The American Revolutionary Tradition and the World, or Why America Has Wanted to Spread Democracy Everywhere

Seminar Center for Global Humanities Lecture/Seminar Series

Gordon S. Wood

Alva O. Way University Professor Emeritus, Brown University

From the very beginning of its history the United States has sought to spread republicanism or democracy around the world. The American Revolutionaries believed that their new nation was in the vanguard of history and had a responsibility to spread its form of government wherever they could, not by sending troops but by example and diplomatic pressure. Throughout the nineteenth century the United States was usually the first nation in the world to recognize new democratic regimes that attempted to throw off monarchy, beginning with the French Revolution and continuing with the colonial rebellions in South America and the many abortive European revolutions of 1848. This Revolutionary tradition was challenged by the Communist revolution in Russia in 1917. Since then the United States role in the world has never been quite the same.


Gordon S. Wood is Alva O. Way University Professor Emeritus at Brown University. He received his B.A. degree from Tufts University and his Ph.D. from Harvard University. He taught at Harvard University and the University of Michigan before joining the faculty at Brown in 1969. He is the author of many works, including The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (Chapel Hill, 1969), which won the Bancroft Prize and the John H. Dunning Prize in 1970, and The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York, 1992), which won the Pulitzer Prize for History and the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize in 1993. The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin was awarded the Julia Ward Howe Prize by the Boston Authors Club in 2005. His book Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different was published in 2006, and The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History was published in 2008. In October 2010 he published a volume in the Oxford History of the United States titled Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815. Professor Wood is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

Assigned Reading

Gordon S. Wood, Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders So Different (Penguin, 2006)


A reception will be held at 5pm at the UNE Art Gallery


Center for Global Humanities


(207) 221-4335

6:00 PM
WCHP Lecture Hall

Portland Campus

Free and open to the public