What is a summary of the book Empire of Liberty?

In Gordon S. Wood's Empire of Liberty, we learn plenty about the first 25 years of the United States of America. Wood tells us about the struggles of creating a "a republic" and how the challenges are greater for a democracy than a monarchy. He goes into detail about America's key figures, from George Washington to Alexander Hamilton. He also unpacks the conflict between America's promotion of liberty and its practice of slavery.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Wood's big, meticulous book, we learn tons about the first 25 years of the United States of America. Wood tells us about Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the other figures central in the creation of America.

Wood details the struggles of building such a large...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

In Wood's big, meticulous book, we learn tons about the first 25 years of the United States of America. Wood tells us about Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the other figures central in the creation of America.

Wood details the struggles of building such a large democracy—or, as he calls it, a "republic." As Wood says,

Republics demanded far more morally from their citizens than monarchies did of their subjects [...] In monarchies each man's desire to do what was right in his own eyes could be restrained by fear or force, by patronage or honor, and by professional standing armies. By contrast, republics had to hold themselves together from the bottom, ultimately, from their citizens' willingness to take up arms to defend their country and to sacrifice their private desires for the sake of the public good.

Wood tells us how the Constitution was an attempt to help unify these fragile, intricate, and desperate parts. Wood calls the Constitution "one of the most creative moments in the History of American politics."

Wood provides vivid details of Washington, Hamilton, Madison, and many other leading figures. For example, did you know that Washington spoke in the third person?

Wood places the formation of the USA within the turmoil caused by the French Revolution and America's ongoing battle with England.

Wood also points out some of the glaring contradictions between America's ideals and its actual policies. As Wood states,

The contradiction between the appeal to liberty and the existence of slavery became obvious to all the Revolutionary leaders.

Wood quotes the English writer Samuel S. Johnson, who wondered,

How is it we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team