As military campaigns go, the War of 1812 was a disaster. By the
time it ended in 1815, Washington, D.C., had been burned to the
ground, the national debt had nearly tripled, and territorial gains
were negligible. Yet the war gained so much popular support that it
ushered in what is known as the "era of good feelings," a period of
relative partisan harmony and strengthened national identity.
Historian Nicole Eustace's cultural history of the war tells the
story of how an expensive, unproductive campaign won over a young
nation-largely by appealing to the heart.
1812 looks at the way each major event of the war became
an opportunity to capture the American imagination: from the first
attempt at invading Canada, intended as the grand opening of the
war; to the battle of Lake Erie, where Oliver Perry hoisted the
flag famously inscribed with "Don't Give Up the Ship"; to the
burning of the Capitol by the British. Presidential speeches and
political cartoons, tavern songs and treatises appealed to the
emotions, painting war as an adventure that could expand the land
and improve opportunities for American families. The general
population, mostly shielded from the worst elements of the war,
could imagine themselves participants in a great national movement
without much sacrifice. Bolstered with compelling images of heroic
fighting men and the loyal women who bore children for the nation,
war supporters played on romantic notions of familial love to
espouse population expansion and territorial aggression while
maintaining limitations on citizenship. 1812 demonstrates
the significance of this conflict in American history: the war that
inspired "The Star-Spangled Banner" laid the groundwork for a
patriotism that still reverberates today.
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