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Publisher's Summary

How George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams navigated the nation through four major crises and caused the first stirrings of American nationalism.

Americans like to believe that the Constitution miraculously brought the United States into being, as though the framers established, in one stroke, the nation we know today. Yet when George Washington delivered his First Inaugural Address on April 30, 1789, he expressed worry about the challenges that lay ahead. He was right to be concerned: The existence of the new nation was anything but secure. Without the support of the American people, after all, the Constitution was only a piece of paper.

In A Sovereign People, her brilliant new political history of the 1790s, the acclaimed historian Carol Berkin argues that the young nation would not have survived absent the interventions of the Federalists, above all Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams. In power throughout the decade, they faced four successive crises of sovereignty. The Whiskey Rebellion was a domestic revolt over the right of the federal government to levy taxes. The Genet Affair saw a reckless French diplomat appeal directly to the American people, in opposition to Washington. The XYZ Affair involved foreign threats intended to draw the United States into a European war. The final crisis was self-inflicted, the result of the Federalists' desire to silence their critics in the press, in the form of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

In each instance the Federalists demonstrated the necessity of the federal government established by the Constitution, and by decade's end the American people understood that without an "energetic government", there could be no United States. As Berkin ultimately reveals, while the Revolution freed the states and the Constitution linked them as never before, it was the Federalists who transformed them into an enduring nation.

©2017 Carol Berkin (P)2017 Hachette Audio

Critic Reviews

"Carol Berkin's path-breaking A Sovereign People highlights the way that high Federalists won the hearts and minds, not only of the rich and powerful, but of ordinary people from all walks of life, leading them to look to the nation and the Constitution rather than to the states for the source of their identity. Her astute analysis of four foreign and domestic crises brings the critical decade of the 1790s to life, capturing the tensions, the hopes and the fears of the people charged with creating the basis for a new and as yet untried nation. A tour de force." (Sheila Skemp, Clare Leslie Marquette Professor Emerita of History, University of Mississippi)
"Carol Berkin has written a convincing reinterpretation of the four major crises of the 1790s. This essential book shows that the Whiskey Rebellion, Genet Affair, XYZ Affair, and Alien and Sedition Acts actually helped bind the nation together, increasing support for the government, a sense of American identity, and respect for the Constitution. Everyone interested in the history of this vital decade needs to have her book." (James H. Broussard, director of the Lebanon Valley College Center for Political History)
"In A Sovereign People, Carol Berkin has given us a powerful story about the birth of America - but one that most of us missed in school. After the Declaration and the Revolutionary War and the Constitutional Convention, what then? As Washington says to Hamilton in Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical, 'Winning was easy, young man. Governing's harder.' Just how much harder comes through in Berkin's compelling narrative, as she shows how the newborn republic survived a series of potentially fatal crises in the 1790s and toughened into a viable nation." (James Basker, president, Gilder Lehrman Institute of America)

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