What So Proudly We Hailed
Essays on the Contemporary Meaning of the War of 1812
Publication Year: 2012
With distrust between the political parties running deep and Congress divided, the government of the United States goes to war. The war is waged without adequately preparing the means to finance it or readying suitable contingency plans to contend with its unanticipated complications. The executive branch suffers from managerial confusion and in-fighting. The military invades a foreign country, expecting to be greeted as liberators, but encounters stiff, unwelcome resistance. The conflict drags on longer than predicted. It ends rather inconclusively or so it seems in its aftermath.
Sound familiar? This all happened two hundred years ago.
What So Proudly We Hailed looks at the War of 1812 in part through the lens of today's America. On the bicentennial of that formative yet largely forgotten period in U.S. history, this provocative book asks: What did Americans learn and not learn from the experience? What instructive parallels and distinctions can be drawn with more recent events? How did it shape the nation?
Exploring issues ranging from party politics to sectional schisms, distant naval battles to the burning of Washington, and citizens' civil liberties to the fate of Native Americans caught in the struggle, these essays speak to the complexity and unpredictability of a war that many assumed would be brief and straightforward. What emerges is a revealing perspective on a problematic "war of choice" the nation's first, but one with intriguing implications for others, including at least one in the present century.
Although the War of 1812 may have faded from modern memory, the conflict left important legacies, both in its immediate wake and in later years. In its own time, the war was transformative. To this day, however, some of the fundamental challenges that confronted U.S. policymakers two centuries ago still resonate. How much should a free society regularly invest in national defense? Should the expense be defrayed through new taxes? Is it possible for profound partisan disagreements to stop "at the water's edge"? What are the constitutional limits of executive powers in wartime? How, exactly, should the government treat dissenters, especially when many are suspected of giving aid and comfort to an enemy? As Americans continue to reflect on their country and its role in the world, these questions remain as relevant now as they were then.
Published by: Brookings Institution Press
Table of Contents
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In his earliest thinking about American federal government, even before the Constitutional Convention of 1787, James Madison sought a system that would, as he put it, end “government by party”: end government by special interests (“factions”) that failed to discern and rule in the public good. As president, Madison had abundant and excruciating opportunities to defend...
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The editors of this volume gratefully acknowledge the assistance that their project received from several sources. Ralph Ketcham of Syracuse University provided valuable advice at a key stage and kindly agreed to add a foreword to the book. Sean O’Brien and Jen Howell, at James Madison’s...
Some Explanatory Notes
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With no consensus of the two political parties, the government of the United States decides to go to war. The war of choice is waged on the assumption that it will be brief and decisive. There is little advance planning for how to pay for—and prevail in—an unexpectedly protracted and complicated...
2. The "Party War" of 1812: Yesterday's Lessons for Today's Partisan Politics
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The most distinctive feature of American politics in recent decades has been the deepening polarization of the political parties.1 Democrats and Republicans have seemed unable to bridge their fundamental differences or to compromise, even on the country’s most urgent imperatives. Disagreements...
3. The War of 1812 and the Rise of American Military Power
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On June 15, 1812, three days before America’s declaration of war against Great Britain, former president John Adams sardonically assessed the young nation’s chances in its impending confrontation with the mightiest sea power in the world. Unlike most of his fellow New Englanders and Federalists,...
4. Dual Nationalisms: Legacies of the War of 1812
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On both the left and the right, American politicians and pundits frequently complain that the country has strayed from the original vision of our heroic national founders, the men who declared independence in 1776 and crafted the Constitution in 1787. According to Representative Mike Pence (R-Ind.),...
5. James Madison, Presidential Power, and Civil Liberties in the War of 1812
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In November of 1814, the White House lay in ashes, burned to the ground by British troops. President James Madison was living in temporary quarters at the so-called Octagon House, having returned to Washington after fleeing the city. His government had seen division and humiliation, and it had...
6. The War over Federalism: The Constitutional Battles in the War of 1812
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The United States has declared war five times. It did so for the first time in 1812, and Americans immediately recognized that declaring war put them in an unprecedented constitutional no-man’s-land. They were right. The Constitution had provided the means for the United States to declare war,...
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Page Count: 164
Publication Year: 2012