The War of 1812 was about many things: We coveted Canada, feared encroachment not just by the British but by the French and the Spanish, and we were embarrassed by British challenges on the high seas. Reading Langguth, one is reminded anew of how relevant and resonant the past can be, for the world in which our distant ancestors lived and fought was not so wildly different from ours today in that global forces played a direct role in our political, cultural and economic lives.
The conflict also vindicated the work of the Revolution. As Langguth points out, John Adams had, after his defeat by Jefferson in the bitterly contested election of 1800, wondered whether the American experiment had been such a wonderful idea after all. The years after the Revolution, Adams speculated, may have been an "age of Folly, Vice, Frenzy, Brutality [and] Daemons." He cheered up, however, after the United States prevailed early in 1815. "He decided that Madison had proved that the Constitution could hold firm through both peace and war," Langguth writes, "that England could never again conquer America, and that, ship for ship, the U.S. Navy was now equal to any in the world."