The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, and Indian Allies

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Alan Taylor, The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, and Indian Allies (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010), 640 pp. Cased. $35. ISBN 978-1-4000-4265-4.

This is the first of a forthcoming flood of books that will mark the bicentenary of the War of 1812. It is also likely to be one of the best. Alan Taylor has mastered a wide range of primary and secondary sources to produce a narrative of a war that had until recently been all but forgotten because it seemed to have little long-term significance. Taylor takes a very different view. He argues that this was a 'civil war between kindred peoples, recently and incompletely divided by the revolution' (p. 6) and that both 'the republic and the empire had to compete for the allegiance of the peoples in North America - native, settler, and immigrant' (p. 8). This is definitely not a study of all aspects of the war. Taylor focuses almost entirely on the war along the boundary between the Canadas and the United States. It is true that this was the scene of most of the battles but it does perhaps underestimate the importance of the bloody war along the Chesapeake and the conflicts at sea in creating a clearer sense of an American national identity. But Taylor is surely right (as Canadian historians have long argued) in believing that it was the war in the contested borderland between Montreal on the east and Detroit to the west which gave a new, hard, meaning to the border between the United States and British North America. …

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