Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815 by Gordon S Wood - review by Richard Carwardine

Richard Carwardine

The Eagle Has Taken Off

Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815


Oxford University Press 778pp £25

An allegorical painting, Liberty in the Form of the Goddess of Youth – the work of Edward Savage, one of the early American republic’s most enterprising artists – serves as the dust-cover of this recent addition to the multi-volume Oxford History of the United States. A garlanded figure in a diaphanous gown treads a broken sceptre, a royal garter, and other symbols of monarchy under her foot; she raises a cup to feed a bald eagle, the symbol of the new nation, silhouetted against shafts of bright light. In the background, storms and lightning accompany the expulsion of the British fleet from Boston harbour. Above it all, a Union flag emerges from a break in the clouds, its pole topped with a liberty cap.

Savage’s imaginative creation goes unmentioned in Gordon Wood’s magisterial study of the United States between the ratification of the Federal Constitution and the conclusion of the War of 1812 (the omission being, one supposes, the result of tight production schedules). Yet the choice of image is especially well

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