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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

During the second decade of the nineteenth century, writer Washington Irving developed an acute sense that his native land was no longer the same place it had been just a generation earlier. Irving had conservative and nostalgic sensibilities, and he sought to express some of his amazement at the transformation that had taken place in America by writing his story “Rip Van Winkle.” Irving had his character Rip awaken from a sleep that had begun before the Revolution and had lasted twenty years. When Rip entered his old village, he immediately felt lost. The buildings, the faces, the names were all strange and incomprehensible. “The very village was altered—it was larger and more populous,” and idleness, except among the aged, was no longer tolerated. “The very character of the people seemed changed. There was a busy, bustling disputatious tone about it, instead of the accustomed phlegm and drowsy tranquility”—a terrifying situation for Rip, who had had “an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labour.” Even the language was strange—“rights of citizens—elections—members of Congress—liberty … and other words which were a perfect babylonish jargon to the bewildered Van Winkle.” When people asked him “on which side he voted” and “whether he was Federal or a Democrat,” Rip could only stare “in vacant stupidity.”

“Rip Van Winkle” became the most popular of Irving’s many stories, for early nineteenth-century Americans could appreciate Rip’s bewilderment. Although superficially the political leadership seemed much the same—on the sign at the village inn the face of George Washington had simply replaced that of George III—beneath the surface Rip, like most Americans, knew that “every thing’s changed.” In a few short decades Americans had experienced a remarkable transformation in their society and culture, and, like Rip and his creator, many wondered what had happened and who they really were.

1. Washington Irving, The Sketch Book, in Washington Irving: History, Tales and Sketches, ed. James W. Tuttleton (New York, 1983), 770–81.

2. Jeffrey Rubin-Dorsky, Adrift in the Old World: The Psychological Pilgrimage of Washington Irving (Chicago, 1988), 74–75.

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