James Thane's Reviews > Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815

Empire of Liberty by Gordon S. Wood
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May 23, 10

Read in May, 2010

This book is the capstone of Gordon S. Wood's long career, and an outstanding addition to the Oxford History of the United States.

Wood surveys the history of the U. S. from the adoption of the Constitution through the close of the War of 1812, a time during which the survival of the new nation was by no means a sure thing. As he describes, this was a time of enormous political, social, cultural and economic change, and it's safe to say that things did not turn out the way that many of the Founders had expected or hoped they would.

Wood describes the trials and tribulations involved in implementing the Constitution that had been created in 1787, and describes how the authors of the document very quickly came to disagree about what the Contitution meant. He treats the early development of the nation's first political factions at a time when virtually all Americans deplored the idea of political parties, and describes the way in which the Jeffersonian Republicans almost inevitably triumphed over their Federalist adversaries. Wood's principal theme involves the way in which Americans rejected a culture of deference in favor of a messier, more democratic society of utlitarian strivers.

At 738 pages, this is not a quick read, but it will richly reward anyone eager for a better understanding of this critical period in the nation's development.
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