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Warring for America

MARCH 31–APRIL 1, 2011

A conference sponsored by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, the Huntington Library, the Department of History of New York University, and the John W. Kluge Center, Library of Congress

Mumford Room, Sixth Floor, James Madison Memorial Building, Library of Congress Independence Avenue, between First and Second Streets, Washington, D.C.


The War of 1812, the first declared war in the history of the United States, erupted in the midst of countervailing forces shaping America in the first decades of the nineteenth century. From the Louisiana Purchase to the Seminole War; from the Haitian Revolution to the Spanish American independence movement; from the resumption of the Napoleonic Wars to the second Barbary War; from the close of the Atlantic slave trade to the founding of the American Colonization Society; from New Jersey’s revocation of female suffrage to the heroizing of Decatur, Perry, and Jackson; from the rise of state banks to the fall of steamboat monopolies; from Walter Scott to Washington Irving, this understudied era was crowded with events destined to unsettle the so-called revolutionary settlement.

At once postcolonial and neoimperial, the America of 1812 was a country of conflicting visions of liberty, of territorial reach, of cultural affiliation, of power. The decision to go to war catalyzed a critical era. In contrast to the progressive experimentation of the 1780s and 1790s, the years surrounding the war were a period of narrowing possibilities and sharpening distinctions. The volatile elements that converged in the war and then emerged, transformed, underscore the generative instabilities of the early republic. This conference considers the conflict in the nexus of these social, cultural, and geopolitical pressures and the divergent consequences for the future of the extended republic.

The Program Committee for this conference consisted of Fredrika J. Teute, Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Nicole Eustace, New York University, and Robert G. Parkinson, Shepherd University.