Historian: Gordon Wood

gordon wood

Gordon Wood

Name: Gordon Wood

Lived: 1933-

Nationality: American

Profession: Historian, academic (Brown University, Massachusetts)

Books: The Radicalism of the American Revolution, The Creation of the American Republic, The American Revolution: a History

Perspective: Neo-Whig

Gordon Wood is one of the pre-eminent American Revolution historians of this era. Born in Concord, near the scene of the revolution’s first battle, Wood studied under Bernard Bailyn at Harvard before graduating with a PhD in 1964. Since then he has served as an academic at several notable universities, currently holding an emeritus professorship at Brown University in Rhode Island. Wood has penned several works on the Revolution or the early years of the Republic. In 1993 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his book The Radicalism of the American Revolution.

As this book title suggests, Wood’s core position is that the American Revolution was indeed a radical, society-changing event – a position that distinguishes him from conservative historians like Daniel Boorstin. Wood does examine significant political and revolutionary events, but his work constantly returns to New World and Enlightenment ideas, including equality, egalitarianism, American exceptionalism and progressive ideas that enjoyed a degree of consensus. Wood suggests that the transformations in America lacked the class tension of other revolutions because they were widely shared; most Americans wanted a new society based on equality, merit, industry, commerce and entrepreneurship. With regard to the Constitution and its framers, Wood takes a slightly similar view to that of Charles Beard, suggesting that they were more conservative than radical.


“The Revolution released and intensified forces that helped create in America a society unlike any that had existed before. Democracy and equality were no longer issues to be debated; they had become articles of faith to be fulfilled. [Americans were] filled with the sense of great possibilities that lay before them.”


“The vision of the revolutionary leaders is breathtaking. As hard-headed and practical as they were, they knew that by becoming republican they were expressing a utopian hope for a new moral and social order led by enlightened and virtuous men. Their dreams and eventual disappointments make them the most extraordinary generation of political leaders in American history.”


“The Federalists were not men of the future after all. . . . it was the Anti-Federalists who really saw best and farthest. If either side in the conflict over the Constitution stood for modernity, perhaps it was the Anti-Federalists. They, and not the Federalists, may have been the real harbingers of the moral and political world we know–the liberal, democratic, commercially advanced world of individual pursuits of happiness.”


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