This Violent Empire

The Birth of an American National Identity

By Carroll Smith-Rosenberg

512 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 22 illus., notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-7271-0
    Published: August 2012
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-9591-7
    Published: December 2012
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8517-3
    Published: December 2012

Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press

Buy this Book

To purchase online via an independent bookstore, visit

Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press

Awards & distinctions

A 2011 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

This Violent Empire traces the origins of American violence, racism, and paranoia to the founding moments of the new nation and the initial instability of Americans' national sense of self.

Fusing cultural and political analyses to create a new form of political history, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg explores the ways the founding generation, lacking a common history, governmental infrastructures, and shared culture, solidified their national sense of self by imagining a series of "Others" (African Americans, Native Americans, women, the propertyless) whose differences from European American male founders overshadowed the differences that divided those founders. These "Others," dangerous and polluting, had to be excluded from the European American body politic. Feared, but also desired, they refused to be marginalized, incurring increasingly enraged enactments of their political and social exclusion that shaped our long history of racism, xenophobia, and sexism. Close readings of political rhetoric during the Constitutional debates reveal the genesis of this long history.

About the Author

Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, Mary Frances Berry Collegiate Professor, Emeritus, University of Michigan, is author of numerous books, including Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America.
For more information about Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, visit the Author Page.


"An extraordinarily original analysis. . . . Smith-Rosenberg has unflinchingly constructed a dynamic new paradigm for understanding 'postcolonial' American society. While her work is certainly academic in tone and complex subject matter, its provocative expose of the modern American issues of racism, xenophobia, and sexism makes it essential reading for everyone seriously interested in American history."--Library Journal

"Like any book worth reading, This Violent Empire provides readers plenty to contend with. . . . Let a hundred Carroll Smith-Rosenbergs bloom."--American Historical Review

"This is a big, rich, thoughtful book about an important topic. It should be widely considered among the dozen or so most important books published this year on U.S. history. Mandatory reading for advanced students of American culture. . . . Essential."--Choice

"Does not disappoint. . . . Provides important insights on the dark historical schism between the aspirations of the new republic and its racially violent reality . . . provides a context for critically analyzing the effect of that history on the current political climate."--Journal of American History

"Smith-Rosenberg bases her book on a wide and impressive reading of popular magazines and novels published around the time of the 1787 Constitutional Convention. . . . Takes us on a journey into the darkened mansions that crowded the troubled minds of our founders."--Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"Work[s] to counter the tenacity with which the conventional narrative of American history has for so long been sanitized and distorted. . . . Help[s] us reconsider the peculiar terms of American history."--Indiana Magazine of History