02 July 2007 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 2 comments

I just finished A. J. Langguth’s Union 1812: The Americans Who Fought the Second War of Independence. This is the sequel to Langguth’s excellent 1991 Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution, and is written in the same style. Instead of being a solid historical narrative, it instead focuses on individuals and their contributions to the subject. In this instance, it addresses the American politicians and soldiers who brought about and fought the War of 1812. While this is an interesting and novel approach, it means that there are large gaps in the coverage of the conflict, and the narrative jumps around quite a bit. As just one example, there is no coverage of some of the important land battles such as Lundy’s Lane. Langguth focuses on the great Indian leader Tecumseh, who played a critical role in the War of 1812, and was killed in battle while fighting alongside the British. Tecumseh was a born and charismatic leader who earned the respect of friend and foe, including his arch enemy, William Henry Harrison. While I’ve read a few books on the War of 1812 over the years, I’ve never seen one that addresses it from the perspective of the political and military leaders of the United States. The focus on Tecumseh, who was definitely an American legend, is particularly interesting because it focuses on the role that the Indians played, and the fact that they entered into a marriage of convenience with the British in the hope of regaining the lands that they lost to the white settlers.

Langguth is a journalist by training, and he’s a terrific writer. The book is very well written, with an easy, flowing style. At the same time, it does jump around quite a bit, which can be frustrating and a bit disconcerting. In addition, the book suffers from a paucity of maps, and, as pointed out above, there are some significant gaps in the coverage of the war itself. Having said that, it’s a novel and unique approach to a forgotten conflict, and Langguth does a good job of building his case that the War of 1812 was really just an extension of the American Revolution.

Langguth has a really interesting theory. He lays out the theory that not only was the War of 1812 a continuation of the American Revolution, but that it also was one of the direct causes of the Civil War. He argues–persuasively, I think–that the War of 1812 directly triggered the Civil War. Specifically, he claims that the tensions that arose over the War of 1812 between the War Hawks and those who did not support the war, and those who supported slavery and states’ rights and those who adhered to the Federalist ideal, really had their roots in the War of 1812. To me, that’s a novel theory, and not one I’ve ever seen before.

Certainly, the argument that the Civil War became inevitable due to the conflict between states’ rights and Federalism is nothing new, and has been around for decades. However, most place it in the context of the Revolution and the founding of the Republic. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen it played out as a consequence of the War of 1812. I know that some of the New England states, which violently opposed the war, and that they briefly considered secession, meaning that there was some precedent for the secession crisis of 1861.

I wonder what folks think about this theory….

Irrespective of the merits of Langguth’s theory, this was an enjoyable and worthwhile read, and one I recommend undertaking. It’s a worthy addition to any War of 1812 library.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Mon 02nd Jul 2007 at 11:32 am

    Eric,

    Thanks for the review of the “Union 1812” book. Since visiting the Tippecanoe battlefield 5 or 6 years ago, I’ve had a hard time finding any good battle narratives on that battle. Sounds like “Union 1812” might be a good place for me to start.

    Keep up the great work.

    Best Regards,

    Jim Schmidt

  2. Tue 03rd Jul 2007 at 12:13 am

    If you can track down a copy, Vol. 1, n. 2 of the now-defunct Journal of the Indian Wars focused on operations east of the Mississippi. It especially featured great coverage of the 1790s campaigns in which the young Tecumseh played a role.

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