- Paperback: 675 pages
- Publisher: University of North Carolina Press; unknown edition (April 6, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0807847232
- ISBN-13: 978-0807847237
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 42 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #369,998 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 unknown Edition
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This is, by historians' consensus, one of the best and most scholarly books ever written about American history. Its scholarship is deep, penetrating and impeccable in all its facets. Gordon Wood undertook this enormous work after receiving his Ph. D. in history from Harvard and this was essentially the continuation of the work he undertook as a graduate student. However, having said that, to a layman this is also its major shortcoming: due to its immense and rigorous scholarship, the book is dense on political science theory, voluminous on quotations (and generally voluminous) and to a large degree dry. To sum it up: it is technically a monograph, and as such, it presents a topical treatment, rather than a narrative that most lay history readers are familiar with.
If you are a history buff, or a student doing research, this will be a great and epic read. But if you are looking for a more familiar popular history, rich in narrative and a more fluid prose, then you will be disappointed and would be advised to look elsewhere. Indeed, Gordon Wood has written other more accessible works later in his career, all of which are terrific. With those reservations in mind, I still highly recommend this book.
In understanding the context of this book we also need to realize that Wood wrote it during the 1960s at the height of the divide over American political thought in that time. Creation should serve as a metaphor for American political thought. Things were in a dire crisis in the 1780s, yet the country survived by creating a government which has lasted ever since. The events of the 1960s were survivable and of course we know that America overcame them and continued on. Today we see the political strife, yet we should be comforted by understanding that history shows America will overcome this as well. If the people of the 1780s could develop an entirely new government which they felt was the capstone to the American Revolution and inaugurated a new political system, then the people of today will get past the issues that divide them.
Thomas Paine wrote, “The independence of America considered merely as a separation from England, would have been a matter but of little importance had it not been accompanied by a revolution in the principles and practise of governments.” Paine was right. Independence was of little consequence because until the creation of the Constitution the thirteen states were merely carrying on a modified form of English constitutional government. That meant that government was a compact between rulers and the ruled or the people. The American system of government created in 1787 was a compact only between the people themselves, not the rulers or any other body. All government stemmed from them. Wood makes this the focal point of the book.
The issue of representation was the driving force of the American Revolution. James Otis remarked early on that taxation required representation which the American colonists had none of in Parliament. This was a unique idea and one the British finally answered with the concept of virtual representation. However, the Americans felt this was not the right answer. In creating a political system they sought an answer to the question of how people should be represented. Throughout this book Wood keeps coming back to this issue. At the end of it he answers it but the reader sees in the pages leading up to the answer how the people of that era arrived at the answer which is important. Wood explains that it was the process of answering that question that helped create the American system of government which was radically different than the English system which until that point had been considered by most people to be the proper form of government.
This shows just how different American political thought changed from British political thought and for modern students of politics why there is such a substantial difference between American government and European governments. To this day, the issue of representation is one where people can see just how free people are. When all power stems from the people and they are the ones who select their representatives, then they are free. When any part of that is removed from them then they are not free. As a result of the American system, an additional check was created upon government which does not get discussed that much and that is the check of the people themselves. No matter what, if any representative of the government acts in opposition of the will of the people they have the ability to replace that individual at the next election. In this manner the people possess the ability to correct their own mistakes if they make them.
Gordon Wood’s career has been one in which he is easily considered one of the top historians of the second half of the 20th century. He along with Edmund Morgan and Bernard Bailyn changed the perceptions people had of the American Revolution and the Constitution. Wood and Bailyn are even described as creating their own branch of historical study into this era although they certainly didn’t set out to do so. That just sort of occurred as a natural result of their studies. Wood won several awards for Creation of the American Republic including the Bancroft Prize. He would later win the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1993 with The Radicalism of the American Revolution. He is the Alva O. Way University Professor and Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University.
You can always tell when a book has made an impact upon historians. It is cited repeatedly by many of them which shows it is part of their scholarly learning. This book is required reading for all American history doctoral students who study any part of American history to 1865. It is also mandatory for all American politics doctoral students as well. It can be a bit difficult for many to read who are not acquainted with primary sources or historical inquiry. The book is definitely a deep reading experience and readers will want to read it in sections to allow for some thinking between them. It helps to remember the people of the era in question were addressing the issues confronting them and not any modern issues which were not envisioned by them. I think that is far too often ignored by many who seek answers for today’s issues. They first need to understand the issues of the past which will help them understand why the American system of government was derived. Then they can look to address today’s problems.
Wood kept great records of the materials he worked with as any good historian should and that helps students
understand where he got his information from. His comments on his sources are also revealing in that he could not find many of them in contemporary print. This is a strong indicator about why he was able to come to the conclusions he did which differed so much from others. He studied the writings of the revolutionary era, not secondary sources. This should be a lesson to all historians about the importance of primary sources over secondary sources. It should also be a lesson to all about the dangers of relying on other opinions when some of those opinions are from those are uninformed about the past or seeking to gain power by misleading people for their own political gain.
Creation is a definite must read and most worthy addition to my library and one which I am already using in my own historical writings. Wood’s work with sources helps identify primary sources to consult for my own use as well.