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Peace Pact

The Lost World of the American Founding

David C. Hendrickson

New in Paperback: September 2006
xiv, 402 pages, 6-1⁄8 x 9-1⁄4
American Political Thought
Paper ISBN 978-0-7006-1493-6, $24.95


book cover imageThat New England might invade Virginia is inconceivable today. But interstate rivalries and the possibility of intersectional war loomed large in the thinking of the Framers who convened in Philadelphia in 1787 to put on paper the ideas that would bind the federal union together.

At the end of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin rejoiced that the document would “astonish our enemies, who are waiting to hear with confidence . . . that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another’s throats.”

Usually dismissed as hyperbole, this and similar remarks by other Founders help us to understand the core concerns that shaped their conception of the Union. By reexamining the creation of the federal system of the United States from a perspective that yokes diplomacy with constitutionalism, Hendrickson’s study introduces a new way to think about what is familiar to us.

This groundbreaking book tells the story of how thirteen colonies became independent states and found themselves grappling with the classic problems of international cooperation. The founding generation, Hendrickson argues, developed a sophisticated science of international politics relevant both to the construction of their own union and to the foreign relations of “the several states in the union of the empire.” The centrality of this discourse, he contends, must severely qualify conventional depictions of early American political thought as simply “liberal” or “republican.”

Hendrickson also takes issue with conventional accounts of early American foreign policy as “unilateralist” or “isolationist” and insists that the founding generation belonged to and made distinguished contributions to the constitutional tradition in diplomacy, the antecedent of twentieth-century internationalism. He describes an American system of states riven by deep sectional animosities and powerful loyalties and explains why in such a milieu the creation of a durable union often appeared to be a quixotic enterprise. The book culminates in a consideration of the making of the federal Constitution, here styled as a peace pact or experiment in international cooperation.

Peace Pact is an important book that promises to revolutionize our understanding of the era of revolution and constitution-making. Written in a lucid and accessible style, the book is an excellent introduction to the American founding and its larger significance in American and world history.

“A complex and remarkable book that may well mark an important paradigm shift in early American history. . . . Deftly combining intellectual, constitutional, and diplomatic history, Hendrickson significantly reorients our understanding of the creation of the American republic.”—American Historical Review

“Hendrickson’s masterly work immediately joins Peter S. Onuf and Nicholas G. Onuf’s Federal Union, Modern World: The Law of Nations in an Age of Revolutions as one of the leading attempts to view the making of America in international perspective.”—Journal of American History

“An exemplary contribution to our understanding of the early republic.”—William and Mary Quarterly

“A remarkable book—engaging, learned, and well-written. . . . Highly recommended.”—Choice

“A splendid and important book.”—International History Review

“An extraordinary achievement, a wonderful book that should change the way readers understand the origins of the federal republic. Few scholars have grasped as well as Hendrickson the importance of federalism for the founding and explained its centrality so persuasively. This will, I am convinced, initiate an important paradigm shift in the field.”--Peter Onuf, author of Jefferson’s Empire: The Language of American Nationhood

“Hendrickson’s magnificent study convincingly demonstrates why the origins of the United States should be viewed from a diplomatic as well as a constitutional angle and therefore seen as a ‘peace pact’ that is comparable to the great peace settlements of European history. This is a very important contribution to both international studies and American history.”--Robert Jackson, author of The Global Covenant: Human Conduct in a World of States

DAVID C. HENDRICKSON is professor of political science at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. He is the coauthor of Empire of Liberty: The Statecraft of Thomas Jefferson and The Fall of the First British Empire: Origins of the War of American Independence.


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