboat was much grander than the normal river craft that floated by or landed here. Indeed, its owner had commissioned its recent construction in Pittsburgh, and he himself described it as a "floating house, sixty feet by fourteen, containing dining room, kitchen with fireplace, and two bedrooms, roofed from stem to stern ... "

The flatboat belonged to Aaron Burr. With jet-black eyes, a silken tongue, and the refined dress to match the accoutrements of his vessel, Burr cast a larger shadow than his diminutive height suggested. For four years, he had been the proverbial heartbeat away from the presidency, but once he had also been just one particular heartbeat away. Why the recent vice president of the United States came to make this journey down the Ohio River evidences just how tenuous the American union still was in 1805, and that the very last thing it should have come to contemplate was another war with Great Britain.

In the presidential election of 1800, there were as yet no strictly organized political tickets. Prior to the Twelfth Amendment, the Constitution merely ordained that the person receiving the highest number of electoral votes be declared president and the second highest, vice president. Party electors were supposed to withhold a vote or two from the agreed-upon vicepresidential candidate, thus assuring the election of their presidential favorite.

Such informality didn't work very well. In fact, so many Federalist electors withheld votes from John Adams's running mate in 1796 that Republican Thomas Jefferson ended up with the second highest number of votes and the vice presidency. (Jefferson's Republicans were the liberal predecessors of the Jefferson...Jackson Democrats and not the "Grand Old Party" of Abraham Lincoln.) To avoid such a result in 1800, Republican vice presidential candidate Aaron Burr obtained Jefferson's assurance that no southern elector would drop a vote for Burr, but that Burr would arrange for a Republican elector from Rhode Island — supposedly a solid Jefferson state — to withhold one vote for Burr. That strategy backfired when the Federalists proceeded to win Rhode Island, and the remaining Republican electors cast the identical number of votes for president and vice president.

Thus in only the nation's fourth presidential election, Thomas Jefferson handily defeated incumbent John Adams, but imagine Jefferson's surprise when his vice presidential running mate received the same number of electoral votes as he, and the election was declared a tie. With Jefferson and Burr each receiving seventy-three votes, the election went to the House of Representatives, where the contest was suddenly not between Federalist and Republican, but between Republican and Republican.

Vice presidential candidate Burr professed allegiance to Jefferson, but made no outright disclaimer of the higher office. Indeed, there were plenty of whispers in Burr's ear to suggest that the higher office was his for the taking. New England Federalists, who were rarely as unified in anything as they were in their opposition to Thomas Jefferson, actively courted Burr, vastly preferring the New York lawyer — Republican though he might be — to the Virginia planter.

Not all Federalists felt that way, of course. Alexander Hamilton for one was appalled at the possibility of Burr becoming president. Four years before he would die by Burr's dueling pistol, Hamilton wrote: "There is no doubt but that upon every virtuous and prudent calculation Jefferson is to be preferred. He is by far not so dangerous a man and he has pretensions to character." Among other things, Hamilton probably feared that Burr might come to take over the Federalist Party that Hamilton clearly viewed as his own exclusive route to the presidency.

In the House of Representatives, the Federalists controlled six states, the Republicans eight. Two states were undecided. A simple majority of nine was needed to elect either Jefferson or Burr president. For a turbulent six weeks, the electoral balloting and the intraparty intrigue continued. Certain Federalists and Republicans friendly to Burr clung to the hope that they might be able to swing three states into the Federalist column and make Burr president. Finally, after some backroom concessions obtained from Jefferson through Alexander Hamilton, James A. Bayard of Delaware — the undecided state's lone vote in the House of Representatives — voted for Jefferson to give him the required nine states. Aaron Burr would spend four years being a heartbeat away from the presidency, but he lost it by the single heartbeat of James Bayard.

Both Jefferson and Burr were quick to say that each bore no hard feelings toward the other, but more than a few Republicans noted how far Burr had been tempted to stray to the Federalists, and, likewise, the Federalists knew how close they had come to getting him. The result was that both sides came to view Burr as something of a leaf willing to be blown by whatever political winds offered the promise of greater glory. For Jefferson's part, he would soon prove that he hadn't meant that line about "no hard feelings" after all.

So Aaron Burr became vice president of the United States in March 1801. By most accounts he served a distinguished term, taking seriously his charge to preside over the United States Senate and tarnishing his reputation only through his duel with Alexander Hamilton. Even by the standards of 1804, it is difficult to grasp that a sitting vice president of the United States should fight a duel, let alone kill his opponent, but in truth Thomas Jefferson had been determined to rid himself of Burr long before the public uproar over the duel.

The War of 1812
. Copyright © by Walter Borneman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

List of Mapsix
The War That Forged a Nation1
Book 1Drumbeats (1807-1812)
To Steal an Empire7
First Blood at Sea19
War Hawks and Tippecanoe26
Mr. Madison's War38
Concessions Too Late45
Book 2Bugles (1812-1814)
Oh, Canada57
Hurrah for Old Ironsides77
Marching on a Capital96
Don't Give Up the Ship112
We Have Met the Enemy119
Old Hickory Heads South136
On the Thames and St. Lawrence153
The Lion's Roar173
Book 3Finale (1814-1815)
Niagara's Thunder183
Lake Champlain199
Another Capital Burns216
O Say, Can You See?236
Still Mr. Madison's War249
Christmas in Ghent260
Along the Mighty Mississip'271
A Nation at Last294

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1812 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've just completed Mr. Bornemann's book. I have to say that if a historian wants to know how to write a historical study of this nature, read this book. Too many histories I've read, due to their bland litany of facts, are a sure-fire cure for insomnia. Mr. Bornemann's thorough treatise is very entertaining, while remaining factually charged. He breaks up his work into easily digestible sections, which leaves time for reflection and gives a convenient 'break in the action.' My only disappointment was the lack of maps. For instance, I would have loved to have followed the movements of Red Stick War on a map similar to what was done with the Battle of Lake Erie. However, that is minor when compared to the overall effect created. In particular, I have to second the reader below, who wrote of the emotion Mr. Bornemann evokes when he describes the circumstances around the Key's writing of the 'Star-Spangled Banner.' I personally feel 'America the Beautiful' would be a better national hymn, but tears came to my eyes during this section. This is especially due to Bornemann's use of words from the poem interwoven into the text, foreshadowing the great event to come. I bought this book to learn something about a war, about which I was ignorant. I made a wise choice.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Borneman's writing style makes this book both interesting and entertaining. Although most present-day Americans know little about this 'forgotten war,' this book enlightens us to the fact that the War of 1812 changed the way U.S. citizens regarded themselves. Following the Battle of New Orleans, they were confident of their place in the world.
torrey23 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book outlining the War of 1812. This describes the surrounding causes of the war, the actions taken during the war, and the subsequent peace. As with other books written by Borneman, this book explains much more than the simple acts of the war. I would highly recommend this book as an introduction to the War of 1812.
wildbill on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was at page 439 rereading Henry Adams History of the United States during the Administrations of James Madison when I picked up this book. While it is not the level of Adams it was a good book that told the story much more quickly. I read the 304 pages in 1 1/2 days. It takes that much time to read 100 pages of Adams. Borneman does use a lot of secondary sources sprinkled with some contemporary quotes but he does tell the story well. Having had enough of British high handedness and with dreams of conquering Canada the U. S. goes to war. A lot of fumbling, no conquest of Canada, some naval victories and the Battle of New Orleans after peace was declared and the United States was changed. Adams does a beautiful job of describing the U. S. after the war and this book is no substitute for Adams. It is still a good story, the pages turned and you get some of the feeling of how the U. S. grew up and became a nation instead of an ex-colony.
jmgallen More than 1 year ago
I was looking for a book that would organize the War of 1812 in my mind. I found it in “1812: The War That Forged A Nation”. It tells the story of the America’s grievances, the impressments of seamen, the believed British agitation of Indians and the seizure of ships, to say nothing of the inconvenience of being entangled in the Europe’s wars. Spurred on by that and the lure of the conquest of Canada, America marched to a war for which it was ill prepared. Author Walter R. Borneman takes us back into the environment of the day. He sets us in a United States so fragile that a former vice-president and a general could conspire to split off the western territories into a new country with a reasonable chance of success and in which the general at least could continue in the service of the country he tried to dismember. He lays the background of a ruling party that opposed the concept of a navy, tried to bring foreign enemies to heel by embargoing trade and, ultimately resorting to a war in which the Navy played an important, and possibly decisive, role. In the midst of it the Hartford Convention raised the specter of a New England secession, but questions just how serious of a threat it really was. The organization is achieved by relating the histories of the theatres of the war: the West, in which Indians died and William Henry Harrison won fame at Tippecanoe and “Mad” Anthony Wayne triumphed at Fallen Timbers, The Niagara front in which forces attacked back and forth between New York and Upper Canada (Ontario), and Lakes Erie and Ontario in which hastily built fleets contested and victories consolidated American sovereignty. When things had reached stalemate the defeat of Napoleon freed veteran British troops for the invasion of the Chesapeake with the burning of Washington, in retaliation it is said for the American burning of York (Toronto), and the night that the rockets’ red glare gave proof that our flag was still over Fort McHenry on Baltimore Harbor. The scene then shifts to Europe where American diplomats, including Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams tried to get what they could and Britain’s negotiators just tried to end years of war. Finally, after everything had been settled, an invading Army, trying to shore up British interests in the Gulf of Mexico, was stopped by a collection of regulars, militia and bayou pirates under the command of Andrew Jackson. The writing style is good so I my mind never wandered. I had read other books about the War of 1812 so to some degree this was a refresher. I now have a better understanding of why war broke out, where and how it was foughtand the reasons Britain probably would have lived up to the Treaty of Ghent even if they had defeated Jackson at New Orleans. Borneman supplies food for thought as to how the War changed the United States from a plural collective that are to a singular nation that is. Little is said about how the War influenced the development of Canada but each book has its own focus and this one’s is on the United States. With this background I am ready to move on to more specialized studies of that war of two centuries ago that forged one nation, and maybe two.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
After reading this book, I can understand why there are so few books written on this war as opposed to the Civil War, WWI, or WWII. Not much was accomplished, other than a few ship engagements and the Battle of New Orleans. After all was said and done, no real advances were made by either side. The book lacked detail in the total treatment of the times, politics, and battles. If you want a quick read on the War of 1812 covering the few highlights, this could be the book. If you want to understand the war and national politics of the time, find another book.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author's premise that the War of 1812 is more important than we know and that it played a significant role in shaping the American character. While I don't think that this premise was delivered upon brilliantly, it is done well enough to warrant your time and money.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
For the beginning historian, for the eclectic reader, this short history is an enjoyable book. It delivers on its title and premise, with occasional pop-culture references along the way. The author himself wonders 'how I could write a history of the War of 1812 based in Colorado,' and sometimes the experienced reader wonders too. Despite a fairly detailed explanation of naval vessel classification (pp. 78 ff), he identifies HMS Leopard as a 'fifty-gun British frigate' (p. 19), when in fact it is generally known to be a fourth-rate ship-of-the-line. There are a few typos in the paperback edition. All this being said, the heroes and villains are skillfully drawn (Gen. James Wilkinson is still a sleazeball) and the narrative moves the reader along quickly. The events surrounding 'The Star-Spangled Banner' are touching. This is a decent entry in the school of popular history: if it doesn't add anything new, it doesn't detract from the author's intention or readability.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book suffers from a confusing timeline that weakens the overall narrative. Chapter headers do not include dates as in many military histories, and the book tends to jump around by several months from chapter to chapter. In a book about a war that only lasted two and a half years, this can be disorienting. I will say that the naval battles are well done with helpful maps showing time indexed positions of the ships engaged. However, the narratives of the land battles are average at best, and theater and battle maps so lacking in detail that I don't know why they were included in the first place.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This newest book on the War of 1812 is a must read for both serious and casual U.S. historians. Walt Borneman's entertaining writing style makes this history book a very enjoyable read. The War of 1812 has always been considered the 'forgotten war.' This book makes it clear that even though most Americans do not understand why this war was fought; it was, in fact, a turning point in how U.S. citizens regarded themselves as a true soverign nation able and willing to defend itself.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago