Mr. and Mrs. Madison's War: America's First Couple and the Second War of Independence

Overview

August 28, 1814. Dressed in black, James Madison mourns the nation's loss. Smoke rises from the ruin of the Capitol before him; a mile away stands the blackened shell of the White House. The British have laid waste to Washington City, and as Mr. Madison gazes at the terrible vista, he ponders the future-his country's defeat or victory-in a war he began over the unanimous objections of his political adversaries. As we approach its bicentennial, the War of 1812 remains the least understood of America's wars. To ...

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Mr. and Mrs. Madison's War: America's First Couple and the War of 1812

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Overview

August 28, 1814. Dressed in black, James Madison mourns the nation's loss. Smoke rises from the ruin of the Capitol before him; a mile away stands the blackened shell of the White House. The British have laid waste to Washington City, and as Mr. Madison gazes at the terrible vista, he ponders the future-his country's defeat or victory-in a war he began over the unanimous objections of his political adversaries. As we approach its bicentennial, the War of 1812 remains the least understood of America's wars. To some it was a conflict that resolved nothing, but to others, it was our second war of independence, settling once and for all that America would never again submit to Britain. At its center was James Madison-our most meditative of presidents, yet the first one to declare war. And at his side was the extraordinary Dolley, who defined the role of first lady for all to follow, and who would prove perhaps her husband's most indispensable ally.

In this powerful new work, drawing on countless primary sources, acclaimed historian Hugh Howard presents a gripping account of the conflict as James and Dolley Madison experienced it. Mr. and Mrs. Madison's War rediscovers a conflict fought on land and sea-from the shores of the Potomac to the Great Lakes-that proved to be a critical turning point in American history.

Advance praise for Mr. and Mrs. Madison's War :

"Hugh Howard has turned the least known and understood war in American history into a Technicolor, wide-screen epic of thrilling naval battles, brutal backwoods skirmishes, villainous intrigue, and stirring heroism. Thanks to Howard's prodigious research, fine eye for the telling detail, and vivid prose, the War of 1812 seems as contemporary and compelling as yesterday's battlefield dispatches from the Middle East."-Thurston Clarke, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Campaign

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This fluent if glamorized history of the War of 1812 mines what heroism and romance it can from the woeful record of American military ineptitude, cowardice, political dissension, and lackadaisical leadership. Historian Howard (Thomas Jefferson: Architect) does find stirring moments, especially in his accounts of American frigates’ underdog battles with the British fleet, which yield gore (“his lifeless body fell to the deck, severed in two”) and gallantry aplenty, including Capt. James Lawrence’s immortal last words, “Don’t give up the ship!” (uttered just before the ship was, in fact, given up). The author’s foregrounding of the first couple, especially in a set piece recreation of the British sack of Washington, is less edifying. As much as Howard talks up his statesmanship, President Madison seems a feckless commander-in-chief who needlessly took an unprepared country to war and never got a grip. And Dolley Madison’s main impact was her star turn rescuing George Washington’s portrait from the Redcoats. Still, Howard’s entertaining saga extracts no little drama from an inglorious episode. B&w illus. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Here is the story of the War of 1812 not from the military, but the personal perspective of James Madison—the first U.S. President to declare the country at war—and the beloved Dolley Madison. Readers get a feeling for the period beyond the political and military contexts and gain salient new information. For example, Dolley Madison's social gatherings at the White House on Wednesday evenings did much to ease political differences between parties. In the midst of the war, President Madison was deathly ill with "bilious fever" and wasn't able to travel until early August 1813. With the British in the Chesapeake Bay region, committing depredations up and down the coast, a President's travel plans were kept secret for the first time. At the British devastation of the capitol in 1814, the Madisons had to flee. VERDICT Howard's descriptions, e.g., of the burning of Washington, are superb, as is his use of primary sources throughout. Highly recommended to all readers on this war's bicentennial.—D.L.P.
Kirkus Reviews
Numerous books have cast almost too much light on the "unknown" War of 1812, so historian Howard (The Painter's Chair: George Washington and the Making of American Art, 2009, etc.) take a different tack, writing largely from the point of view of President Madison and Dolley, the nation's most popular first lady before Eleanor Roosevelt. The author delivers a skillful history of the war itself, launched after five years of frustration at British seizure of American merchant vessels and impressment of sailors. The chief goal the American army was the conquest of Canada, which failed disastrously despite several attempts. The goal of the navy was damaging British commerce. This succeeded notwithstanding the distraction of a handful of minor but spectacular American naval triumphs, which did not prevent the immense Royal Navy from blockading our coast, damaging American commerce even more. Mostly the war was a three-year litany of inept generals, wrong-headed politicians and a sprinkling of heroes (Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Oliver Hazard Perry), whose victories made little difference in the war's outcome. British and American historians agree that it was a draw; ironically, Canadians consider that they won. Britain never agreed to stop seizures and impressment, but winning the Napoleonic wars made that moot. Dolley's contributions to waging the war were minimal, but Howard provides illuminating asides about her activities as Washington's premier hostess and a far more colorful correspondent than her husband. An entertaining portrait of the era's first couple and the social life of the young nation's elite.
From the Publisher
“Howard’s descriptions, e.g., of the burning of Washington, are superb, as is his use of primary sources throughout. Highly recommended to all readers on this war’s bicentennial.” —Library Journal

“An entertaining look at the forgotten war.”  —Military History Quarterly

“It is as a work of military history the book excels…A worthy look at a rite of passage making the nascent United States into a nation that, although far from a world power, would be here to stay.”—Minneapolis Star-Tribune

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781608190713
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 1/17/2012
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.74 (h) x 1.27 (d)

Meet the Author

Hugh Howard's numerous books include The Painter's Chair: George Washington and the Making of American Art; Dr. Kimball and Mr. Jefferson; the definitive Thomas Jefferson: Architect; his memoir House-Dreams; and the classic Houses of the Founding Fathers. He resides in upstate New York.

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