The best books in their own words from the War of 1812

Jane Hampton Cook Author Of The Burning of the White House: James and Dolley Madison and the War of 1812
By Jane Hampton Cook

The Books I Picked & Why

The Selected Letters of Dolley Payne Madison

By Dolley Madison

The Selected Letters of Dolley Payne Madison

Why this book?

Because Dolley Madison didn't keep a diary, her letters are the best examples that we have of her personality. This social butterfly shows us how she slyly tried to set up a young woman to be romantically involved with her son. 

Yet for all of her Southern charm and pretension, Dolley had a steely side. After her first husband died, she wrote to her brother-in-law demanding the inheritance owed to her. After all, women couldn't easily get a job to support themselves. Her letters also show her pride in her parents for emancipating their slaves. Her most famous letter about saving George Washington's painting before the British military burned the White House reveals the chaos of this historic moment and the character of this woman who became known as the first, first lady.


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James Madison: Writings (Loa #109)

By James Madison

James Madison: Writings (Loa #109)

Why this book?

Though this collection spans Madison's career, his letters during the War of 1812 show a cinematic transformation in his leadership style and views on his power as president. 

Because of his pivotal role in securing the U.S. Constitution, President Madison often deferred to Congress as a co-equal branch of government. He was overly trusting with his cabinet members. But the burning of the White House and the U.S. Capitol lit a fire of urgency in him and changed him, like the hero of a movie. After the burning of the White House on August 24, 1814, Madison carefully documented his conversation with his war secretary, General John Armstrong. Madison skillfully confronted Armstrong for disobeying his orders and failing to defend Washington. It's a throw-down in the most gentlemanly way.


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A Colored Man's Reminiscences of James Madison

By Paul Jennings

A Colored Man's Reminiscences of James Madison

Why this book?

Paul Jennings' memoirs are a vital voice to understanding this historical epoch. On August 24, 1814, he was present when Dolley Madison ordered the painting of George Washington to be taken off the wall before evacuating the White House. Jennings was also the last person out of the White House before the British military arrived. Were it not for Jennings, we would not know that an innkeeper cursed Dolley Madison and kicked her out of her hotel because she was angry that her husband had been fighting prior to the burning of the White House. His reminiscences of life as a slave and a free person show his character, honor, and determination.


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The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King; Comprising His Letters, Private and Official, His Public Documents, and His Speeches Volume 5

By Rufus King

The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King; Comprising His Letters, Private and Official, His Public Documents, and His Speeches Volume 5

Why this book?

Senator Rufus King played the role of disrupter on Capitol Hill during James Madison's presidency. Once united in the public relations campaign to convince the states to ratify the U.S. Constitution, King and Madison became rivals when King ran as the vice-presidential candidate on the ticket against President Madison in the 1808 presidential campaign. That rivalry took a conspiratorial turn in 1813 and 1814. Thanks to King's letters, we now know that General Armstrong was speaking covertly to Senator King against President Madison while serving in Madison's cabinet. Both New Yorkers with their eye on the presidency, their mutual ambition was to ensure that no Virginian, especially Secretary of State James Monroe, won the presidency in 1816. Their failure shows why most Americans do not know the name of Rufus King.


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Historical Sketch of the Second war Between the United States of America and Great Britain

By Charles Jared Ingersoll

Historical Sketch of the Second war Between the United States of America and Great Britain

Why this book?

A congressman during the War of 1812, Charles Ingersoll took on the role of journalist and historian in the years that followed. He interviewed key players during the lead-up and aftermath of the burning of the White House. Though his sketch is dense, he provides some of the most important details not covered in other accounts from the era. Ingersoll also provides some of the most inspirational, cinematic quotes coming out of the burning of the U.S. Capitol. 

"The smoldering fires of the Capitol were spices of the phoenix bed, from which a rose offspring more vigorous, beautiful and long-lived," Ingersoll wrote. "The immediate and enthusiastic effect of the fall of Washington was electric revival of national spirit and universal energy."


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