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

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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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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
A Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for History

A New York Times Bestseller

"Told with enormous insight ... On every page of this book, Wood's subtlety and erudition show. Grand in scope and a landmark achievement of scholarship, Empire of Liberty is a tour de force, the culmination of a lifetime of brilliant thinking and writing."—The New York Times Book Review

"Empire of Liberty will rightly take its place among the authoritative volumes in this important and influential series."—The Washington Post

"In illuminating the theoretical underpinnings of the long 1960s era, Wood provides an excellent contribution to present understandings of how late twentieth century convictions fundamentally emerged to shape our modern world." —UCLA Historical Review

"A bold, intelligent, and thoroughly engaging interpretation of the period from the birth of the republic to the emergence of a mass democratic society in the early part of the 19th century... Gordon Wood has written an immensely important book that deserves a wide readership among scholars and anyone interested in American history. The book will certainly influence how future historians write about the triumphs and tragedies of the early republic."—The Providence Journal-Bulletin

"Deftly written and lucidly argued, it teems with insights and arguments that make us look at familiar topics in fresh ways.—The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Wood's contribution will stand both as an extraordinary achievement of historical synthesis, and as witness to its own time. It will not soon be surpassed"—The Weekly Standard

Selected as one of 'The Top 25 Books of 2009'—The Atlantic

Selected as one of 'The Most Notable Books of 2009'—The New York Times Book Review

"This work by the dean of Federalist scholars, and the newest title in the splendid Oxford History of the United States, has been widely hailed as the definitive history of the era."—American Heritage Magazine

"Gordon S. Wood's penetrating histor of the early American Republic, is one of the best and certainly most rewarding books of the year. It is a winter's read for the serious general reader who may read only one book in a lifetime of this period. This is that book."—The Dallas Morning News

"Wood's erudition is legendary, and in this authoritative history of the early United States, he has produced a classic. Deftly written and lucidly argues, it teems with insights that coax us to see the nation's beginnings in a new way."Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Wood has traced the main political stories of the new American nation with...commanding skill and...interpretive wisdom." —Christianity Today

"Magisterial...Gordon Wood is...equally adept at the large canvas and thumbnail sketch."—The National Interest

"Wood's grasp on the story is sure, his narration often thrilling, which are the two elements of excellent history."—Catholic Library World

"Wood has provided a readable, engaging, and incisive account of the sociopolitical history of the first decades of the American nation." —Maryland Historical Magazine

"[Wood's] exuberant panorama of a dynamic nation in the midst of dramatic change is informed by his immense scholarship and deep insights not only into the meaning of the American Revolution but also into American character, values, myths, leadership, and institutions." —Susan Dunn, New York Review of Books

"Wood's prose is filled with gems of wit and wisdom that make reading this large tome a delight...Empire of Liberty...is an articulate, deeply researched, reasoned account of the emergence of the young republic from independence to nationhood; from an Atlantic-focused intellectual and commercial emphasis toward territorial expansion and continental orientation; from deferential social and political norms into the most egalitarian social, economic, and political nation on the globe. Gordon Wood has done it again!" -David Curtis Skaggs, Northwest Ohio History

Jay Winik
…[a] superb new account of America's pivotal first quarter-century…Who better to untangle this extraordinary but frequently overlooked story than a distinguished Pulitzer Prize winner and an author of several classic works about the Revolutionary era? On every page of this book, Wood's subtlety and erudition show. Grand in scope and a landmark achievement of scholarship, Empire of Liberty is a tour de force, the culmination of a lifetime of brilliant thinking and writing.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
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.)
Library Journal
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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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195039146
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2009
  • Series: Oxford History of the United States Series
  • Pages: 800
  • Sales rank: 201,303
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 2.60 (d)

Meet the Author

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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Table of Contents

Introduction: Rip Van Winkle's America
1. Experiment in Republicanism
2. The 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 1798-1799
8. The Jeffersonian Revolution of 1800
9. Republican Society
10. The Jeffersonian West
11. Law and an Independent Judiciary
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
Bibliographic Essay

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 20 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 45 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2009

    A solid reading of early American history and society

    I found this book to be quite revealing of the early history of America on all levels. The early politics and the growth of government institutions was in depth and complete with all of the whys,wherefores abd significant players duly noted. The sociological elements were well researched and provided great insight as to how we got to where we are today. This book provided more information about this era than any other I've read and I have gone through a few. I highly recommend it if you want more than just a high school history of the late 1700's and the early 1800's. It puts our current political divisions in context with our history since not much seems to have changed from then to now.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Empire of Liberty Is A Sweeping Saga By Master Historian

    Gordon Wood has made a truly important addition to the Oxford History series with his masterful Empire of Liberty. Meticulously researched, comprehensive in its scope, and well written, this is history as it should be -- educational, thought-provoking, and entertaining. For anyone interested in better understanding America's early national period and the lasting foundations that were laid in the years just after the American Revolution, Empire of Liberty is an absolute must-read.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 19, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A Great Read!

    Really flows. Covers everything - not just politics and war, but also social and religious development. And its interesting - not at all like the dreaded "textbook" quality. I got so caught up that I've now started the next volume in the Oxford History of the US, and I'm looking for more since they are son-in-law endorsed. This is the kind of history I wish our kids could read in school instead of ...... (fill in the blank).

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 21, 2011

    Reviewed as Nook book

    I've enjoyed Professor Wood's book. It's immensely informative.
    I have a few complaints, however, about B&N's Nook version of the book. I have read the book on the new touch-screen Nook. The maps are too small. They are illegible on the Nook's small screen. It should be possible to enlarge the image, but that feature is not available on the Nook. And so, while I have paid for Professor Woods' book, a part of the book has not been delivered. At about 600 pages, this is the longest Nook book I have read. I have discovered that a book of this length loads slowly. It takes about six seconds to load the book when I select it. The time it takes to load the book is nothing, though, compared to the time it takes to search for an word in the book using "find". I must wait at least a full minute for the search to complete. Because the search time is so much longer that the few seconds required to search a book of ordinary length (eg, 250 pages), I would call this a software bug.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2010

    Great World Perspective of Early American History - A thorough, interesting, yet long, read

    Thorough insight into American History from Pre-Revolutionary America through the end of the War of 1812. This book describes American idealism from the start of the revolution. It describes attitudes of the founding fathers, often in their own words, and the growth of a diverse society. It presents the ideas of aristocracy which directed the development of the new government. Where this book excels over others is its presentation of American History within a world setting. The importance and influence of the French Revolution on the developing American landscape is discussed in detail, as are American relationships with Great Britain and differing opinions within the new American states which caused continual conflict and threats of succession. Attitudes and behaviors of post-revolutionary Americans are presented in a fairly unbiased manner. Sources are heavily referenced on each page.

    It also provides a fair assessment of the events leading up to the War of 1812. It sets forth the conflicts in American politics as they affected America's preparation for the war, or lack thereof. It shows a torn nation with republican ideals, in stark contrast to the war that it would inevitably have to fight. It addresses the influence of continuing conflict between Great Britain and France on the landscape of American politics. This book does not portray the War of 1812 as an American victory, as many well do. It provides objective evidence of the events as they occurred and as they were revealed to Americans at home. The reader is left to access the events as presented and draw conclusions based on the facts presented, which are well documented. Empire concludes as the nation emerges from the war and the enlightenment a more conflicted nation but a stronger nation.

    All in all, I would recommend this book for those seriously interested in a thorough discussion of early America from a world perspective. Innumerable sources are listed for further research. Be prepared for a very long, but very interesting, read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 10, 2012


    Gordon S. Wood is the greatest historian alive today!

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  • Posted October 24, 2011

    Best overall history for sometime

    Very articulate and insightful history of a time and place where people can easily become caricatures rather than real people. Balanced and engaging with a theme and sure touch for those little facts that make history alive.

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