1812: War with America by Jon Latimer - review by Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson

What War?

1812: War with America

By

Harvard University Press 637pp £22.95 order from our bookshop
 

The war between Britain and the United States, from 1812 to 1814, is one of the half-forgotten events of history. It arouses little interest even in America, and none among the British, most of whom have never heard of it. This was true even at the time, when the British were obsessed with defeating Napoleon. When President James Madison asked Francis Jeffrey, the visiting Editor of the Edinburgh Review, ‘what the people of England thought of the war with America’, he declined answering until pressed. He then said: ‘Half the people of England do not know that there is war with America, and those who did have forgotten it.’ 

It is not surprising, then, that the history of the war has been written mainly by Americans. Jon Latimer has now provided a full account, mainly from the British standpoint and often using British sources hitherto disregarded by American historians. It is a very creditable effort and a substantial volume:

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