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Here is my second critical review for HIUS 911 Comprehensive Examination and Readings in Early America,

Wood, Gordon S., The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787. Chapel Hill ; London: Omohundro Institute and University of North Carolina Press., 1998.

Wood suggests, Americans during the Revolutionary war era, were not an oppressed people; they had no crushing imperial shackles to throw off, therefore, the Revolutionary war was a transformation of political culture and not the action of subjugated persons revolting against a tyrant (3). He indicated, this was a struggle of social and political control for the new country between Federalist vs. non-Federalist, Aristocracy vs. Democracy(485).

Moreover, Wood suggested the revolutionary movement was initially spurred on by leaders who wanted the new government free of the king’s power and unjust taxation. In the eyes of the early agitators the new government would be a society based on their visions and desires for a Greek and Roman style of government, a type of utopia; based on the nostalgic image of the Roman Republic. This vision became an emblem of their aspirations for the future government, along with illustrating their discontent with the King and British parliament (53). This anticipated Shangri-La was to be administered by educated and cultivated gentleman, via an existing social hierarchy of society’s elite members, many of them Tories (480).

Wood explained, not all Revolutionary leaders believed in or wanted this fanciful concept. The Whigs, he remarked, lampooned social pretension and distinction. Moreover, the notion of elite representation became ostracized by the war’s end (691). This turn of events, a transition, pushed forth the principles for an independent nation, from the elite dream of governmental control through a hierarchical utopia, to one of self-governing by the people. This by the people, self-rule, was indicative in the belief that every day, common persons were the best embodiment of fair government. A government that would hear and meet the needs of its people. This socio-political struggle between Federalist vs. non-Federalist could further be seen in 1787-88, during the drafting of the Constitution (485).

Moreover, Wood related, the Constitution was intrinsically an aristocratic document, a tool created by the elite to retain some of their powers (513). Moreover, Wood claims, the debate over the ways to properly govern the new nation was “extremely unequal” as the Federalists had much better resources than their opponents, thus influencing the way many of the new Constitutional laws were drafted (485).

To support his argument, Wood fashioned his book into six parts. The first sections deal with the 1770’s debates over state constitutions, indicating this period had more ideological interest than in the rest of the book. By the 1780’s a metamorphosis was occurring in the new country’s political thinking on how it should be governed and by whom. The first parts dive into the Whigs and their pre-Revolutionary history, from colonial opposition, its involvement in state constitutions, as well as their role in the Federal Constitution. Part Two looks at the Restructuring of Power, the forming of a new government and the law makers lack of understanding on what judicial independence really meant. Part Three tackles who controls the power of lawmaking, indicating the will of the people should have the ultimate say in the creation of the laws governing them. Part Four, Critical Period, looks deeper into political restructuring. Part Five portrays the Constitution as the vehicle between popular rule -democratic and the aristocratic -Federalist; a purposely devised doctrine, created to check the democratic tendencies of the Antifederalist. The final chapter looks at the influence of John Adams, as well as how the Whig’s political thinking changed during and after the war.

Wood’s book discusses much about the essence of creating a new political system, as well as telling a great deal about the philosophies of the men and the social-cultural upheaval the new political system caused. John R. Howe, Jr. stated, There is a grandness of vision about this book, a grasp of the whole Revolutionary and constitutional era that few if any other volumes can match.[1] E. James Ferguson, expressed, this is an outstanding book, one that every scholar will have to read.[2] While Robert E. Brown believed, Wood builds his thesis on an elitist rather than on a democratic society, and his history maybe faulty, but his discussions of political theory and political practices are well worth reading.[3]

Wood’s book is informative on the early political measures used to create this country’s government. He indicated the Whigs did not want the aristocracy, i.e., Federalist, the elite to be in power, as they had been. Unfortunately, this book on socio-political struggles against the elite, has only one voice, that of the elite. Most of Wood’s primary sources are from educated men, e.g. lawyers and government ministers. By doing this, Wood limits who is represented within the power struggle, he does not include any religious beliefs, nor does he incorporate the voice of the common man. Despite this, the book is worth reading as it brings to light the political thought and struggles during the early years of this Republic.

  1. Howe, John R. “Reviewed Work: The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 by Gordon S. Wood. ”In The Journal of Southern History 36, no. 1 (1970), 89-92.
  2. Ferguson, E. James. “Reviewed Work: The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787, by Gordon S. Wood”, in Political Science Quarterly, vol. 86, no. 4 (1971), 690–693.
  3. Brown, Robert E. “Reviewed Work: The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 by Gordon S. Wood. “ In The American Historical Review 75, no, 3 (1970), 919-20.