Review Essay NANCY ISENBERG Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 17891815. By Gordon S. Wood. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Pp. 778. Cloth, $35.00.) This Violent Empire: The Birth of an American National Identity. By Carroll Smith-Rosenberg. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010. Pp. 484. Cloth, $45.00.) To read these books side by side, one would imagine the authors are writing about two completely different countries. In a way, they are. Wood's Empire of Liberty, its heft surpassing most textbooks, promises to synthesize the literature of the period 17891815. It is actually a reprise of his 1992 The Radicalism of the American Revolution, though the tone has become preachier in trumpeting the American dream. Wood's narrative is a morality play; his voice blends seamlessly with the overwrought writers of the early republic whom he quotes, exuberant rhetoricians who saw their ``rising empire'' as a new Elysium, a magical place where compassion, virtue, and belief in equality were omnipresent. His ``empire of liberty'' is a cultural utopia where the most optimistic effusions of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine somehow reflect what Americans ``everywhere'' (a recurrent word in this book) actually believed. There are
Journal of the Early Republic – University of Pennsylvania Press
Published: May 5, 2012
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