James Morone

James Morone is a professor of politics at Brown University and the author of Hellfire Nation: The Politics of Sin in American History. His next book will be George Washington’s Revenge.

A mob of divided, disgruntled Democrats packed the Chicago Coliseum in July 1896 as William Jennings Bryan rose to the platform and delivered a roaring speech – still the speech for part of the American left – about an economic chimera. Bryan demanded that the United States peg its currency not to gold but to silver – the equivalent of treating cancer with grape seeds. No...

Many Americans celebrate national holidays by mobbing megastores at dawn, pushing aside the slow-footed and grabbing the $39 computers, while TV crews film the spectacle and warn the indolent that they’d ‘better get down here before it’s all gone’. The image of shoppers sending one another to hospital catches the spirit of these two books. Both address the question of the moment: has the American republic turned into an empire? And if so, should we cheer, lament or simply get on with imperial business?

In 1629, King Charles I granted the Massachusetts Bay Company a standard commercial charter containing a clerical slip that changed the world. The document charged the stockholders with duly electing a board of management – a governor and 18 assistants – and holding them to account at quarterly meetings. However, crown officials failed to specify where the company headquarters...

American conservatives are fond of jeremiads. Everywhere they look, they see flabby morals and flagging virtue. Children? We used to punish them for whispering in class, now they come to school with guns. Families? No one wants to get married any more, except the gays. Government? Never so bloated and corrupt. Our allies? Never so pusillanimous or venal. It’s quite a trick to seize...

Some aspects of the American political system can seem opaque and mysterious to the outsider. In particular, the Constitution, which British journalists regularly confuse with the Declaration of...

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