Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (Oxford History of the United States)
Gordon S. Wood
Oxford University Press, 2009
800 pp., $39.95
But perhaps the complaints I have offered about the limits, simplifications, and ironies of Wood's book are, in the end, only another form of compliment. Wood has traced the main political stories of the new American nation with such commanding skill and such interpretive wisdom that at least some readers will long for that same historical brilliance to shine on all aspects of life in "the Early Republic, 1789-1815." If that Olympian goal in the end eludes Gordon Wood, it is more an indication of the fearsome complexity of the period than a complaint about the work of one of the nation's truly great historians.
Mark Noll is Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. Among his books are America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (Oxford Univ. Press) and The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith, recently published by InterVarsity Press.
1. For outstanding examples of writing in those three modes, see "Conspiracy and the Paranoid Style: Causality and Deceit in the Eighteenth Century," William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 39 (1982), pp. 401-41; The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin (The Penguin Press, 2004); and a great number of luminous review essays in the New York Review of Books.
2. The following echoes an argument expanded in my book America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (Oxford Univ. Press, 2002), pp. 187-94.
3. Daniel Walker Howe, "Religion and Politics in the Antebellum North," in Religion and American Politics from the Colonial Period to the 1980s, ed. Mark A. Noll and Luke E. Harlow (Oxford Univ. Press, 2007), p. 136.
4. John Wigger, American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists (Oxford Univ. Press, 2009).
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