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Tortoise Tuesday: Thesis in American Historical Scholarship

In this final paragraph of his introduction, historian Alan Taylor masterfully articulates what sets this book apart from other works on the War of 1812. Employing the Gaipa strategy of “dropping out,” Taylor proposes to tell a new story of this forgotten conflict, one which focuses on the hotly contested border region between the United States and Canada. By presenting the war as an ideological showdown between two fraternal peoples rather than an extension of the Napoleonic Wars, he reframes the scholarly conversation. Carefully choosing his key terms: Republican, Loyalist, Empire, and Revolution, Taylor sets the stage for his narrative history while highlighting the more abstract elements of his argument. He also provides us with an endpoint which peaks our curiosity. Having introduced the war as an ideological blood feud, Taylor’s thesis (excerpted below) alerts us to the fact that the conflict’s outcome compelled both sides to find common ground. With the book’s central questions concisely presented, we can dive into the book’s remaining 446 pages eager for answers.

— Ian Iverson ’18

“By telling the story of the borderland war, I seek to illuminate the contrast and the contest between the republic and the empire in the wake of the revolution. Both Republicans and Loyalists suspected that the continent was not big enough for their rival systems; republic and mixed constitution. One or the other would have to prevail in the house divided. Like the revolution, the War of 1812 was a civil war between competing visions of America: one still loyal to the empire and the other defined by its republican revolution against that empire. But neither side would reap what it expected from the war. Frustrated in their fantasies of smashing the other, the Loyalist and the Republican Americans had to learn how to share the continent and to call coexistence victory.”

Alan Taylor, PhD
Professor of History, University of Virginia

Citation: Alan Taylor, The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies, (New York: Vintage Books, 2010), 12.