Power and Liberty: Constitutionalism in the American Revolution

Gordon S. Wood. Oxford Univ, $24.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-19-754691-8
Pulitzer winner Wood (Friends Divided) surveys the “politics and constitution-making” of the Revolutionary era in this astute if somewhat familiar history based on a series of lectures he gave at Northwestern University in 2019. Discussing the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, and other foundational documents, Wood finds that the revolution was much more “radical” than many of the Founders anticipated, because it released the “aspirations and interests” of thousands of “middling, commercially minded people.” He also claims that revolutionary rhetoric, which cast dependence on England as a form of enslavement, contributed to a rapid decline in indentured white servitude, which in turn made Black slavery “more conspicuous than it had been before,” and put American slave owners on the defensive for the first time. Though 19th-century abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison labeled the Constitution “a covenant with death,” he had little understanding of the circumstances in which it was written, according to Wood, who credits the emancipation of slaves in Northern states after the revolution with setting the stage for the abolition of slavery in “the whole of the New World.” Wood has made these arguments before, but they’re restated lucidly and concisely here. The result is a welcome distillation of an influential career. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 06/18/2021
Release date: 09/01/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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