The Weight of Vengeance: The United States, the British Empire, and the War of 1812

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It was determined to rectify that situation, even at the cost of war. The US was eager to swallow Canada, and assumed that since Britain was preoccupied with its European problems, it would, to borrow a term from a recent war, be a cakewalk. The Brits were less eager to go to war, but they, too, were perfectly prepared to do so.

The result was a bloody, unexpectedly lengthy, and wholly avoidable conflict, which surprised and taxed both sides. The Weight of Vengeance highlights how weak and unprepared the Americans were compared to Britain, which was, at the time, the strongest power in the world.

Legacy of The War of 1812

Difficult as it may be for contemporary readers to believe, the United States was then a poorly armed nation. For Bickham, the War of was of major significance in that it killed the last vestiges of Anglophobia in the United States, and committed Americans to republican rule. The country also committed to building stronger defenses, a pattern that lasts today, years after the war began. England was forced to recognize America as a country that could not be pushed around.

Finally, the US became more determined to expand its borders, as it proved it had fine soldiers and seamen, writes Bickham. From this fact, Bickham concludes that the United States won the war.

The Causes of the War of 1812

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.

The US was always going to expand, regardless of its war with Britain.


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Nonetheless, his broader point is correct. America emerged from the War of far more self-confident and sure of its sovereignty than it had been previously. The result is that the United States' own neocolonial activities before, during, and after the war are treated as tangential rather than essential to the tale. Bickham's disinterest in pursuing such questions can lead him onto shaky interpretive ground.

Perhaps we are meant to infer that, however little this meager record troubled the British, things would look different from the Indian perspective.

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It is difficult to know since Bickham has restricted his framing of the problem to contests of sovereignty between Great Britain and the United States. Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Sign In or Create an Account. Sign In.

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Small War, Big Consequences

By Troy Bickham. New York: Oxford University Press, Nicole Eustace. New York University. Oxford Academic. Google Scholar. Cite Citation. Permissions Icon Permissions.