From this fact, Bickham concludes that the United States won the war. “[T]he true primary issue of the war of 1812—whether or not the United States would be respected as a sovereign nation rather than humbled as a quasi-part of the British Empire—was resolved, and Britain had lost,” he writes. Most historians, in contrast, see the British as the victors, since they yielded none of the points on which America declared the war: the commercial maritime rights of neutrals, the impressments of sailors from American merchant ships, and Britain’s involvement with the American Indians living within the United States borders.

Bickham’s assessment isn’t quite persuasive. American entered the war determined to annex Canada, and it completely failed in that endeavor—so much so that it never tried to do so again. It is therefore difficult to see how America became more committed to an expansionist policy. As Bickham says, even while it was preoccupied with fighting Britain throughout the war, the US also pursued an undeclared quasi-war with Spain over the Floridas, aided a rebellion in Texas, and fought a series of wars with the American Indians. Long before Britain and America fought their second war, the US had purchased Louisiana, declared West Florida to be a US possession, and acquired much of Indian territory. The US was always going to expand, regardless of its war with Britain.

Nonetheless, his broader point is correct. America emerged from the War of 1812 far more self-confident and sure of its sovereignty than it had been previously. Britain never again attempted to rule its former colonies, even informally. America is far more familiar with its Revolution, but its conflict with Britain that concluded in 1815 should not be overlooked.

Click here for a complete Page Views archive.


Jordan Michael Smith is a writer in Washington, D.C. He frequently reviews books for the Christian Science Monitor and Slate.