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

Booklist Reviews 2009 September #2
Surveying American history during its first decades under the Constitution, Wood locates a baseline in the ascendance of populist over aristocratic values. Expressed in the eclipse of Federalists by Jeffersonian Republicans, by growth of commercial activity, and by the evangelism of the Second Great Awakening, alterations in American society by 1815 made it scarcely recognizable to the generation of 1776. Wood, an esteemed scholar on the early republic, composes a narrative replete with telling incidents and well-sketched personalities to support his thesis of a sociopolitical transition from aristocracy to something like democracy. Noting the trebling of population during the period, Wood tracks the movement of a restless people, such as the advance of settlers to the west. Affecting political events in the foreground, whether inducing proto-modern electioneering or inducting some unlettered representative into Congress, the leveling tendencies of this era's demographic growth underlie the history Wood relates. With attention to institutionalization of the government, as in John Marshall's makeover of the Supreme Court, Wood applies an expert but accessible pen to everything that makes this a seminal era in American history. Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.

Choice Reviews 2010 April
Historian Wood (emer., Brown) carries forward the story in his The Radicalism of the American Revolution (CH, Sep'92, 30-0534) and The Creation of the American Republic (CH, Oct'69). His approach is synthesis--almost textbook-like and sometimes predictable--with a grand narrative tracing the tumultuous changes in American society from 1789 to 1815. Territorial expansion, increased population, democratization, and commercial growth were such that "by 1815 Americans had experienced a transformation in the way they related to one another and in the way they perceived themselves and the world around them" (p. 2). With forays into art, literature, religion, economics, and war, the text centers on political personalities, especially Jefferson, about whom Wood writes, "as long as there is a United States he will remain the supreme spokesman for the nation's noblest ideals and highest aspirations" (p. 277). Wood concludes with the War of 1812 and its aftermath. The American character was now defined by middling Americans claiming to be heirs of the revolution in the guise of Franklin's "self made man" (p. 714). Tragically, the American character forged in Jefferson's "empire of liberty" also had deep within it the fatal flaw of slavery. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. Copyright 2010 American Library Association.

Library Journal Reviews 2009 September #2

In tackling the turbulent years of America's early republic, Wood (Alva O. Way Professor of History Emeritus, Brown Univ.; The Radicalism of the American Revolution) brings his considerable talents to a series that has already produced three Pulitzer Prize winners. Wood's outstandingly eloquent and cerebral analysis commences in the aftermath of the contentious ratification of the U.S. Constitution, a time when republican ideals, from classical virtue to "disinterestedness," remained the principal animating force in the political life of the fledgling republic. Wood sees the initial optimism quickly dashed in the fiery confrontation between the Hamiltonian Federalists seeking to establish an energetic national government and the Jeffersonian Republicans and their "Empire of Liberty." Skillfully traversing seminal topics such as slavery, westward expansion, social leveling, diplomacy, evangelicalism, the arts and sciences, and the transformation of the American legal system, Wood's authoritative and compelling narrative presents a picture of early Americans engaged in pursuit of cultural, social, and economic self-discovery. Most distinctively, Wood avoids the mere celebratory retelling of big events such as the Louisiana Purchase, instead conveying the currents and contours of the era as a whole. VERDICT Wood has provided academics and general readers alike with a brilliant, definitive, and thought-provoking historical synthesis; sure to become indispensable to any study of the era.--Brian Odom, Pelham P.L., AL

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2009 August #3

Anew addition to the Oxford History of the United States, Wood's superb book brings together much of what historians now know about the first quarter-century of the nation's history under the Constitution. Acknowledged as the leading historian of the period, Wood brings authority and easy style to a tough task--wrestling into order a period of unusual anxiety, confusion, crisis and unbridled growth in the nation's affairs. The emergence of democracy and individualism is his overarching theme. No surprise there, for he's the author of a celebrated work (The Radicalism of the American Revolution) on just that topic. In this new work, he concentrates more on events, institutions, politics and diplomacy than in his earlier books yet proves himself a master of these topics, too. He offers no newfangled approaches, no strongly stated positions, no contests with other historians. Instead, we get the distillation of a lifetime's study and reflection about the era between Washington's presidency and the end of the War of 1812. A triumph of the historian's art, Wood's book will not soon be supplanted. No one interested in the era should miss it. 40 b&w illus., maps. (Oct.)

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