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

Empire of Liberty by Gordon S. Wood
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's review
May 02, 2012

it was amazing
Read in April, 2012


This excellent history is one of the Oxford History of the United States series civerung the period 1879-1815. Wood begins the long narrative by describing problems faced by the Republic in its first days. One of the issues, not as minor as it currently appears, was what to call President Washington. Was it Your Excellency, something equally monarchial, or more common? Mr. President was decided upon.

Wood explores many themes including the rivalry between the Federalists and Republicans, the Bill of Rights, the opening of the West, the quasi-war with France, the establishment of the Federal judiciary, slavery, international trade, the Louisiana purchase, development of religious denominations and evangelism, impressment of crews and seizure of American ships during the Napoleonic Wars, various unsuccessful trade measures attempting to convince Britain from seizing U. S. ships, and the War of 1812, He concludes by showing that by 1815 Americans were extremely self-confident and self-reliant individuals. So self-reliant that many thought they had answers to health and legal matters rather than professionals, frequently leading to quack results.

Washington, Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Marshall and Burr among a host of lessor persons are made real by Wood in mini-biographies.

Empire of Liberty is almost encyclopedic in scope but is far better written. Wood concludes with a foreshadowing of the terrible events to come as the nation is unable to resolve differences concerning slavery.


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