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Among the Powers of the Earth

Among the Powers of the Earth

The American Revolution and the Making of a New World Empire

Eliga H. Gould

ISBN 9780674416949

Publication date: 09/01/2014

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For most Americans, the Revolution’s main achievement is summed up by the phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Yet far from a straightforward attempt to be free of Old World laws and customs, the American founding was also a bid for inclusion in the community of nations as it existed in 1776. America aspired to diplomatic recognition under international law and the authority to become a colonizing power itself.

As Eliga Gould shows in this reappraisal of American history, the Revolution was an international transformation of the first importance. To conform to the public law of Europe’s imperial powers, Americans crafted a union nearly as centralized as the one they had overthrown, endured taxes heavier than any they had faced as British colonists, and remained entangled with European Atlantic empires long after the Revolution ended.

No factor weighed more heavily on Americans than the legally plural Atlantic where they hoped to build their empire. Gould follows the region’s transfiguration from a fluid periphery with its own rules and norms to a place where people of all descriptions were expected to abide by the laws of Western Europe—“civilized” laws that precluded neither slavery nor the dispossession of Native Americans.


  • [Gould’s] shrewd analysis offers a valuable perspective on American history during a formative era… Scholars of European history have long argued for the primacy of foreign affairs in driving state formation and shaping politics. But American observers—scholars and generalists alike—have rarely applied this idea to the history of their own country before 1900. America in its formative stages is usually viewed apart from the international system—as a promised land separated from the rest of the world by two oceans and shaped by its own lofty ideals. But in fact, as Gould shows, America came into its own only by claiming full membership in the community of nations. Gould is right to give greater attention to this neglected theme in American history.

    —William Anthony Hay, Wall Street Journal


  • 2012, Joint winner of the SHEAR Book Prizes


  • Eliga H. Gould is Professor of History at the University of New Hampshire.

Book Details

  • 344 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press