An unlikely friendship: The War of 1812 examined


Just in time to mark the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, author and historian James Laxer has written a book that offers a fresh angle on two iconic figures from that period. In Tecumseh and Brock: The War of 1812, Laxer examines the pair's brief partnership during the war and argues that it was a turning point in the conflict.

Against the advice of British officers, Tecumseh and Isaac Brock attacked Fort Detroit in the summer of 1812. Within three days they captured the American stronghold despite being greatly outnumbered. Laxer contends that Tecumseh and Brock's alliance changed the course of the War of 1812 and, consequently, North American history.

laxer-book-100.jpg"In doing my work I discovered that when they came together, they were two warriors ... who instantly recognized each other as bringing something that neither of them could do on their own," Laxer said in a recent interview with CBC Books.

Tecumseh was a Shawnee warrior from the Ohio country who became the leader of a great Native confederacy. "He has the vision for the right of a native society to exist and what he's fighting for is the creation of a native state that will be a sovereign state," Laxer explained. He described Tecumseh as an eloquent speaker with a breadth of vision for his people's future -- not only a warrior but a great political leader. "Tecumseh would give George Washington a run for his money as a historical figure."

Isaac Brock was an English major general who spent the last 10 years of his life moving up the ranks of the British army in Canada. "Brock is an amazing man too," Laxer said. "He understands the key need for a relationship with the native warriors if they're going to win the war."

While their partnership lasted only three or four days, Laxer argues that the surrender of Detroit had a tremendous impact. "It meant that the idea, as Thomas Jefferson had said, that capturing Canada 'would be a mere matter of marching' was not going to be true and it convinced many Upper Canadians that the Americans were not going to win the war."

A number of Upper Canadian settlers came from the United States after the American Revolution and were not necessarily committed one way or another when the war broke out. According to Laxer, the War of 1812 was a war of independence for Upper Canadians, who by the end of the conflict had evolved to become a people. "A fluid identity became hardened," Laxer explained.

As for Tecumseh and Brock, their relationship ended as swiftly as it began, as both died in the course of the war. Before the two parted, Tecumseh gave Brock a large aboriginal sash and placed the gift around the British general's neck. "When Brock died at Queenston Heights two months later, he was wearing the sash that Tecumseh gave him." Laxer describes their relationship as extremely brief but extremely important.

Laxer says the renewed interest in the war, due to the upcoming bicentennial, is both startling and incredible. "It makes just as much sense for us to commemorate the War of 1812 as it does for Americans to celebrate the fourth of July." Although the war was fought under the British flag and neither Tecumseh nor Brock were Canadian, it's Laxer's view that the War of 1812 had an enormous impact on Canadian history.

"It is the war that determined that this country would be a separate state from the United States," he said.

We've highlighted more great books about the War of 1812 in the image gallery below.