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Publisher's Summary

From a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, the powerful story of a fragile nation as it expands across a contested continent.  

In this beautifully written history of America’s formative period, a preeminent historian upends the traditional story of a young nation confidently marching to its continent-spanning destiny. The newly constituted United States actually emerged as a fragile, internally divided union of states contending still with European empires and other independent republics on the North American continent. Native peoples sought to defend their homelands from the flood of American settlers through strategic alliances with the other continental powers. The system of American slavery grew increasingly powerful and expansive, its vigorous internal trade in Black Americans separating parents and children, husbands and wives. Bitter party divisions pitted elites favoring strong government against those, like Andrew Jackson, espousing a democratic populism for white men. Violence was both routine and organized: The United States invaded Canada, Florida, Texas, and much of Mexico, and forcibly removed most of the Native peoples living east of the Mississippi. At the end of the period, the United States, its conquered territory reaching the Pacific, remained internally divided, with sectional animosities over slavery growing more intense.

Taylor’s elegant history of this tumultuous period offers indelible miniatures of key characters from Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Margaret Fuller. It captures the high-stakes political drama as Jackson and Adams, Clay, Calhoun, and Webster contend over slavery, the economy, Indian removal, and national expansion. A ground-level account of American industrialization conveys the everyday lives of factory workers and immigrant families. And the immersive narrative puts us on the streets of Port-au-Prince, Mexico City, Quebec, and the Cherokee capital, New Echota. Absorbing and chilling, American Republics illuminates the continuities between our own social and political divisions and the events of this formative period.

©2021 Alan Taylor (P)2021 Recorded Books Inc.

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 08-07-2021

Disjointed, uneven, and unpersuasive.

A disjointed and uneven look at American secessionist movements that unpersuasively finds white supremacy around every corner.

Alan Taylor has won two Pullitzer Prizes for his work on William Cooper (father of James Fenimore Cooper) and his history of slavery in colonial Virginia. He should not win one for this book.

American Republics almost has a premise. To the extent there's a thesis here, it's that the new American nation wasn't as united as it purported to be and this caused many groups to attempt to split off from the country and form their own republics/ states/ communities.

What could have been a very intriguing history of American secession (there are TONS of examples) instead becomes an inconsistent and VERY general history of the United States up to 1850.

The book also claims to be a "Continental" history of the United States which in practice means we get some extended sections on Canadian and Mexican politics and their examples of internal secessionist groups. This is a highlight of the book simply because it's novel.

Otherwise, Taylor provides neither a comprehensive (or satisfying) history of the US nor a history of secession in the US. He covers Shay's Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, Mormons, Gabriel Prossers' slave revolt, and early American Indian wars/removal among others.

While each is presented reasonably well, there's little connective narrative tissue here so the choices feel haphazard. Taylor tries, and fails, to tie every breakaway group/ movement to race essentialism or white supremacy but is rarely persuasive. Most of the examples he gives had motivating factors far more significant than then-contemporary racist notions or the protection of slavery. Yet because it's easy to find Americans in the early republic making racist statements, that becomes the raison d'etre for any subsequent behavior. It is unconvincing and unpersuasive.

What could have been a really solid history of American expansionism or secession instead is brought low by glib assertions of white supremacy at every turn.

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  • Tascha F.
  • 26-06-2021

Helps the dots of history to today.

Alan Taylor, in his dedication to helping us understand our own origins as a nation, is one of the most patriotic historians we will ever have. The greatest threat to any nation, religion, or even relationship occurs when people and movements try to advance a destructive, selfish agenda under the false flag of a shared, cherished principle such as freedom, equality, or even religious faith. While we may not agree as to who are the current bearers of the false flags, this dynamic is something every American would probably agree threatens society today. In a fast-moving, engaging style, Taylor logically lays out how false flags were sewn, raised, and waved in the time period this book covers to justify slavery and dispossession of native lands. This is hardly an attack on the people of America as he quotes countless people -white, black, and native- who speak out against those waving the false flags.

The book explains so much of the period, step by step. Taylor shows how that fear that if Britain and France were left to control territory on the continent, they could destroy the union. This fueled Americans rush to dispossess Indians of their lands. Similarly, people feared that if all the land were not under American control in the hands of slave states or states with fugitive slave laws, slaves could escape and then help others to revolt against whites and escape. You see that Manifest Destiny in its time was not so much a visionary prediction as a defensive position. You will learn about black and white abolitionists and about white people opposed slavery in the west, not because they were moral, but simply because they feared the power of the large plantation owner to control the wealth in the way corporations can today. Over and over again, you see where the stated reasons for slavery and the violent dispossession of land were cloaked as “freedom to have property” or “saving the savages”. Again, the author makes the case by using the words of the many moral Americans who wrote and spoke against the hypocrisy and brutality within the time period. He reveals the threats to liberty and justice for all by using the words of people who spoke up on behalf of those principals.

You learn about how urbanization and the separation from the workers and owners unfolded, the beginnings of the Mormons, how Andrew Jackson came to be Andrew Jackson and how he created a coalition of working people and how that coalition later falls apart. You will see how land was taken from Native Americans through pseudo-legal means. He covers the Southwest, including how the ranchos were created from the missions, how white people from the East and from Europe came to obtain these ranchos. There is the birth of the different Texases, California, and Oregon. The unfolding of the Mexican-American War, and the lead-up to the Civil War. If you want a handle on this time period, presented in a very cause and effect way, this book is an excellent overview that will foster many questions and much further reading in your mind. Read it! It’s a great book that will give you a much clearer understanding of the past and better ability to explain to yourself and others how we got here. It’s an informative and a super easy read/listen.

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  • Kyle
  • 25-08-2021

not much to add over Taylor's other work

very disappointing given Taylor's other great works. i would not recommend. first negative review I've ever feft obliged to leave for an audio book.

In short, read his other fantastic works.

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  • Aaron D. Dunn
  • 17-07-2021

Excellent and depressing history of the US

A wonderful and eyes-open portrayal of American history - the rot of the root of racism in the United States is starkly outlined. It gives me pause to realize that we owe our national borders and current political divide to a disgusting history of mob violence and slavery, so opposed to the ideal of democratic republicanism. May we outgrow this cancer in our Republic.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 25-05-2021

All together now and it works

I missed Republics in the plural and so I was surprised that American Republics dealt with, not just the USA, but also Mexico and Haiti and (that famous republic) Canada too. Surprised, and a bit wary - I mean, who wants to read about Canadian history? However, Alan Taylor gets the balance just right - mainly the USA, but set in a sensible geographical and historical context - this book just works - an eye-opener for me. It is a bit slow to begin with but it soon hits its stride and when we get to the horrific history of the way 'Americans' treated enslaved Americans and Native Americans it was astounding to see how everyone else behaved with more humanity than Americans. It would be difficult to imagine how anybody could have behaved worse. And I love America in spite of the behaviour of some Americans then and, sadly, now. Well done Alan Taylor.
Adam Ardrey

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