The public memory of the War of 1812 functioned initially to exaggerate the United States’ triumph and overstate its martial and global power. In turn, it encouraged an American militarism that was imperial, costly, and devastating. Ironically, the purposeful memory of the war and its heroes, particularly when absorbed into the political myths of the American Revolution, obscured confounding divisions among Americans, allowing them to construct and embrace alternative models of Americanism without fully confronting growing sectional, social, or political rifts. The public memory of the War of 1812 thus contributed to the cultural work of American politics, relieving (obscuring rather than resolving) the tensions between republicanism and imperialism, nationalism and sectionalism, opportunity and oppression, and later patriotism and capitalism. Late in the nineteenth century, as the last veterans died and the war’s history and memory were eclipsed by the Civil War, the War of 1812 seemed to descend into complete irrelevance. And yet Americans found new ways to tap its latent value as they embraced a new American century and as boosters cultivated local identity and profit by invoking—and sometimes lampooning—the war’s memory.


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pp. 269-300
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