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Response to Review of Free trade and sailors’ rights in the War of 1812

First, I thank Jasper M. Trautsch for the care and attention with which he reviewed my Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights in the War of 1812. He has done an able job in summarizing the book and has highlighted some of the book’s contributions to scholarship on the War of 1812 and the early American republic. Indeed, I hesitated to write a response at all. Trautsch may not have heaped praise upon the book, but he wrote a generally positive review. That said, I will comment on three minor areas of criticism in the review. First, Trautsch wrote that my emphasis on neutral rights and impressment was not ‘original’. My response: I never claimed to be original in the explanation of the war, I only sought to tie that explanation to the slogan ‘free trade and sailors’ rights’ and place those issues in the larger context of American and even Atlantic history. (And, I will add, Trautsch notes that I have done so).

Second, Trautsch asserts that my claim that the War of 1812 was not ‘mistaken’ is unfounded. I suspect here either Trautsch did not fully understand my meaning, or, perhaps, my prose was not as clear as it should have been. I was not trying to argue that the war was inevitable or that it could have been avoided. I find those kinds of debates not very useful, although I understand that many historians, and even more members of the general public, enjoy such hypothetical questions. Instead, that word – ‘mistaken’ – was used with intentional hyperbole as I was building to the conclusion of the book. The full sentence read ‘Our second war with Great Britain was not a mistaken or meaningless war’. My point being that we should not dismiss the conflict as minor and inconsequential. Instead it was a war that had to be fought to defend the ideals of the American Revolution embedded in the slogan ‘free trade and sailors’ rights’.

Obviously the two points above are nothing more than an author’s quibbles. Had they been the only things I could say about this review, I would not have bothered to respond beyond my initial thank you to Trautsch for his able summary of the book. But I also wanted to address another comment made by Trautsch in a footnote concerning the cover of the book. And here I am not so much reacting to what Trautsch said, as I am seizing an opportunity to tell a tale of two covers (three covers really). My hope is that my comments will inform any would-be authors of the vagaries of the book production business.

Trautsch made two criticisms of the cover. One, that I never discussed the cover illustration in the book, and therefore I should not have used it. And two, that the cover is nearly identical to the cover of 1812: War and the Passions of Patriotism by Nicole Eustace and therefore I doubly should not have used it. In response to the first point I will simply say that in a book about sailors’ rights and free trade, having a cover with a sailor, a flag and a ship in the background was in my mind self explanatory. But in retrospect perhaps Trautsch is right, I could have referred to the painting explicitly in the text.

The obvious response to the second criticism is that I am guilty as charged – my cover is nearly identical to the cover of Eustace’s book. How did this happen? Both covers feature the painting ‘We Owe Allegiance to No Crown’ by John Archibald Woodside. I had hoped to place this image on the cover of my book Liberty on the Waterfront. However, although the image had been published by others (often without permission) I had difficulty in identifying the current owner. Eventually, and with the help of an intrepid graduate student, I learned that Nicholas West owned the painting and once I contacted him he graciously gave me permission to use it for Liberty on the Waterfront. Unfortunately, Penn Press had already designed another cover and did not want to interrupt production to change things. Still, in a concession to my desire to use the painting, Penn Press did place it on the back of the book (a small version of the painting for the paperback and a larger one for the hardback). When I began to write Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights in the War of 1812 I knew immediately that I wanted the same picture for the cover of this book. Nick West again graciously offered his permission. In the meantime Penn Press had agreed to publish Eustace’s book and decided to place We Owe Allegiance to No Crown on its cover. I did not know anything about this decision until I saw the advertisement for Eustace’s book (nor did Penn Press have any obligation to inform me of their cover choice). I was shocked and totally distraught. Honestly, I did not sleep much that night. I quickly contacted Cambridge University Press to see if they could rearrange the setting of the painting – I had already seen the mock up of my book cover. Like Penn Press, however, the production wheels were in motion and the press kept the cover as originally designed. Ironically, shortly after my book appeared I ran into Eustace at a professional meeting and talked to her about our covers. She told me that she originally had wanted another illustration for her book, but that Penn Press wanted to go with the Woodside painting. Thus, the fact that the cover of my book is almost identical to Eustace’s book is neither my fault nor hers. It is just an accident of the way the book production business operates.