Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815

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Oxford University Press, Oct 28, 2009 - History - 800 pages
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The Oxford History of the United States is by far the most respected multi-volume history of our nation. The series includes three Pulitzer Prize winners, two New York Times bestsellers, and winners of the Bancroft and Parkman Prizes. Now, in the newest volume in the series, one of America's most esteemed historians, Gordon S. Wood, offers a brilliant account of the early American Republic, ranging from 1789 and the beginning of the national government to the end of the War of 1812. As Wood reveals, the period was marked by tumultuous change in all aspects of American life--in politics, society, economy, and culture. The men who founded the new government had high hopes for the future, but few of their hopes and dreams worked out quite as they expected. They hated political parties but parties nonetheless emerged. Some wanted the United States to become a great fiscal-military state like those of Britain and France; others wanted the country to remain a rural agricultural state very different from the European states. Instead, by 1815 the United States became something neither group anticipated. Many leaders expected American culture to flourish and surpass that of Europe; instead it became popularized and vulgarized. The leaders also hope to see the end of slavery; instead, despite the release of many slaves and the end of slavery in the North, slavery was stronger in 1815 than it had been in 1789. Many wanted to avoid entanglements with Europe, but instead the country became involved in Europe's wars and ended up waging another war with the former mother country. Still, with a new generation emerging by 1815, most Americans were confident and optimistic about the future of their country. Named a New York Times Notable Book, Empire of Liberty offers a marvelous account of this pivotal era when America took its first unsteady steps as a new and rapidly expanding nation.

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Five stars for the book, but the scholarship questions the editing presents is another matter altogether. This is such a wonderful volume that I was shocked and dismayed to find obvious errors in the footnotes. The final Chapter offers a quote from Dewitt Clinton on political economy but the source for the quote IS NOT that proffered in the footnote. The correct source is a different discourse Clinton gave to a different audience, a discourse cited earlier in the book: correct page but wrong document. Unfortunately this error means that I either stumbled on an extremely rare artifact, or the scholarship of the entire volume is in question. While I would prefer to assume the latter, one has to wonder how this managed to get through author, assistants and editors without anyone catching it, and if one error of this magnitude escaped scrutiny, one is forced to wonder how many more errors the book contains, for if no one checked this footnote, how are we to know if anyone checked any of the others. 


Rip Van Winkles America
1 Experiment in Republicanism
2 A Monarchical Republic
3 The Federalist Program
4 The Emergence of the Jeffersonian Republican Party
5 The French Revolution in America
6 John Adams and the Few and the Many
7 The Crisis of 17981799
12 Chief Justice John Marshall and the Origins of Judicial Review
13 Republican Reforms
14 Between Slavery and Freedom
15 The Rising Glory of America
16 Republican Religion
17 Republican Diplomacy
18 The War of 1812
19 A World Within Themselves

8 The Jeffersonian Revolution of 1800
9 Republican Society
10 The Jeffersonian West
11 Law and an Independent Judiciary

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About the author (2009)

Gordon S. Wood is Alva O. Way Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University. His books include the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Radicalism of the American Revolution, the Bancroft Prize-winning The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, and The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History. He writes frequently for The New York Review of Books and The New Republic.

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