Book Review: How Britain Won the War of 1812: The Royal Navy's Blockades of the United States, 1812-1815


by Brian Arthur

Rochester, NY: Boydell Press, 2011. Pp. xxiv, 328. Illus., maps, tables, notes, biblio, index. $99.00. ISBN: 1843836653

Despite the rather over-the-top title, as the sub-title explains, How Britain Won the War of 1812 is a serious study of the British blockade of the United Stated coast during the war of 1812-1815. 

British scholar Arthur’s argument is that the blockade, which was actually never total by design until rather late in the war (Britain and the U.S. both not-so-covertly continuing to trade in many commodities), devastated U.S. revenues, leaving the country virtually bankrupt by the end of hostilities.  Arthur opens with a look at the evolution of blockade, notably during the Anglo-Dutch Wars of the mid-seventeenth century, and follows the concept through the nearly 20 years of the “French Wars”, before coming to the events of the Anglo-American War of 1812-1815.  After briefly examining the causes of the war, Arthur plunges into a discussion of the  history of the blockade, the occasional efforts at peacemaking, the interrelationship between the Anglo-American war and that the British war against Napoleon, and more.  His conclusions, supported by extensive statistics, are that the blockade forced the United States to make peace, leaving Britain the victor.  This is rather exaggerated.  Arguably, Arthur would better have concluded that, the loss of control of the Great Lakes by Britain, the stalemate in the land war that affected both powers, and the economic devastation wrought by the blockade, made it convenient for both Britain and the United States to end the war, each being in a position to claim “victory”. 

Nevertheless, How Britain Won the War of 1812 is an important read for anyone interested in the war, or the history of blockade, particularly since Arthur discusses the continuing evolution of the strategy through the world wars.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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