Like all nations, Americans remember the parts of our historythat we want to remember, the stuff that makes us look like we’re number one. Because there was very little to want to remember about the War of 1812, we chose to forget most of it.

Hickey covers all aspects of this conflict, at least from the American side. He begins with the disputes which led to the conflict. The divisions within the United States, both geographical and political, receive good treatment.The war created a division between commercial, Federalist New England and the agricultural, Democratic-Republican south and west. The hardships of the war provided a boost for the declining Federalist Party, but with the return of peace, its decline toward oblivion resumed at a rapid pace. The economic interests of the various sections are also given good coverage.

This was, in fact, probably America's most unpopular war, Vietnam notwithstanding. The British impressment of seamen, American lust for Canada and resentment resulting from British incitement of Indians, combined to put together a political majority for war. Some of the maritime issues had led to a series of economic responses over several years prior to the commencement of hostilities. The initial efforts to resolve the issues were a series of shifting and conflicting economic measures, including boycotts and trade restrictions which began before and continued during the war.

The portrait of President Madison as a relatively weak, unsuccessful wartime leader is skillfully painted. As is the case with other some American leaders, Madison appears to be one whose greatest days occurred before he achieved the office for which he is best remembered. Madison's role in the drafting and adoption of the Constitution provided major contributions to his country, while his service as Chief Executive was one of the more lackluster performances in that office.

America's greatest success in the war occurred, not in the field, but at the peace conference. This is the exception to Will Rogers' statement that America has never lost a war or won a conference. Despite representing a government with a smoldering capitol and much of Maine in enemy hands, the negotiators emerged with a return to the prewar borders and a settlement (sort of) of the maritime issues which had led to the war.

After reading this book, one is left with the conclusion that the War of 1812 was probably an unprofitable war for the U.S. At its end the borders were unchanged and the maritime issues which were resolved would probably have been resolved with the advent of peace in Europe without the necessity of American involvement in the war. The reader is left with the feeling that the war left America with no lasting collateral benefits to compensate for the loss of life and treasure occasioned by the struggle. The war was sort of about grabbing land and westward expansion, but not really. Manifest Destiny didn’t cause the war. Canada was not the end, but the means. The end was to force the british to cave on their position on impressment.

One of the myths of the War of 1812 is that the British were mounting a second American revolution, trying to get back what they'd lost in 1776. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the British were largely distracted with a much more pressing conflict against Napoleon's armies on the continent of Europe and America chose this moment to prosecute some fairly minor grievances, in effect yanking their tail while they were in a fierce dog fight with France. The fact that they didn't turn around and rip us to pieces, particularly after the war in Europe ended and they could devote all their attention to us, speaks well of their restraint - as well as their national exhaustion after years of fighting. Also, the British did not assign much priority to the peace conference in Ghent, being at the time concerned with the far more pressing matter of carving up post-Napoleonic Europe.

In all, this is probably the best history of the whole war that you will find. See also Alan Taylor's and Stephen Budiansky's books on the war as well for a good all-around picture.