The War of 1812: The Most Important Forgotten War in American History
W 2019


The War of 1812 has been called “the forgotten war” of American history because many see it only as a historical footnote, one principally memorable for the Star Spangled Banner, the burning of the White House and, perhaps, the Battle of New Orleans.  But this least studied American war has also been called the War that Ended the American Revolution, America’s Second War of Independence, and a war “that forged the destiny of the continent for 200 years to come.’  But even historians have viewed this conflict differently over the years. 

Some historians view the War of 1812 as centrally connected to events in Europe, namely the Napoleonic wars, which left America, a neutral nation, drawn into the conflict between France and England. Others see it largely in terms of the infighting between Republicans and Federalists.

 In his revisionist history of this war, the eminent historian Alan Taylor (the author of the core books in two previous SDGs, The American Colonies and the American Revolutions)  views the war as a continuation of the unresolved conflicts that began during the American Revolution, including conflicts between First Nations and American settlers in the western interior, between Federalists and Republicans, between American “patriots” and loyalists on both sides of the border, between the competing visions of America and of British Canada, and between the British and Americans over the ultimate control of North America.

         Unlike most historians, Taylor examines how the War pitted new American migrants to Upper Canada against their recent neighbors, replicated the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland and pitted some Iroquois against their own family members.  Most importantly it exposed the fractures in both British North America and the United States that have since been minimized in the nationalist histories that have emerged on both sides of the border over the past two hundred years.

A study of this war and the events surrounding it, including the American invasion of Canada, gives us important insights into America’s early struggle to become a unified functioning government able to survive amid economic and political turmoil at home and in its foreign affairs. We will consider the causes of the war as well as its consequences for America’s politics and its economy, including the ways the war helped contribute to America’s industrial revolution and banking system. This SDG will also consider the War of 1812 in a global context but also how the conflict—and the leaders who emerged from it—promoted American nationalism, encouraged America’s Manifest Destiny, forged an American navy, enhanced American prestige, and shaped America’s foreign relations in the years before the Civil War.

         In addition to Taylor’s work, we will use Hickey’s classic, The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict to give us a more conventional, linear view of the war. The bibliography includes several other well-regarded books about the War of 1812.  Each discussion leader will decide whether any material in addition to Taylor’s and Hickey’s, including videos available on internet, should be recommended as additional material. 

    Paul Markowitz and Sam Pryor will jointly coordinate this SDG. 

Weekly Topics



Week 1-Taylor, Introduction and Chapter 1 (Loyalists);  the 1780s. Indians, Loyalists and settlers along the borders, the Canada Act, and the governments of Lower and Upper Canada.   Hickey, 1-4.       


Week 2-Taylor, Chapter 2 (Simcoe), the 1790s. Simcoe and visions of a new England; the crisis of 1794; the Jay Treaty; settlers to Canada; religion and government in Upper Canada, the Barbary Pirates.  


Week 3-Taylor, Chapters 3 and 4 (United Irishmen, Deserters); Britain and France, the Irish and Canada, Federalists and Republicans, the Scots and Canada, Danforth’s plot, Hickey, 5-22


Week 4-Taylor, Chapter 5 (Blood). Impressment on the sea, desertions along the border, a new Congress, war hawks and opponents; Tippecanoe, a declaration of war.  Hickey 22-65.


Week 5-Taylor, Chapter 6 (Invasions)- 1811-1812. Indians,  Detroit, the invasion of Canada. Hickey 66-89.


Week 6-Taylor, Chapters 7 and 8 (Crossings, Scalps) –Late 1812-early 1813.  Republicans and Federalists, election of 1812, New York: Niagara, Buffalo; Indians and conflicts on the Northern border, the naval campaigns of 1812. Hickey, 90-123.


Week 7, Taylor, Chapter 9 (Flames)- Summer of 1813. Perry’s victory, Benjamin Harrison, the burning of Newark (Ontario), Niagara and Detroit, and conflict along the border.  Hickey 123-141.

Week 8-Taylor chapters, 10 and 11 (Northern Lights, Traitors)- Late, 1813-1814. St. Lawrence River, Lake Champlain,  Mohawk Valley, smugglers, Upper Canada, campaign against Montreal.  Hickey 141-151.


Week 9-Taylor, Chapters 12 and 13 (Soldiers and Prisoners), the army, financing the war and trade. Hickey, 162-182.

Week 10- The American navy and the naval campaigns of 1813-1814. Hickey, 151-161, 224-228; Borneman, 112-135 (optional). Jeremy Black,"A British View of the War of 1812," United States Naval Institute, April 25, 2013,;  The War of 1812 and the U.S. Navy,

Week 11-Taylor, Chapter 14 (Honor)- 1814 and 1815.  Brown and Winfield Scott; the Niagara campaign, Washington DC.  Hickey, 183-260 (excluding 224-228).


Week 12- Taylor, Chapter 15 (Peace)-1815-1816. The Dartmoor Massacre,  the Hartford Convention, Treaty of Ghent, Indian resistance; cold war along the Detroit River, the Treaty of Ghent, the Battle of New Orleans. Hickey, 261-301.


Week 13-Taylor, Chapter 16 (Aliens). The impact of the war on England, Canada, and their view of the war.

Week 14- The impact of the war on America, the facts and the myths, including its impact on the American Indians, agriculture, industrialization, transportation, politics, national sentiment and foreign policy. Hickey, 303-316 (and other internet sources).


Core books:

Taylor, Alan, The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies, 2010

Hickey, Donald R., The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict, 2012

Additional Recommended Material: 

Borneman, Walter R., 1812: The War that Forged a Nation, 2004

Randall, Willard Sterne, Unshackling America: How the War of 1812 Truly Ended the American Revolution, 2017

Toll, Ian W.,  Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy, 2008