Cover: What So Proudly We Hailed

What So Proudly We Hailed

Essays on the Contemporary Meaning of the War of 1812

On the bicentennial of the War of 1812, What So Proudly We Hailed looks at this formative yet misunderstood period in American history through the lens of 21st century America. This provocative book asks, among other questions: What did America learn—and what did it not learn—from the experience? How did it help shape a nation?

With Congress divided along party lines, the U.S. government went to war without adequately preparing either the means to finance the conflict or the capabilities needed to achieve its aims. Like the United States two hundred years ago, the executive branch still suffers from in-fighting. The military invades a foreign nation, expecting to be treated as liberators. The entire endeavor winds down to a seemingly inconclusive ending. Sound familiar?

By 2003, America was waging two wars at once, at vast expense. Neither was financed by tax increases, but instead with borrowed money—much like in 1812, when the “Republican” party’s reluctance to use the government’s taxing power led to expanded debt and inadequate funding for the war effort.

In What So Proudly We Hailed, the contributors look at how Partisan animosity in 1812 surpassed today’s rancor, teaching us the danger of hyperpartisanship as well as the less obvious tendency of the party system to adapt and realign: The Federalist-Republican competition that dominated early U.S. politics dissipated in the war’s aftermath. We take today’s partisan divide as a given, but in time that too is likely to pass.


  1. Pulitzer-winning historian Alan Taylor (The Civil War of 1812) examines the war’s sectional tensions and the implications for American nationalism.
  2. Historian Peter J. Kastor discusses how 1812–15 affected state-federal relations.
  3. Author Stephen Budiansky (Perilous Fight) explores the military legacy.
  4. Pietro Nivola assesses the keen partisan rivalry of the early 1800s and what it can tell us about today’s strife.
  5. Benjamin Wittes and Ritika Singh of Brookings investigate constitutional frictions, particularly regarding presidential power and civil liberties.