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.
Wood follows the development of American political thinking on government from before the revolution through the ratification of the Constitution. He delves into the collective political psyche quoting dozens of founding fathers, Tories, British Whigs, historians, and Enlightenment philosophes.
If you want to understand why a Whig called himself a Whig in the colonies in the 18th century; if you want deep insight into how Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton and the other revolutionaries thought about the constitution; if you what was meant by "We, the People...," then you should read this book.
But only if you are serious, and only after you read (at least) John Locke's 2nd Treatise, a few biographies on the founding fathers (Hamilton, Sam Adams, John Adams, Robert Morris), the Federalist Papers, and the wikipedia pages on The Enlightenment, and Montesquieu.
You will also want to know the basics about the Continental Congresses, The Confederation Congress, and the Constitutional convention. A a very small amount of knowledge concerning the British Constitution would be helpful as well (Magna Charta, Petition of Right, English Bill of Rights-Glorious Revolution, Pariament-house of commons and house of Lords, Monarchy).
Seriously, do some reading before your read this book. It is well worth it.
This is a complex history. First, the American colonists had to find common ground, across thirteen very different colonies, to fight a grueling, draining war against the vast power of Great Britain. Common ground was not easily found but it was imperative to bind these colonies together into an increasingly potent fighting force. This is a long, winding story and Wood is able to remain focused on the methods used to calm differences, to continue the battle despite huge early losses, and eventually to erode the power of the British and Hessian forces and ultimately to force them into an inextricable corner at Yorktown in 1781.
By then, the differences in outlook, culture, social structure, economy and goals between the Southern states, led by Virginia, and the northern states, led by New York and Massachusetts, became glaring. It was with this cargo that representatives of the former colonies, all 13 of them, spent three months in Philadelphia during the boiling hot summer of 1787. This is the centerpiece of Wood’s history.
We are led through extensive discussions of the balance of power between the legislative, executive and legal branches of government. We are introduced to competing visions of American government from Federalists, typified by John Adams, and Republicans (not to be confused with today’s Republican party), led by Thomas Jefferson and his fellow Virginian, James Madison. The result of these complex arguments is the initial construction of how our American society works, how the executive, legislative and judicial branches of our government are balanced and how they produced a society that works and has worked for over 230 years, remarkably free from any further editing, with the exception of 27 amendments.
This is tough, complicated history but it is worth it. The early days of our country have never had such relevance to today. We are all grappling with understanding the values that have glued this country together and with remembering how we have been the example of sound government for the many countries of the world.