The best books on the USA in its formative years (1789-1845)

Who are we?

We have been researching and writing about the Early Republic since graduate school and began collaborating on the period with our first co-authored book, Old Hickory’s War: Andrew Jackson and the Quest for Empire. Though we have occasionally ventured beyond the enthralling events that occurred during those years, mainly by editing books on the Civil War and other topics, we always return to them with relish. We hope you will find the books on our list entertaining as well as informative, thus to whet your appetite for the sumptuous banquet that awaits!


We wrote...

Henry Clay: The Essential American

By David S. Heidler, Jeanne T. Heidler,

Book cover of Henry Clay: The Essential American

What is our book about?

He was the Great Compromiser, a canny and colorful legislator whose life mirrors the story of America from its founding until the eve of the Civil War. Speaker of the House, senator, secretary of state, five-time presidential candidate, and idol to the young Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay is captured in full at last in this rich and sweeping biography.

The authors reveal Clay’s tumultuous career in Washington, including his participation in the deadlocked election of 1824 that haunted him for the rest of his career, and shine new light on Clay’s marriage to plain, wealthy Lucretia Hart, a union that lasted fifty-three years and produced eleven children. Featuring an inimitable supporting cast including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay is beautifully written and replete with fresh anecdotes and insights. 

The books we picked & why

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What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848

By Daniel Walker Howe,

Book cover of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848

Why this book?

A preeminent scholar of the period, Daniel Walker Howe brings his unique humor, insight, and compelling narrative style to the definitive book on the era. This Pulitzer Prize winning volume from the Oxford History of the United States series combines excellent scholarship with delightful storytelling (beginning with the title) to bring the Early Republic alive.

What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848

By Daniel Walker Howe,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked What Hath God Wrought as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Oxford History of the United States is by far the most respected multi-volume history of our nation. In this prize-winning, critically acclaimed addition to the series, historian Daniel Walker Howe illuminates the period from the battle of New Orleans to the end of the Mexican-American War, an era when the United States expanded to the Pacific and won control over the richest part of the North American continent. Howe's panoramic narrative portrays revolutionary
improvements in transportation and communications that accelerated the extension of the American empire. Railroads, canals, newspapers, and the telegraph dramatically lowered travel times and spurred the…


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

By Gordon S. Wood,

Book cover of Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815

Why this book?

Gordon Wood is the foremost authority on the American Revolution and the Founding. In his contribution to the Oxford History of the United States series, he provides a masterful introduction to the history of the Early Republic. Prodigious research and profound insights deriving from it will enlighten readers for generations.

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

By Gordon S. Wood,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Empire of Liberty as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Oxford History of the United States is by far the most respected multi-volume history of the USA. The series includes three Pulitzer Prize winners, two New York Times bestsellers, and winners of the Bancroft and Parkman Prizes. Now, in the newest volume in the series, one of America's most esteemed historians, Gordon S. Wood, offers a brilliant account of the early American Republic, ranging from 1789 and the beginning of the national government to the
end of the War of 1812.
As Wood reveals, the period was marked by tumultuous change in all aspects of American life-in politics, society,…


Prelude to Civil War

By William W. Freehling,

Book cover of Prelude to Civil War

Why this book?

Though venerable, Freehling’s book remains the standard treatment of this early episode in America’s convulsive sectional crisis. Informed by impeccable research, Freehling depicts the growing tension that pitted hardline states’ rights advocates against resolute nationalists, almost to cause a civil war three decades before it finally happened. Vivid portrayals abound with numerous characters, including the volatile Andrew Jackson and the doctrinaire John C. Calhoun, brought to life in a gemstone of the narrative art.

Prelude to Civil War

By William W. Freehling,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Prelude to Civil War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When William Freehling's Prelude to Civil War first appeared in 1965 it was immediately hailed as a brilliant study of the origins of the American Civil War. Three decades later, its importance remains undiminished and is still considered one of the most significant studies in its field. This vivid description of a society on the brink powerfully conveys the combustive social elements of the Old South, as well as the political manoeuvring and combative
personalities that finally ensured secession and war, and insists upon the central importance of the South's `peculiar institution' in understanding the roots of the Civil War.


The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War

By Michael F. Holt,

Book cover of The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War

Why this book?

A lifetime of research on and writing about the latter span of America’s formative years yield Michael Holt’s masterpiece, a detailed, lively look at the resurgence of federalist philosophy and its consequences. In a fascinating exposition, Holt fashions something resembling Shakespearean tragedy wherein the most well-intentioned politicians cannot stem the tide of sectionalism.

The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War

By Michael F. Holt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The political home of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Horace Greeley, and the young Abraham Lincoln, the American Whig Party was involved at every level of American politics-local, state, and federal-in the years before the Civil War, and controlled the White House for eight of the twenty-two years that it existed. Now, in The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, Michael F. Holt gives us the only comprehensive history of the Whigs ever written-a
monumental history covering in rich detail the American political landscape from the Age of Jackson to impending disunion.
In Michael Holt's hands, the history of…


The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788 - 1800

By Stanley Elkins, Eric McKitrick,

Book cover of The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788 - 1800

Why this book?

Exhaustively researched, this books illuminates the brief time in early U.S. history when Federalism dominated American politics. It remains the standard source on the Federalists’ political philosophy, the understanding of which is crucial to comprehending everything political that follows it.

The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788 - 1800

By Stanley Elkins, Eric McKitrick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Age of Federalism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Thomas Jefferson took the oath of office for the presidency in 1801, America had just passed through twelve critical years, years dominated by some of the towering figures of our history and by the challenge of having to do everything for the first time. Washington, Hamilton, Madison, Adams, and Jefferson himself each had a share in shaping that remarkable era--an era that is brilliantly captured in The Age of Federalism. Written by
esteemed historians Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism gives us a reflective, deeply informed analytical survey of this extraordinary period. Ranging over the widest…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in politics, South Carolina, and the economy?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about politics, South Carolina, and the economy.

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Andrew Jackson, Vindicating Andrew Jackson, and Young Hickory if you like this list.