Historian Norman Risjord has emphasised the central importance of honour as a cause of the War of 1812, which the United States launched in against Britain despite its much more powerful naval and military strength. Americans of every political stripe saw the need to uphold national honour, and to reject the treatment of the United States by Britain as a third class nonentity. Americans talked incessantly about the need for force in response. This quest for honour was a major cause of the war in the sense that most Americans who were not involved in mercantile interests or threatened by Indian attack strongly endorsed the preservation of national honour. The humiliating attack by HMS Leopard against USS Chesapeake in June 1807 was a decisive event. Historians have documented the importance of honour in shaping public opinion in a number of states, including Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee, as well as the territory of Michigan. The successful conclusion of the war, especially the spectacular defeat of the main British invasion army at New Orleans, did restore the American sense of honour.

Honour as a code of behaviour defines the duties of an individual within a social group. Margaret Visser observes that in an honour-based society "a person is what he or she is in the eyes of other people". [1] A code of honour differs from a legal code, also socially defined and concerned with justice, in that honour remains implicit rather than explicit and objectified.

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