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"This is a highly readable, nicely fleshed-out distillation of key themes and developments in the early republic, most notably the new nation's transformation from an (ideally) orderly republic to a tumultuous democracy and from a 'colonial' economy dependent on exports to a more 'developed' economy with strong internal markets. It makes sense of Americans' hopes and expectations coming out of the ratification period and provides a map for navigating the economic, social, and political developments not only up to 1829, but also afterwards."--Kirsten Wood, Florida International University
"This text, written by a master historian and incorporating the outpouring of research on the New Republic from the last two decades, should prove very useful. Johnson's scholarship is impeccable."--Lawrence Peskin, Morgan University "No other work I can think of would provide as clear or as quick an introduction."--Christopher Clark, University of Warwick, U.K.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Paul E. Johnson is at University of South Carolina.
Johnson has been writing on the same topic throughout his career. Each of his books seems to be a distillation of his previous work, with each further refinement adding tremendously to what we know about one of the most surprising and unlikely periods in American history. Indeed, Johnson notes that the United States in 1789 was a losing bet. It was a small, weak collection of coastal settlements surrounded by much more powerful Indian nations and by European empires with zero affection for a radical political experiment in republican government. The nation was united only by the vague and untested Constitution, by shared dependence on English markets, and more or less by a shared language. It was also profoundly undemocratic. In almost every state only a handful of rich men were allowed to vote.
In this wonderful short book Johnson explains how everything changed in a single generation. Thirty years after ratifying the Constitution, the US had a stable political order, a population more than four times larger than at Independence, a vastly larger territorial base, and a totally different political culture in which average white men were the freest, most empowered on earth. Women and particularly Black people and Indians lost tremendous ground over the same period, as slavery boomed and the society turned hard toward a mercantile, commercial identity based on gaining individual wealth often at the expense of others or the larger community.
And that is just one example from this marvelous, thought-provoking book. Essential reading!
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For instructors looking for a short book covering a specific era of American History such as the Early Republic, this is a good choice. Compare this book to the two volumes in the Oxford History of the United States that cover the same period and it is clear this is the smaller of the two. While it does not go into the greater depth that Gordon Wood and Daniel Walker Howe went to in Empire of Liberty and What Hath God Wrought, Johnson’s book does accomplish the task of highlighting the changes that occurred in the new Republic. That is exactly what students should be taking away from this period. Wood has spoken many times about this being the period of American history in which the nation underwent the greatest change. I think he is correct.
Paul E. Johnson is a professor emeritus at the University of South Carolina. His area of specialty has been the Early Republic. This book is a condensation of that specialty. I find it is a good book to work with in teaching students in conjunction with interactive lesson plans. It is comprised of six chapters that segment the periods into neat topics. Federalists, Jeffersonians, Jacksonians, and the changes in the North and South as the result of industrialization and cotton form the core of the chapters. Something I always point out to my students in our survey class is that they need to look at the US at two points in the class.
The first is 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was approved and the nation born. The second is 1863 when Lincoln delivers the Gettysburg Address and utters the words, “Fourscore and seven years ago.” I ask them to list the changes that took place between those dates. Then I ask them to date each change so that they have an idea when the changes took place.Read more ›
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