Gordon S. Wood’s “The Idea of America”

May 6, 2011

Gordon Wood has been writing brilliantly on the American Revolutionary era since at least the 1960s, but many of the essays and lectures collected in this volume date from the 1980s on. In “The American Revolutionary Tradition, or Why America Wants to Spread Democracy Around the World,” Wood explains our irrepressible international ambitions by noting that not only have Americans always considered themselves unique for being a self-created nation endowed with an inordinate amount of moral virtue, but that for much of our history the rest of the world ratified that view with their feet: “The migration to the United States between 1820 and 1920 of over thirty-five million refugees from monarchism gave the Americans’ conception of themselves as a chosen people a less divine and more literal meaning and confirmed for them their preeminence as a revolutionary people.”

In another piece, “The Legacy of Rome in the American Revolution,” Wood provides numerous examples of classical iconography in American life, from the domes on the Washington Mall to the dress of one Joseph Warren, who “actually wore a toga while delivering the Boston Massacre oration in 1775.”

Dennis Drabelle

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