Book Review: Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 by Gordon S. Wood

Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 by Gordon S. Wood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A few books ago, I read The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 by Robert Middlekauff; I enjoyed it so much that I decided to continue reading the other books in the Oxford History of the United States series. Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 by Gordon S. Wood did not disappoint. It’s a long book that covers a short, but intense period of United States History. From the time the U.S. Constitution took effect to the end of the War of 1812 saw a massive amount of change and political discord. Wood covers it all; exploring the political and economic changes the country underwent and how our relations with other countries transformed. He looks at how the War of 1812 came to be and how it changed the country. He also explores the societal and cultural changes the country underwent, explaining how our character as a people changed. He discusses how the schism between north and south, slave and non-slave states came to be and shows how the stage for Civil War began to be set.

At 797 pages, it is indeed a long read, but it is an engaging and interesting one. You wouldn’t think you could get almost 800 pages from such a short period of History, but Wood does and does it without getting into tedious details. He gets into the personalities of both well known and lesser known figures; his insights into Jefferson, in particular, were something I really enjoyed about the book. The book is well documented and has an extensive bibliography for further reading and exploring his sources. Empire of Liberty is a book that anyone interested in US History should read because it’s a deep dive into an important, transformative period in our History and explains how we became who we are, how we developed our national character. The decision to rate Empire of Liberty five stars was an easy one and I heartily recommend it.

I think that Empire of Liberty also has lessons for the present. You can see shades of today in the sometimes personal struggle between the Federalists and Republicans and in the lack of willingness to compromise. We can see parallels with today in the trade policies that helped bring about the War of 1812. We can reflect on these and apply the lessons to today, hopefully avoiding the traps of the past.

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