No one calls the War of 1812 America's finest hour. But it had its moments.
Resentful over treatment by the British and determined to enhance national sovereignty, Henry Clay and a small group of "War Hawks" in the Twelfth Congress pushed an unprepared country into war.
There was reason for resentment. For years, Britain, desperate for sailors in its mortal battle with Napoleon, had stopped American ships and impressed their seamen. Though in theory only British subjects were to be seized, an estimated 6,000 Americans were taken between 1803 and 1812.
Moreover, Britain restricted American trade with Europe in an effort to weaken Napoleon, and the British were...