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The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787

28 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0807847237
ISBN-10: 0807847232
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Editorial Reviews Review

Gordon S. Wood--winner of the Pulitzer Prize and professor of American history at Brown University--had no idea what he was getting into when he began this 653-page book. Innocently, he wanted to write a "monographic analysis of constitution-making in the Revolutionary era." Little did he know he would discover an intellectual world where a complete transformation of political thought was occurring, one that would create "a distinctly American system of politics." As Wood explains, "Beneath the variety and idiosyncrasies of American opinion there emerged a general pattern of beliefs about the social process--a set of common assumptions about history, society, and politics that connected and made significant seemingly discrete and unrelated ideas. Really for the first time I began to glimpse what late eighteenth-century Americans meant when they talked about living in an enlightened age." This original study of the American political system is a strong contribution to the scholarly studies of the events surrounding the nation's independence. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


[A] brilliant and sweeping interpretation of political culture in the Revolutionary generation."New England Quarterly"

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 675 pages
  • Publisher: University of North Carolina Press (April 6, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807847232
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807847237
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #75,611 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About 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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

106 of 109 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 19, 2004
Format: Paperback
This outstanding book is generally regarded as fundamental to understanding the American Revolution. Wood immersed himself in contemporary writings including a huge array of political pamphlets, sermons, letters, and other texts in an attempt to reconstruct the thinking of the people who made the Revolution and the Constitution. Wood begins with a reconstruction of how colonial Americans perceived the political organization of their societies, their relationship with Britain, and how they conceived politics in general. The initial parts of the book parallel and draw from Bernard Bailyn's outstanding book, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Indeed, much of Wood's book can be seen as sequel to Bailyn's book.
Wood begins with a reconstruction of the pre-Revolutionary conception of politics. Like Bailyn, Wood reconstructs this as a compound of several elements but dominated by certain general Enlightenment concepts and the specific framework developed by dissident 18th century British Whig intellectuals. Basic concepts included the idea that political structure reflected basic social structures, that the 'people' embodied by parliamentary representation were opposed and oppressed by the Crown, and an obsession with 'corruption' induced by abuse of the executive power of the Crown.
The successful conclusion of the Revolution, however, did not produce the outcome predicted by this conception of politics. The resulting confederation and states were perceived by many American intellectuals as dominated by greed and self-interest, there was an absence of the expected moral regeneration, and there were increasing concerns about the power of state legislatures causing both abuse of minority rights and threats to social order.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By John A. Wagner on August 9, 2006
Format: Paperback
Gordon S. Wood is one of the deans of the so-called "intellectual historians" of the Revolutionary era. I just finished reading this book for the third time in the last 15 years, and I am struck by the sweeping nature of it. Wood's thesis is essentially that Americans' thinking about government and politics underwent a remarkable change in the 11 years between the writing of the Declaration of Independence and the framing of the Constitution. In short, through a series of piecemeal changes during this brief period, Americans largely put together a new mode of political thinking. The key to Wood's argument seems to be his discussion of the changes that occurred in the locus of sovereignty, and the separation of political from social authority. "The people" play the key role here. They went from traditionally being "embodied" in one branch of the gov't (the House of Commons in England, for example), to being the source of all governmental authority. This change brought with it changes in the understanding of representation and of separation of powers, and made possible Americans' unique concept of federalism, and the development of an "American science of politics". Wood uses a dazzling array of sources to support his arguments, and in doing so, shows how many hands and brains were involved in this work. The book is long and the general reader may find it a bit difficult, but anyone interested in the development of American political thought cannot neglect it.
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62 of 70 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 17, 1997
Format: Paperback
Gordon Wood's celebrated book is the story of the way people thought about themselves and the revolution they had made. It explains in great detail the initial failures of majoritarian democracy and the development of constitutionalism. A glance at the footnotes reveals the genuine source of this book's authority: Professor Wood has drawn his narrative and his conclusions from original sources--newspaper articles, letters, and diaries of the period. The only complaint I have is the glaring omission of any mention of slavery. That word doesn't appear in the index or anywhere else in this book. This is all the more remarkable in light of our growing awareness of just how deeply the Founders struggled with this issue. Nevertheless, this is the single most important book on the period. If you want to know about American Democracy and its intellectual origins, this is the book to read.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By R. Abbott on June 19, 2006
Format: Paperback
I agree with the observations of all of your other reviewers, though I read this book in graduate school and didn't have trouble staying awake. I think R. Albin of Michigan comes closest to the gist of Wood's central thesis, but I would like to elaborate. The Founding Fathers were steeped in 18th century hierarchical society and resented the inherited privilege of Europe's aristocracy because they believed themselves to be the equal of the gentlemen who ruled England. A hallmark of such a society was a requirement that the elite assume the reins of government and exercise power for the benefit of everyone in society. They were required to act "Virtuously" in 18th century parlance. They did not really intend to change this hierarchy with the Revolution and they fully expected that the common men they mobilized as their ground forces would govern the country virtuously. The common man certainly being capable of governing his own affairs, Adams, Madison and the others found that the rustics who controlled the state legislatures during the Revolution and after had no inclination to govern for the larger society. They pursued their own interests and gave little thought to the greater issues at hand, such as the need for organizing a national government and integrating the economy. Because of that sour experience with "direct" democracy, the Founders created a constitution, based on what they saw as the structure of "checks and balances" implicit in the English constitution, that they hoped would restrain the common man and his lack of virtue. Wood's book is the history of their transition through, and adaptation of, highly sophisticated political theories to arrive at that result. Because of their superior understanding of politics and how to control the forces they unleashed, the US passed through its revolutionary era without the full-blown civil war that plagued both the French and Russian Revolutions.
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