PLATTSBURGH — The War of 1812 was a “civil” war between competing visions of North America, said Alan Taylor.
The historian and author of books about colonial America, the American Revolution, and the Early American Republic spoke recently at Plattsburgh State, sharing concepts outlined in his book, “The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies,” published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2010.
Taylor was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for earlier work.
Taylor started by noting the United States was on the verge of losing the war when the Battle of Plattsburgh helped turned the tide.
“The Battle of Plattsburgh was very important but not well remembered.”
He further pointed out that during the first two years of the war, the U.S. was invading Canada and suffering great defeats, a part of history Canadians remember but Americans have forgotten.
He stressed that his book is a borderlands history that attempts to avoid the Canadian and American patriotic stories. Instead, it focuses on the remarkably similar people on the borders who did not want to go to war.
Taylor told of a British officer conducting a prisoner exchange who found it strange to find names among the American ranks that matched those of his own officers.
“They read the same books and went to the same plays.”
Saying it was Americans fighting the British simplifies a war in which brother sometimes fought brother; the two sides at times were seemingly interchangeable.
The British insisted anyone born in Scotland was a subject for life, whether they lived in Canada or Ireland. The United States was in the business of welcoming immigrants and making them Americans, actions the British said were fine as long as America understood if such a subject was found on a merchant ship the individual could be confiscated for the crown’s needs.