America on the Brink: How the Political Struggle Over the War of 1812 Almost Destroyed the Young Republic

In This Review

America on the Brink: How the Political Struggle Over the War of 1812 Almost Destroyed the Young Republic

By Richard Buel
Palgrave Macmillan, 2005
320 pp. $29.95
Purchase

This study of the young republic's first antiwar movement will interest any serious student of U.S. foreign policy. Sophisticated, well-educated New England Federalists loathed the conflict that was brought on -- without proper preparations and on somewhat dubious grounds -- by the brusque Jacksonian hordes of the unwashed South and West. Yet the antiwar movement not only failed to stop the war; long before the notorious call for the Hartford Convention, the Federalists were facing political disaster. Buel's history shows us why. Radical critics made better copy and got more ink, alienating swing voters and discrediting moderate opponents of the war. Critics of the war further alienated the majority by seeming to gloat over American defeats that vindicated their gloomy analysis. The perception that the war critics came from an effete and overintellectual social stratum did not help their cause; neither did their geographic concentration in the Northeast. Most subsequent American wars have generated substantial antiwar movements. In every case these movements have had serious arguments to make, and all have enjoyed support from a substantial and serious-minded proportion of the public. But the antiwar cause has never been a route to electoral victory -- suggesting that the dynamics Buel observes regarding the War of 1812 are still at work.