Among the Powers of the Earth: The American Revolution and the Making of a New World Empire.
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Many Americans tend to think of 1776 as the year when the United
States began making history on its own terms. That is simply untrue.
Building on recent scholarship that challenges this assumption is Eliga Gould’s Among the Powers of the Earth: The American Revolution and the Making of a New World Empire (Harvard University Press, 2012). Gould
seeks to correct this anachronistic tendency by placing the nascent
American state in the context of its time, artfully dissecting the
rhetoric and writing of early American citizens and statesmen. Though
many of the founding fathers wrote and spoke optimistically about the
prospects and goals of the new nation, the success and future of the
nation was far from certain. Gould acknowledges this and deftly couches
such rhetoric in the reality that the only way for the United States to
achieve these goals was to “conform to European norms and expectations.”
That the Americans were trying to establish themselves as a nation
among other nations, he contends, was no minor consideration. It was a
necessity upon which the commercial and political future of the nation
hinged. The founders understood this well, as Gould skillfully showcases
via a scrupulous survey of contemporary sources. Thus, this quest for
legitimacy––what Gould terms “treaty-worthiness”––had a profound
influence on the creation of early American republic.
Placing the American Revolution in an Atlantic context makes this
book a fun and informative read. Departing from the typical narrative of
the thirteen colonies allows Gould to bring in a variety of characters
and stories that do not often appear in traditional histories of the
Revolution––from French Acadians and their forcible removal from Nova
Scotia to African slaves in the Caribbean, maroon communities, and
absentee sugar planters living in London––offering a more
comprehensive view of the Revolution and its meaning across the entire
British Empire. Gould’s masterful command of primary sources and his
adroit ability as an author make this work enjoyable for both students
of history and general readers alike.
Listen to a podcast with Gould here.