In This Review

Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815
Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815
By Gordon S. Wood
Oxford University Press, 2009, 800 pp

No one is more qualified to write a history of this vital period in the rise of the United States than Wood, and Empire of Liberty shows him at his best. Undergraduates and bright high school students will find it accessible and inviting; lifelong scholars of the period will be challenged and engaged. Integrating intellectual and political history is one of Wood's great strengths, and this work gives ample scope to his distinctive talent. His discussion of the conflict over federal finances and of the Jeffersonians' fear that the Hamiltonians would bring back the British system of executive control (through the expansion of the government and the creation of a large public debt) is as clear and as thorough a treatment of this seminal episode as possible. This period saw some of the strangest and most radical policies ever adopted by the U.S. government -- especially President Thomas Jefferson's 1807 embargo, which cut off U.S. trade with Europe. Wood helps readers understand how such outlandish steps seemed necessary and practical to brilliant and experienced leaders. The book is a tour de force of scholarship and a gripping read.