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

Richard Buel, Author Palgrave MacMillan $29.95 (302p) ISBN 978-1-4039-6238-6
Attempting to ""show modern readers how the Federalists appeared to their contemporaries,"" Buel, a professor of history at Wesleyan University, constructs a dense narrative of the events before and during the War of 1812. He conveys the volatile local character of political discourse through ample quotations from contemporary writings and offers a cogent distillation of the political, economic and legal complexities of the era. In so doing, he calls into question the tendency of modern historians to view the Federalists as ""misunderstood harbingers of the future"" or ""prophets of the modern state."" He presents instead a portrait of them as failed leaders who would be remembered in the decades following the war ""more for the challenge they had posed to the nation's republican institutions than anything else."" Although the book is clearly an academic exploration of these issues (as its 40 pages of endnotes attests), there is much here to reward amateur historians and casual readers. The luminaries of the era were larger than life personalities; Buel (In Irons: Britain's Naval Supremacy and the American Revolutionary Economy) captures such men as Josiah Quincy, Harrison Gray Otis, James Madison and James Monroe vividly, through both apt citations and well-chosen anecdotes. In addition, the issues at stake-the relation between states and the federal government, the Constitutional and moral grounds for war, and the place of dissent in the American political landscape-are subjects of perennial interest.
Reviewed on: 01/17/2005
Release date: 01/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 302 pages - 978-1-4039-7393-1
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