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The War Without A Loser


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'Treacherous Attack on Capt. Broke.' Detail from a British engraving representing the capture of the USS Chesapeake by the HMS Shannon.

The Gallery Collection/Corbis


The War of 1812 used to be called the forgotten war. The bicentenary of the three-year conflict between the United States and Britain, now upon us, has finally begun to inspire historians to shed more light on it. For even after 200 years it is not agreed who won—or, rather, there are still significant differences in national viewpoints.


Among the participants, the Canadians have typically seen the war as their heroic stand against American aggression, during which they turned back repeated invasion attempts by President James Madison's army and American militiamen. The British, when they have not overlooked the conflict entirely because of their preoccupation with the concurrent Napoleonic wars, have seen the war as a British victory that prevented America from incorporating Canada. American historians have often looked back on the war as a glorious naval event, highlighted by a series of frigate victories under the leadership of heroic captains such as Joshua Barney, Isaac Hull, John Rodgers and Thomas Truxton and by the two fleet victories in miniature on the Great Lakes led by Thomas Macdonough and Oliver Hazard Perry. Indeed, the War of 1812 was long regarded by Americans as a victorious second war of independence from Britain.




President Madison's war message to Congress in June 1812 accused Britain of a series of hostile acts against the United States: illegally searching American ships, impressing American seamen into British service, harassing American commerce, cutting off legitimate markets from American trade and even inciting Native Americans to attack settlers in the west.



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