by Alan Taylor

The leaders of the American Revolution made three great gambles. First, they sought independence from the powerful British Empire, becoming the first colonies in the Americas to revolt and seek independence from their mother empire. Second, they formed a union of thirteen states, which was also unprecedented, for the colonies had long histories of bickering with one another. Third, the revolutionaries committed their new states to a republic, then a radical and risky form of government. In a republic, the people were the sovereign—rejecting the rule of a monarch and aristocrats. Today we take for granted that governments elected by the people can be stable, long lasting, and effective. But the Americans in the new nation were not so sure, given the lessons of history. In 1789, the United States was the only large republic in the world; the others were a handful of small city-states scattered in Europe, and none of the larger republics in the history of the world had lasted very long. Like the ancient republic of Rome, they had collapsed and reverted to some form of tyranny, usually by a military dictator.More »