Don't Give Up the Ship!: Myths of the War of 1812

Front Cover
University of Illinois Press, 2006 - History - 430 pages
1 Review

No longer willing to accept naval blockades, the impressment of American seamen, and seizures of American ships and cargos, the United States declared war on Great Britain. The aim was to frighten Britain into concessions and, if that failed, to bring the war to a swift conclusion with a quick strike at Canada. But the British refused to cave in to American demands, the Canadian campaign ended in disaster, and the U.S. government had to flee Washington, D.C., when it was invaded and burned by a British army.

By all objective measures, the War of 1812 was a debacle for the young republic, and yet it was celebrated as a great military triumph. The American people believed they had won the war and expelled the invader. Oliver H. Perry became a military hero, Francis Scott Key composed what became the national anthem and commenced a national reverence for the flag, and the U.S.S. Constitution, "Old Ironsides," became a symbol of American invincibility. Every aspect of the war, from its causes to its conclusion, was refashioned to heighten the successes, obscure the mistakes, and blur embarrassing distinctions, long before there were mass media or public relations officers in the Pentagon.

In this entertaining and meticulously researched book by America's leading authority on the War of 1812, Donald R. Hickey dispels the many misconcep-tions that distort our view of America's second war with Great Britain. Embracing military, naval, political, economic, and diplomatic analyses, Hickey looks carefully at how the war was fought between 1812 and 1815, and how it was remembered thereafter. Was the original declaration of war a bluff? What were the real roles of Canadian traitor Joseph Willcocks, Mohawk leader John Norton, pirate Jean Laffite, and American naval hero Lucy Baker? Who killed the Shawnee chief Tecumseh and who shot the British general Isaac Brock? Who actually won the war, and what is its lasting legacy? Hickey peels away fantasies and embellishments to explore why cer-tain myths gained currency and how they contributed to the way that the United States and Canada view themselves and each other.

From inside the book

What people are saying - Write a review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Karlstar - LibraryThing

This was interesting but a bit disappointing. It didn't really review the events of the war, but did go over some key facts. The 'myths' are a bit obscure - good if you are already familiar with the ... Read full review

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

Labeling as a myth the accepted view of many historians and history buffs that the British would not have simply handed back New Orleans if they had won the battle - because of the ante-bellum status quo clause in Ghent - is pure British history propaganda.
1) Deep inside most of Britain, especially in the nobility, never felt that America should have been let go. They viewed it as a piece of real estate which rightfully belonged to England because of the blood and treasure they spent on America for one hundred and fifty years before the Revolution.
2) Britain never recognized America's Louisiana purchase as legitimate. Therefore it was available land for the taking, including the city of New Orleans.
3) The terms beauty and booty were used by the British soldiers. And they did have an eye for New Orleans' beauty and booty.
4) The British generals did not always have a tight leash on their men as this author claims. Depredations of the british soldiers in Hampton Va. and elsewhere during the war of 1812 are well chronicled. More than likely they would have done the same and even worse to the inhabitants of New Orleans if the invasion succeeded.
5) "Mr. Clay, one of the Commissioners of the Treaty of Ghent, had but little faith in the honor of the British Government, knowing that its treaty obligations were never respected whenever conflicting with its interest and policy. He is said to have expressed the belief that, if General Jackson had been defeated at New Orleans, with the Mississippi River in possession of the British fleet, England would no more have hesitated to nullify the Treaty of Ghent than she did the Treaty of Amiens with Bonaparte. It is fair to presume, therefore, from the great effort that England made for the conquest of Louisiana, that if the British flag had ever once floated over New Orleans it would never have been hauled down without a struggle." ~ Samuel Reed 1893
6) Lord Castlereagh, the architect of the Louisiana invasion, and despiser of American democracy, commented that, " The Americans will be little better than prisoners on their own island." He was referring to the highly anticipated success of the invasion.
7) Britain already agreed to ante-Bellum status quo. Why continue with the invasion if they had every intention of honoring the treaty and handing back New Orleans without a price? To say they intended on honoring this aspect of the treaty had they won the battle flies in the face of intelligence.
Conclusion: This ibook is laced with a mixture of real myths and doses of British history propaganda.


The Causes of the War
Battles and Campaigns

20 other sections not shown

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2006)

DONALD R. HICKEY is a professor of history at Wayne State College in Wayne, Nebraska. His books include The War of 1812: The Forgotten Conflict, which won the National Historical Society Book Prize and the American Military Institute Best Book Award.

Bibliographic information