With the revolution for freedom and democracy sweeping the Middle East, I can think of no better backdrop to recommend Empire of Liberty by Pulitzer Prize Historian Gordon S. Wood. The work is part of the Oxford Series on American History and covers the period 1787 through the War of 1812.
This scholarly book traces the evolution of the American Republic from the end of the Revolutionary War into the great debates over the writing and ratification of the United States Constitution including the paradox of slavery, states rights, foreign influence and the very nature of the presidency.
What quickly becomes evident is the enormity of the issues surrounding establishing a society and government free from the old ways of European monarchies. Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton play leading roles in establishing a workable, permanent and cohesive national government replacing the looseness of the Articles of Confederation.
Wood carefully brings alive individual contributions and the give and take, often antagonistic, to reach compromise. Jefferson and Madison are Wood’s central figures with the contributions of John Adams in my view somewhat marginalized. Adams has his day in the sunshine in David McCulloch’s biography, John Adams.
The more background the reader has in American history the easier the immersion into Empire of Liberty but that should not dissuade anyone with a love of our country’s history from tackling this landmark work. Despite the depth of the subject Wood has made his book an enjoyable journey and there is a clear and logical roadmap for the reader. Yes, Empire of Liberty is a good read!