You are alone. You are exhausted, bruised and battered. You have no real friends and you are surrounded by enemies. You have no money to pay your bills, and you have scarcely the means to defend yourself. You have no sure way put your house in order, but you have built this house in a vast wilderness of mountains, rivers, forests, jungle, and desert.
In 1781, at the moment of the British surrender at Yorktown, this was the position of the United States of America. Victory in the Revolutionary War did not guarantee lasting glory; freedom did not mean safety. One false step and this ambitious experiment in republican government would fail forever. So just how, not even fifty years later, had the United States become the undisputed master of North American and the self-proclaimed guardian of the western hemisphere? An Independent Empire tells that tale.
The transformation of a string of rebellious colonies along the eastern seaboard into a military superpower is the most remarkable story of modern political history. Yet this rapid ascension was not the manifest destiny of the United States. there was nothing naturally ‘great’ about the new republic.
Time and time again, the early United States came close to disaster. What if Benjamin Franklin hadn’t brought the French into the Revolutionary War? What if the Federalists hadn’t forced through a constitution that could bind thirteen states – none of which especially liked each other – into a functioning union? What if ‘Mad’ Anthony Wayne had started a war with the British in Ohio in 1794? Or if the British had re-taken New Orleans in 1815?
The Founding Fathers and the generation after – Monroe, Adams, Clay, and Jackson – had no safety net. This was a time when Washington, Adams, Hamilton, and Jefferson played on the global stage. At every turn, they were faced with problems that spelled life-or-death for the United States.
Somehow, the Americans got it right. How did they do it? They asked the right questions about foreign affairs, the military, taxes, and trade. With skill, wisdom, experience, and no little luck, they found the right answers too. This is the story of what made American great, the first time round.