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The Great Upheaval  : The Birth of the Modern World : 1788-1800 - Jay Winik

The Great Upheaval

The Birth of the Modern World : 1788-1800

By: Jay Winik

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It is an era that redefined history. As the 1790s began, a fragile America teetered on the brink of oblivion, Russia towered as a vast imperial power, and France plunged into revolution. But in contrast to the way conventional histories tell it, none of these remarkable events occurred in isolation. Now for the first time, in The Great Upheaval acclaimed historian Jay Winik masterfully illuminates how their fates combined in one extraordinary moment to change the course of civilisation.

In this sweeping, magisterial drama, Winik brings his vast, meticulous research and narrative genius to the cold, dark battlefields and deadly clashes of ideologies that defined this age. Here is a savage world war, the toppling of a great dynasty, and an America struggling to survive at home and abroad.

And here is the richest cast of characters to walk upon the world stage: Washington and Jefferson, Louis XVI and Robespierre, Catherine the Great, Adams, Napoleon, and Selim III. Exquisitely written and utterly compelling, The Great Upheaval vividly depicts an arc of revolutionary fervour stretching from Philadelphia and Paris to St Petersburg and Cairo - with fateful results.

About The Author

JAY Winik is the author of the New York Times bestseller April 1865, which received wide international acclaim. He is a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. A senior scholar of history and public policy at the University of Maryland, he is a member of the governing council of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Winik lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

"The Great Upheaval is great history, vividly told."--Jon Meacham


At the Threshold

He had survived more than seventy summers of wet, fly--infested heat. And more than seventy winters too. He had outlasted infection and epidemics. He was almost as hard a man as the New England stone that marked his fields. He is believed to have once beaten a servant so badly that the man died from the wounds; he fought with his neighbors, even stole from them, and, in his last year of life, failed to defend his wife when she was accused of being a witch.

Barely a month later, he also stood accused. He spent his final summer being moved, in tandem with his wife, from stifling jail to stifling jail, first in Salem, then in Ipswich, then in Boston, and finally back home to Salem again; a single dungeon could not begin to house all of the colony's suspected conjurers. In each town or city, his family had to pay for his food and drink and even the wood for his fires, as well as fees to the jailers. But when it came time for him to answer the charges of witchcraft and be tried before a special court, which ultimately sent nineteen souls to face the noose on a barren slope near Salem Village known as Gallows Hill, he refused.

On the morning of September 17, in 1692, Giles Corey, a landed farmer and recent church member, was stripped naked. The last voluntary act of his life was to lower his quivering flesh to the ground and wait as a wooden board was placed upon his chest. Then, in full view of his neighbors, Salem's sheriff called for rocks to be piled upon the board. A friend of Corey's and even members of the court pleaded with him to agree to a trial. In turn, he pleaded for more weight to bring a speedy end to his suffering. It took two long days for the slow increase of rocks upon the board to crush the breath from his lungs and halt the pulse of blood from his heart. As he lay dying, in a final, painful indignity, the sheriff drew his cane and forced Corey's flaccid tongue back into his mouth.

One of the Salem magistrates, Samuel Sewall, laconically wrote in his diary, "About noon, at Salem, Giles Corey was press'd to death for standing mute."

But Giles Corey's brutal execution was not some aberrant punishment concocted on the fringe of the Europeanized world, where, a mere seventy miles away, Indian war parties were murdering colonial farmers in their fields. No, here in this budding paradise of liberty, Corey died by means of a centuries old, rather conventional European punishment, popularized by Henry IV and named the peine forte et dure, and employed as a standard sentence for those who refused to submit to the state's will. In such ways, big and small, did the hand of the old reach out to touch the new. The waning decades of the seventeenth century remained, for a majority of mankind, the bleakest of times. Kings ruled at the pleasure of the Almighty; all others did what they were told to do. For millions of subjects eking out a meager existence and shackled in ignorance, life was fleeting, dirty, and cheap. Public opinion scarcely existed, even as a meaningful concept, and the weak endured what they must, forcibly grateful for what little they had. Once the sun dipped over the horizon, the world -- or at least the limited world they knew -- was enveloped by a vast swath of darkness. Fires crackled and smoked, precious tallow candles smoldered, but for the most part life paused. And whatever secret dreams they held -- or lingering agonies they grappled with -- were subservient to the bare exigencies of brute survival.

Only half of infants made it past their first year; in the British colonial city of Boston, a quarter of all newborns died before they reached a mere seven days. Middle age was one's thirties and few lived beyond forty. Most were haunted by disease. Throughout much of the century, pestilence was one of the greatest killers -- plagues and epidemics, cholera, smallpox, or microscopic fleas nesting in the coats of rodents, each leaving behind fresh graves. So did an array of mysterious ailments, like the "sweating sickness" that devastated England. Indeed, it is a remarkable fact that in the seventeenth century Europe's population actually declined. Nor was this just due to dark reigns of pestilence. The simplest of infections were perilous. And with depressing regularity failed harvests and famine swept the continent, which only added to death's grisly toll. The years of hunger were terrible: Peasants might be forced to sell all that they owned, and cannibalism was not unknown. There were even tales of starving men who tore hanged bodies from the gallows, frantic to eat the raw flesh while it was still warm. Rampant filth and negligible public sanitation also raised the butcher's bill -- mosquitoes harbored malaria, lice ferried typhus, and heaps of animal dung lured storms of flies in the streets. The New World was hardly better. On top of the same scourges, hunger, bitter cold, and crippling heat, many settlers lived in fear of Indian raids and heard lurid tales of men, women, and children being hacked to death by silent, efficient war parties as unlucky colonists gathered to chat on a porch or checked on a crop in the fields.

On European soil, it was also an age of horrid cruelty. As the historian J. H. Plumb once wrote: "life was cheap." Torture was universally employed for all manner of crimes, from speaking ill of the king to stealing a tradesman's wages or even loaves of bread. Rarely was there mercy. To be sure, one might be hanged, drawn and quartered -- that was simple. But ordinary criminals and political dissidents alike were routinely beheaded, burned, or broken alive on the wheel. Or slowly crushed by the infamous peine forte et dure. Or they were subjected to the rack and the rope. Or the knout. Treason, but not only treason, often yielded more creative methods. Rapists, for one, were castrated. Counterfeiters were punished by pouring molten metal down their throats. Curiously, those speaking ill of the sovereign were, to a point, more fortunate: They simply had their tongues ripped out.

News was scarce, gossip and storytelling supplied most information. And people of all stations believed that their physical world was suffused with the comings and goings of spirit beings. Illness or health, privation or plenty were the work of otherworldly forces. Even some of the century's leading scientific minds were not immune: Men like Francis Bacon believed in witchcraft and the curative power of south--facing windows; Robert Boyle, who initiated the beginnings of modern chemistry, wanted legions of miners to be interviewed about their encounters with subterranean demons; and Sir Isaac Newton devoted more time to his studies of the occult than to the physics principles that won him lasting fame.

Whether one was standing in Salem, Massachusetts, or in Paris on the banks of the river Seine, let alone amid the cold snows of Moscow, the future, as much as anyone could see of it, appeared unchanging and immutable, an era of perpetual illness and barbarism, abduction and subservience, superstition and famine. This was all the more ironic because the day was fast approaching that would yield to an era of teachers and lawgivers, builders and administrators, philosophers and learned men, and enlightened rulers as well. Ironic too because a subtle and powerful new spirit would soon be rising in the world, a mighty political storm of revolution, republicanism, democracy. And ironic because in many ways, more so than at any time in human history, tucked inside a few corners of seventeenth€'-century Europe and especially the New World, there was already an increasingly forward--looking community filled with uncommon radiance and energy. Nowhere was this more evident than in the supreme monarchy of the day.

Between the people and the sovereign a bright line was drawn. The royalty of the age was invested in glory, bathed in mystique, and clothed in magical powers. To be king was not simply to be lord of men, a host of great feasts, but a giver of rings, of gold, of landed estates. It was to be a builder, a warrior, a patron of the arts, and a later--day version of Apollo. It was to be the very embodiment of civilization, answerable only to God, and in one instance, to be civilization itself. Never was this more the case than in France, the forefront of world civilization, where Louis XIV, his most Christian majesty, reigned, and where, in 1682, one of the greatest of palaces in the world -- it was actually a château -- was being finished: Versailles.

His legacy still echoes down the years. Once saluted as "the invisible divinity," he is known both by his royal name of Louis XIV and his adopted sobriquet, the "Sun King." For seventy--two years, he presided over some 19 million subjects, and was alternately referred to as "Louis le Grand," "Le Grand Monarche," and "Le Roi Absolu." And he was the most influential ruler in the world, looming across every facet of European life, politics, diplomacy, and civilization. Few monarchs in any era have approached his undeniable grandeur; Voltaire compared him to the great Roman emperor Augustus. The symbol of absolute monarchy in the classical age, his very presence was designed to overwhelm; his merest gesture became the subject of endless talk. The Sun King claimed dominion over the center of all Europe; it was his France against which the rest of Europe felt obliged to combine and which set the course for a swath of lesser nations, whether it was the future of the Spanish possessions, the independence of the once--mighty Holland, or the survival of England's parliamentary revolution. And this was just the beginning.

France itself was a land of sharp contradictions. With its fertile soil, it was the wealthiest country on the globe, even if millions still lived in appalling poverty. The aristocracy held sway as in no other era, yet there was also a growing middle class: lawyers, office holders, bureaucrats, and merchants. France was a self--sufficient country, yet the French of this century reached out everywhere: trade in India and Madagascar; the founding of Canada -- it was French Canadians along with their Indian allies who tormented the settlers on the wild Massachusetts frontier, sending terrified refugees streaming south to Salem -- and farther west, penetrating the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Valley. They established plantations in the West Indies, expanded ancient French commerce with the Levant, and enlarged the French navy, an act that would one day have unforeseen but immense consequences for America and the world.

France was cultural and intellectual center as well, infused with literary giants, like the tragedists Corneille and Racine and the playwright Molière, who ridiculed the newly rich and the foppish aristocrats. There were Descartes, the towering mathematician and scientific thinker, and Bayle, the father of modern skeptics, and Pascal, the renowned scientist who became a profound spokesman for Christianity. But always there was, at the core, the Sun King himself.

Louis was the third king of the Bourbon line, but the eminence of his majesty flowed from his character: his prodigious pride, his unimpeachable self--assurance, and his overarching ego. He was five feet, nine inches, quite tall for that day, and astoundingly handsome too. His face was pitted from smallpox, but he retained his rich brown eyes and captivating gaze, and delighted in wearing high heels to accent his well--muscled calves. The ultimate effect was a robust and "noble" appearance, which made, as one court diarist noted, others "tremble" in his presence. As he grew older and his locks of sleek chestnut hair thinned, the king donned a wig of long black curls that only added, as an observer confessed, to his "majesty."

Genial and ruthless, he was a king almost from the cradle. His own father, Louis XIII, had died in 1642, when Louis was four. Ruling in his name was his mother, Anne of Austria, and her chief minister, Cardinal Mazarin, the brilliant protégé of the great Cardinal Richelieu. But it was not to be a peaceful regency.

When Louis was just nine, France erupted into revolution, spurred on by discontented nobles and a new rash of stringent government revenue schemes. Known as the Fronde, it was the precursor to the French Revolution: Barricades were thrown up and street fighting broke out in Paris; along with the nobility, Paris's courts also rebelled, seeking to circumscribe the crown. And at the height of this violence, armed bands, led by nobles, roamed the countryside terrorizing the peasants. One night, the boy king himself and his mother were besieged by an angry Paris mob. Surrounded by horrid cries and the crackle of muskets outside his windows, Louis was hastily spirited off to St. Germain, where he spent the night on a bed of straw. It was a frightful moment -- and formative. While the uprising was eventually subdued -- it took five murderous years -- the rebellion made a lasting impression on the Sun King. Scarred by the tumult, he was adamant from then on to be his own man, answerable to no one. And he was equally determined never to be controlled by scheming ministers or thickets of court intrigue, a choice with ominous portents for his heirs to come.

Louis was no great intellect, or so his critics said. But this was deception. True, his formal education was mediocre; true, he was not the wisest man of his time. Neither was he the most gifted. But he always grasped the intricate ingredients of leadership. Overbearing and iron--fisted, with an insatiable appetite for admiration and flattery, he instinctively understood how to gain power, how to magnify power, and ultimately how to embody power itself. He was every inch a king. And after the Fronde and years of religious wars, the bourgeois of France were, unlike the British or later the Americans, eager for a strong monarch. This is what Louis meant to give them.

He ebulliently boasted (or so his enemies said), "Létat, c'est moi" -- "the state is myself," and set about making precisely that happen. In 1668, twelve miles west of Paris, amid the rolling woodlands of the village of Versailles, he decided to build a palace to embody his own personal majesty. That majesty took fourteen years to make flesh. Some 36,000 men toiled, month after month, year after year, on the platforms that wrapped around the building. They struggled in the muck and heat and darkness, laying formal gardens in the long--fallow ground. They chipped and carved away, chisels in hand, fashioning statues of stone and marble. There were the skilled labor, the slave labor, and the imported labor. And there was the death: The mortality rate was appalling. After dusk came the unearthly creak of wagons carting away the dead, bodies crushed by massive stones or broken in violent falls. Deadly bouts of malaria and other maladies also tore through the barracks, but it was of no matter; the work continued. Meanwhile, 6,000 horses dragged timbers or blocks of stone, until in 1682, the king officially moved into the palace.

To all who saw it or heard tell of it, it was a monument to worldly splendor, the marvel of all Europe and the envy of lesser monarchs everywhere. And it was unique, starting with the fact that it had no ramparts, no moats or walls. Such was the overweening confidence of the Sun King that he could bask in his wealth and glory without the most minimal of defenses to protect himself. Even the château's gate was almost never locked.

The original site had been home to a hunting lodge for Louis XIII. That was then. Now the Sun King's Versailles had a facade a full one--fifth of a mile in length -- it was filled with exquisite reception galleries and chambers of state, dance halls and meeting rooms, private suites for the royal family and public rooms for government offices, rows of apartments for the royal guests, alcoves and bustling shops, let alone all that was hidden away from public view, like the ample closets that housed the royal clothing, the kitchens that produced the feasts, and the endless corridors, guardrooms, and hideaways. In decor, it was stunning, from its polished mirrors and rich, gleaming floors, to its magnificent Gobelin tapestries and walls lined with patterned velvet, all overlooking a formal park with fountains and shaded walks. By day, blazing sunlight illuminated great arched ceilings and frescoes of mythological royalty; at night, thousands of candles burned brilliantly in sparkling chandeliers and polished candelabra. And everywhere there was silver: silver chairs, silver tables, silver planting pots, and of course silver table services. Even the giant doors were branded in gold with the symbol of Apollo, a glittering mark of his regal majesty. As if to reinforce this, the great French painter Charles Le Brun himself rendered Louis as God on the vaults of Versailles.

Below the château, the gardens were equally arresting. Where there had once been nothing more than a sandy rise and enveloping woodlands, millions of flowers, bushes, and trees were planted amid emerald swatches of finely clipped hedges and lush green corridors. Terraces gave way to ramps, staircases descended to an intricate display of ponds, lakes, and bubbling fountains, and all were populated by an extravagant menagerie of rare birds, ostriches, and herds of wild animals. On warm spring evenings, indoors and outdoors flowed together in a dazzling array, as the entire court spilled on to the grassy lawns and into the Grand Canal, where a fleet of gondolas awaited. And then there were the orange trees, thousands of them, which the king had imported from as far away as Santo Domingo and which almost miraculously bloomed year round.

One of the most ambitious constructions ever conceived, Versailles rivaled the imperial forums of Rome and the great temple complex at Karnak, Egypt. But it was far more than an unfettered pleasure dome. All across the Continent -- and beyond -- kings, princes, and potentates dreamed of their own royal colossus, instructing their architects and builders to erect palaces worthy of Louis's royal grandeur, down to the imported carpets, the cut crystal, and the filigreed porcelain. So outside Vienna, the Hapsburgs built Schönbrunn; outside Berlin, at Potsdam, Frederick II built Sans Souci; outside Constantinople, the Ottoman sultan built a summer palace, Sa'adabad; and eventually, in St. Petersburg, Tsar Peter the Great built Peterhof. Well into the next century, wealthy planters in the American South modeled their gardens on Versailles, and even the radiating broad boulevards of Washington, D.C., were crafted by a Frenchman in imitation of the Sun King's magnum opus.

And of course, there was the politics. Behind the gilt and gardens, Versailles teemed with political machinations. Far more than a royal residence, Versailles was in many respects the ultimate public building, the instrument for the king to concentrate all power in the hands of the monarchy -- his monarchy -- even as France remained a hodgepodge of competing jurisdictions, special privileges, and bureaucratic ineptitude. Here, under the royal eye, Louis housed the great French nobility, the very classes who had started eleven civil wars over the course of forty years and instigated the dreaded Fronde. As political theater, it was genius. As political strategy, it was ingenious. Away from their lands and estates, absorbed into the ritual of the court, the French aristocracy soon became satellites of the king, rather than his rivals or potential regicides. So Louis lured them to his palace, corrupted them with gambling, exhausted them with dissipation, and seduced them with ritual. Under the Sun King, there would be no repeat of the Fronde.

Thus, at Versailles, and at the Sun King's command, there were no idle hours for plotting or excessive intrigue. Louis was a master of overstatement. Everything unfolded in precise and formalized detail around him. From the moment the sun streamed over the horizon straight into la chambre du roi -- it was no accident that the king's bedroom stood at the exact center of the palace -- his daily routine of rising (lever), of eating (dîner), and of going to bed (coucher) became an infinite series of minutely orchestrated, ceremonial acts. He awoke ("sire, it is time"), was massaged with rosewater, and was shaved and dressed by the most exalted of his subjects -- six of them for this routine alone. So it was that the landed and titled desperately sought the privilege of removing the royal nightshirt, of carrying the royal clothes, and of presenting the chair for his daily "natural functions" or the royal bed for his lovemaking. When he prayed, when he ate, when he grumbled, and when he laughed, as he strode through the palace or sauntered through the parks, a bevy of lords and nobles flowed in his royal wake, with rigid etiquette dictating who could be present, who could speak, who could hold his sleeve ("right" versus "left"), who could share la viande du roi (the king's dinner). And whomever the king chose to be in his presence, the court honored in turn.

Aside from the many feasts, which were themselves immense, and thrice--weekly social evenings, the amusements were endless: There were the tournaments and the tennis matches, the billiard games and the boating parties, and the great balls. And then there were the special occasions: a parade of torchlight suppers in the open air, all--night gambling soirees, and multiday festivals when the entire court dressed up as Persians or Turks, Romans or American Red Indians; Versailles had literally become heaven on earth. Equally titillating was Louis's love life: True, he slipped into his wife's bed twice a month to make love to her. But the rest of the time, as long as she lived -- she died in 1683 -- he was picking a series of lovers: When Louis went to war in 1673, he was accompanied by the queen and two of his mistresses, one of whom was pregnant; while mules carried their vast train of wardrobes, the three ladies rode in the same carriage. Moreover, in matters of politics, Louis was equally willful: He never called the ancient Assembly of Notables or the Estates--General, and he ignored the regional courts. And though it is true that he rarely took action without carefully weighing the advice of his fleet of experts, all major decisions were ultimately made by his eminence: the Sun King at Versailles.

Yet under Louis, France was at its pinnacle, laying claim to the epicenter of the world: Its arts, its courtly manners, its elaborate clothing and elegant speech suffused all of Europe -- French was the language of diplomats and the tongue of the most prominent men of letters; the French navy rivaled Britain's and its army was among the finest on the continent; and it boasted great scientific minds. Of course, few decrees were more commanding than those signed by Rex Christianissimus, "his most Christian majesty": Louis XIV. In his hands, nothing -couldn't be done, nothing couldn't be accomplished, nothing couldn't be dreamed.

But Louis's radiance belies the fact that he was hardly universally loved. While his politeness was without parallel, he was routinely thoughtless, or boorish, or stern, bearing little affection for the common people. His religious beliefs were painfully narrow; he brutally repressed the Protestant Huguenots. He even once decreed that all prostitutes consorting with soldiers within five miles of Versailles should have their noses and ears cut off. And there was the matter of Louis's penchant for armed conflict with his neighbors: To much of the rest of Europe, the Sun King was "a bloodthirsty tiger," a brash Catholic despot.

Indeed, if Versailles were the thunderclap reverberating across Europe, his martial activities were even more earthshaking. Increasing his forces from 100,000 to 400,000, Louis made war a near constant activity of the state. For much of his long reign, he was either at war, preparing for war, or biding his time, and his army soon became the scourge of Europe. He harbored designs against Spain and in 1672 invaded the Dutch provinces; in 1679 his troops infiltrated the dissolving frontiers of the Holy Roman Empire in Alsace and Lorraine; in 1681 his men occupied the city of Strasbourg. Then, in 1683, when the dreaded soldiers of Islam, the Ottoman Turks, moved up the Danube and stormed the gates of Vienna, they did so with Louis's initial tacit support; ironically, Catholic France and the Muslim Ottomans were long--standing allies. And he seized the Rhine and annexed Flanders. As his empire swelled ever more, Europe would repeatedly band together against him: There was the coalition of the kings of Spain and Sweden, the electors of Bavaria, Saxony, and the Palatinate, the Holy Roman Emperor, and the Dutch Republic. That was in 1686. Fifteen years later, a combined Europe would again be forced to act against him: England, Holland, Portugal, as well as the Italian duchy of Savoy; this war would continue for twelve years.

Ultimately, this conflict was a considerable setback for Louis. The continuous war produced only poverty, misery, and criticism at home and led to the loss of valued royal possessions abroad. Belgium was lost, and so were Newfoundland and Nova Scotia (then Arcadia), as well as the disputed American Northwest, the Hudson Bay territory, ceded by treaty to the British. And there was a further, inglorious price to be paid among the people of France themselves: When Louis died in 1715, his body was borne to the Saint--Denis basilica -- to the jeers of the teeming populace. For much of his life, he was the subject of excessive flattery, but in death, he was serenaded by indiscriminate abuse.

The king's final years were blighted by domestic tragedy as well. His only surviving legitimate child, the Grand Dauphin, died in 1711. A year later the new dauphin was gone, dead of measles. Almost simultaneously, he lost two of his grandsons. And within days Louis's great--grandson, the next dauphin, died of the same disease. In the Sun King's direct line, there now remained only one great--grandson, a red--cheeked child with brooding eyes; frail and of ill -health, he was only two. And he too had measles. But the governesses bolted his doors and refused to allow the doctors to treat him. Miraculously, the child survived.

On his deathbed -- Louis was suffering from painful gangrene and his flesh literally seemed to be falling off his bones -- the Sun King summoned his surviving great--grandson to his side. As shafts of bright light filtered in through the windows, the Sun King leaned over and whispered prophetically, "My child, you will one day be a great king. Do not imitate my taste for war. Always relate your actions to God." He also added: "I am going away, but the state will always remain."

Louis XV did his duty and listened. He would spend fifty--nine years on the throne. Indeed, together these two men would reign in France for 131 years.

With such power and pedigree, despite nagging wars and even territorial reversals, the grandeur and glory of the French monarchy seemed invincible. So when Louis XVI, the fifth ruler of this distinguished line, assumed the throne, it was believed by all that he -- like all of France's rulers since Clovis was crowned king of Francia in 496 -- would follow in their magnificent wake, arousing awe, testifying to the immensity of their heritage, and trailing endless blazes of glory.

How, it seemed, could it be anything otherwise?

As the splendor of Versailles was rising above the French countryside and the nation basked in the brilliant, if imperfect, glow of its Sun King, some fifteen hundred miles away to the east lay the sleeping colossus of the age -- ancient, inert, xenophobic: the old Muscovite state of Russia. In the West, Russia was seen as backward and foreboding, a view that was not without merit. In countless ways, Russia was primeval, oriented not toward Europe or America but toward the vast heartland of central Asia, its gaze fixed on Persia and China, across long stretches of deserts. The bazaars of Moscow were frequented by Persians, Afghans, Kirghiz, Indians, and Chinese, while traders and artisans peddled an eclectic slice of the Asiatic world: silks, brass and copper goods, tooled leather and bronze, and innumerable objects of hand--carved wood. The city itself was peopled with tattered, itinerant holy men and bearded priests, as well as ruddy, callused peasants in cloth leggings and soldiers in voluminous caftans. Meanwhile, women of the upper classes were secluded and often wore gold--braided veils, men wore beards and skirted garments, and the two sexes never mixed at social functions. Russian customs were uncommonly coarse -- basic things like cutlery and toothpicks were unheard of; and drunkenness was so rampant that on feast days, travelers were stunned to see naked men, passed out, who had sold their clothing for a drink. Dwarfs and fools, increasingly out of fashion in the West, still amused the tsar and his retainers. Arithmetic was hardly understood, Arabic numerals were not used, and the calendar dated from the beginning of the world. Astonishingly, even predicting an eclipse was regarded as a form of magic. And clocks, imported by Europeans, elicited wonder and awe.

By all accounts, Moscow, or ancient Muscovy as it was often known, had all but ignored Versailles and London, not to mention the nascent colonies in North America. In this regard, Europe, as seen from Moscow, was in the rear; indeed, the Russian government was so fearful of being contaminated by foreigners that well into the seventeenth century, it was reluctant even to permit foreign embassies.

But Moscow was hardly an itinerant backwater. It was the capital and holy city of the vast Russian Empire -- an empire that already spanned from nearly the Pacific Ocean to the northern forests of Poland. And by 1682, as the last stones were being laid at Versailles, and a decade before the nightmare that would engulf Salem, Massachusetts, Russia was increasingly breaking out of isolation, slowly reaching out to the West. For some time now, trade between England and Muscovy had boomed, and there was a bustling German community in Moscow's suburbs. And while the En-glish were building Boston and the Dutch erecting New York, the Russians were stretching out towns -- a whole string of settlements -- 5,000 miles across northern Asia, to the Pacific itself. Meanwhile, Russia's upper classes increasingly intermarried with Europeans.

From a distance, Moscow struck one Western traveler as the most "beautiful city in the world," an urban feast topped by hundreds of gold--crusted domes and a sea of glistening crosses that surmounted the treetops. Unlike the stone and marble of its European counterparts, Moscow was a city hewn from wood; even the streets themselves were planked with timber, not trampled down or paved with stone. Also unlike anything in the Western world was the somber medieval citadel of Russian power, the Kremlin, which imbued the city with an exotic mystery.

Exotic was the word: Even today, the Kremlin evokes unfathomable intrigue. With its massive red walls jutting from the bank of the Moscow River, the Kremlin was not a single building but an entire walled city -- Kreml literally means "fortress" in Russian -- ringed by two rivers and a deep moat. Inside this mighty citadel rose gorgeous cathedrals (three), an astonishing number of chapels (sixteen hundred) and hundreds of houses, as well as government offices, law courts, barracks, bakeries, laundries, stables, and a mighty whitewashed--brick bell tower that rang constantly, often driving Muscovites to distraction. And Moscow had a spiritual dimension rivaled only by Jerusalem and the Vatican: It was the "Third Rome," the center of the Orthodox faith.

Muscovites were an intensely religious people, and most of the city, rich and poor alike, fell under the church's spell. Few had a hold on the Russian mind or imagination as did the starets -- the man of God. But the true master who loomed over this ancient land was ultimately the tsar, the very portrait of absolute monarchy. "Kaiser" in German, "tsar" in Russian, it was derived from "Caesar," the ancient designation for the great emperors of the Roman Empire. It fit. Remote and inaccessible, the tsar was the autocrat of all Great and Little and White Russia, an august figure enclosed in an aura of semi--divinity. From infancy, Russians were taught to regard him as a godlike creature ("Only God and the tsar know," went one ancient proverb). The tsar was regarded as the father of all his people -- the "Batushka" -- and in return, his subjects were cast as children; their role was subservience as well as obeisance. Similarly, Russian noblemen did not simply bow, they flattened themselves before the tsar, touching the ground with their foreheads ("we humbly beseech you, we your slaves€ˆ...").

Of course, as with the Caesars, there were titanic struggles. For more than a decade, a horde of claimants and pretenders sought the throne; at one point, the title of tsar was even claimed by a son of the king of Poland. And for three years, Russia was even without a tsar. But then on a cold, windy day in 1613, the first great Romanov tsar was crowned. The dynasty passed from father to son, that is, until 1682. That year, Tsar Alexis, who had a penchant for wearing "tufts of diamonds as big as peas," died unexpectedly, and following custom and decree, the crown passed to his fifteen--year--old son, Feodor, a semi--invalid. Beset by frailties, Feodor reigned only six years. He had no eldest son, and thus no direct heir. As the boyars -- the supreme noblemen -- of Moscow passed by the bed on which the dead tsar lay, brushing their lips on his cold, limp hand, the bells of Moscow's churches tolled. Then, inside the thick, dark walls of the Kremlin, the boyars feverishly deliberated.

Tradition dictated the throne should pass to the elder of the two surviving candidates, in this case, Feodor's two remaining brothers. Normally, the choice should have been uncontested. But sixteen--year--old Ivan was lame and nearly blind, and could speak only with great difficulty. And the other brother, Peter, was only ten years old. The Grand Patriarch of Moscow turned to the crowd that had anxiously massed outside the palace windows. "To which of the princes do you give the rule?" the patriarch called out.

The crowd cried for Peter. So with their voices echoing ever more loudly, the patriarch decided that Ivan was to be shunted aside in favor of his strapping younger brother. The choice thus made, Moscow's elite sat back content, believing that the crisis had been stanched, and the tumult was over.

They were sorely mistaken. For more than one hundred years, Moscow's impenetrable Kremlin had been watched over by the Streltsy, armed guardsmen comparable to ancient Rome's Praetorian Guard. Service was a lifelong commitment, the position passing from father to son: They were Russia's first professional soldiers, though they were also at times ill disciplined and unruly -- and lately unpaid by the crown. Resentful of foreigners, ignorant of politics, sheathed in prejudice and superstition, these disheveled musketeers were always dangerously ready to wield their power -- or to mutiny -- against someone challenging their privileged position.

Their revolt began after Feodor's death. Rumors abounded: Feodor had been poisoned, it was whispered. Foreign doctors were behind the assassination, it was said, and Ivan, the rightful heir, had been pushed aside. And the rumormongers claimed that Peter, the new tsar, would punish the Streltsy.

On May 15 the tinder was lit, and the Streltsy struck. Enraged, hundreds marched on the palace banquet hall inside the Kremlin and clamored to see the Tsarevich Ivan. Peter's mother mounted the Red Staircase, and, trembling, presented the two children, the infirm Ivan and her beloved Peter, to quell the mutinous army. But after a brief calm, the rank--and--file Streltsy remained unappeased, erupting into an orgy of violence. The first victim was their own commander. Lifting him above their heads, they threw him from the balustrade onto the pike spears of the rebels below. Impaled, his quivering, blood--smattered body was cut into pieces. And any hope of disciplining the mutineers died with him. The next victim was Artemon Matveev, one of Russia's elder statesmen and a former prime minister. He was hurled from the Red Staircase onto the field of upraised spear points. Within seconds, his body was hacked to pieces. Then the real dying began.

The Streltsy roamed and pillaged the palace, dismembering their victims. Statesmen and nobles were dragged from their private chambers and bloodily massacred. No one was to be spared. The privy councillor and director of foreign affairs were cut to pieces. And young and old alike were targeted: An aged boyar was brutally killed, as was the son of one of the tsar's chief aides. The bodies and pieces of bodies -- hands, heads, torsos -- were then dragged into Red Square, where corpses were piled one upon the other. To the chilling stampede of feet, the rampage continued the next day, and the next. For three days, the Streltsy picked apart the palace, wandering through its dark rooms and maze of tiny apartments, mindlessly looking for victims. On the third day the bloodthirsty troops issued a fatal ultimatum. Peter's mother was informed that she must give up her own brother, or everyone would be slaughtered.

Fearing she had no choice, Peter's mother surrendered her sibling, an agonizing decision. While his sister wept, he spent his final moments in the palace chapel, taking communion and receiving last rites. He then rose and presented himself, unsteadily clutching a holy icon. Beaten for hours, he too was thrown into a sea of spears held aloft by the muttering mob. Now his hands and feet were cut off. Finally his body was chopped to pieces, the bloody carcass mashed into the filthy mud.

Only then did the killing cease.

The soldiers had come for money, as well as blood, and they got it. They demanded back pay, which they received. They demanded amnesty, and received that, too. They demanded that their victims be designated criminals, and that too was done. And thus the stage was set for a coup. It was Peter's older half--sister who then assumed power as regent of Russia, now ruling in both Peter's and Ivan's names.

The young Peter, much like the young Louis of France, was deeply scarred, and for the rest of his life harbored a deep revulsion for the ancient Russian capital of Moscow. And one day, like the Sun King, he too would extract his revenge. After he became master of Russia at twenty--four -- eventually earning for himself the sobriquet of Peter the Great -- he would go on to crush the Streltsy: Two hundred would be hanged; others were beheaded with axes; and countless more were tortured, all as evidence of the tsar's wrath. To complete his revenge, he exiled his half--sister, forcing her head to be shaved and sending her to a nunnery, where, like Mary Queen of Scots, she was under guard day and night. She spent six years in her solitary confines, dying at age forty--seven.

An imposing six foot seven, with large black eyes, Peter would also dismiss the glory of the Kremlin. He first rejected its cloistered, xenophobic ways -- as a burgeoning young man, his closest companions were a Scot, a German, and a Swiss -- then eventually he stripped Moscow of its rank altogether. Instead he fixed his eyes on Europe; his first act was to travel the Continent, a striking repudiation of old Muscovy. As biographer Robert Massie notes, no tsar had set foot outside his dominions for more than six hundred years; indeed, no tsar had ever been seen in the West. But Peter saw Europe, traveling largely incognito and indulging every curiosity, even prying wigs off heads to examine them as he walked down the street. He came back determined to Europeanize the Russian behemoth. When the church protested against his godless, foreign ways, he nationalized it. Not yet content, he then created not merely a great château, like Louis XIV, but an entirely new capital, perched far beyond the arid plains ringing Moscow. For the hallmark of the new Russia, he chose a once obscure fort taken from the Swedes, located on the banks of the Neva at the mouth of the Gulf of Finland; he named it St. Petersburg. In the process, Peter pried his unwieldy empire from its Slav heritage, realigning its very axis from East to West.

St. Petersburg -- the original name was the Dutch "Pieterburkh" -- was to be a new Rome. Called the Venice of the North, the Babylon of the Snows, St. Petersburg was turned into a European, not a Russian city, and quickly became one of the great urban centers of Europe. Its architecture, its style, its morals and thought were all Western. Society and the court spoke French or German, not Russian; meanwhile, the best clothing and furniture were ordered from Paris. And with its opera and ballet, its great balls and its chamber orchestras, St. Petersburg would come to rival all other European capitals. So too in politics. As the decades passed, it would also come to play a dominant role across the continent. But, even as Russia looked West, one thing would not change -- the lawless, often anarchical, violent means by which the tsars were selected.

Before his own demise, and dissatisfied with his rebellious son, Alexis, Peter had him violently tortured; within days, Alexis was dead. Then Peter decreed the right for each tsar to name his own successor. Unlike in France, or England, or the American colonies for that matter, transmission of the supreme power was thus enshrined outside the domain of law, and with no principle of succession, dynastic or otherwise, the empire slipped into an unending struggle of plots, praetorian revolts, and palace rebellions. Many years later it would be said, "All of Russia is one vast madhouse": for decades, and as a quick and violent sequence of tsars ruled after Peter, that certainly seemed to be true. But it was in 1762 that the real changes came, with another majestic occupant of the Romanov throne, who would cast a broad shadow across the remainder of the century and the four corners of the globe. Yet this tsar wasn't a man, or a Romanov, or even a Russian. She was a minor German princess, Sophie of Anhalt--Zerbst -- born to a small house of royalty in the hodgepodge territory of the Holy Roman Empire. We know her today by a different name, Ekaterina, or later, as Catherine the Great.

At the age of fourteen she left Prussia to wed Peter the Great's grandson, Peter III -- the marriage was arranged. It was a disaster. For eighteen years they lived together, in some ways more as wary companions than man and wife, or duke and duchess. Peter himself was dissolute, often drunk, just as often pitiful, more often than not a bully. And he loathed all things Russian while loving all things German, particularly the Prussians; in the process, he dangerously alienated many of the key forces of Russian society. But Catherine's position was equally precarious. A convert to Russian Orthodoxy and a transplanted foreigner, she spent her life in risky limbo between the throne and the dungeon. Actually, after Peter was crowned tsar, the dungeon appeared perilously close. One evening the freshly minted tsar openly insulted her at a public dinner, mocking her and shouting "Dura!" (fool). Reportedly -- the facts are unclear -- he then ordered an adjutant to arrest Catherine and pack her off to a monastery. Regardless, Catherine's humiliation was now nearly complete -- Peter was already living openly with a mistress, whom he boasted he would soon marry -- and her danger was palpable.

What was she to do? For the better part of a century, the power of the Russian throne had been neither elective nor hereditary -- it was occupative. Only wits or ruthlessness could dictate who ruled this burgeoning empire. Too often, the strong triumphed and ruled; the weak were invariably overthrown. And when the plotting began in the tiny, inbred world of the Russian court, Catherine was at its center.

Even now, much of the next sixty--four hours remains cloaked in conspiracy and considerable mystery, but this much is known: On June 12, after a scant six months on the throne, Peter left Petersburg for a holiday, taking with him his mistress, his black manservant named Narcissus, and his dog. Catherine, at her summer palace in Mon Plaisir, moved fast. By June 27 all was in readiness. Roused in the dark of night, she knew the coup would succeed today -- or never. If it failed, at the age of thirty--three she would face the ax or mount the scaffold. In a deeply symbolic gesture, she changed into the ancient green costume of the Preobrazhensky Guard, the elite soldiers marshaled by Peter the Great to replace the hotheaded Streltsy. Never again would she be German. Or a transplant. Or a foreigner. She then grasped a naked saber in her bare hands and mounted a splendid gray stallion. The effect was electric: "Vivat! Vivat!" the men shouted at the guards' barracks. Some 12,000 guards rallied to her side, swearing allegiance to her as Catherine II, while those who resisted were promptly jailed.

She then marched on Petersburg.

Peter, who still controlled the army, hastily sent emissaries to negotiate. Coolly, she rebuffed them, and remarkably, they defected to her. Peter's response sealed his fate: Falling to his knees, the disoriented tsar surrendered, asking that he be allowed "his dog, his fiddle, and his blackamoor." This prompted the steely Prussian ruler Frederick the Great to proclaim: "Peter allowed himself to be driven from the throne as a child is sent to bed." Under guard -- three hundred of them -- Peter was taken to his estate at Ropsha. Within days he was dead, ostensibly after a wild night of drinking. One of the carousers was the brother of Catherine's lover, a military officer named Grigory Orlov.

Whether Catherine sanctioned the killing is unclear, but she issued a terse statement, eerily reminiscent of dictatorships two centuries hence, in which the palace absurdly insisted that Peter had died of "hemorrhoid colic." Catherine was now a usurper and an adulterous regicide. With the gutters of Russia already awash in blood, even this was scandalous. But on September 22, at the Assumption Cathedral in the heart of the Kremlin, the resplendent thirty--three--year--old former German, bejeweled and wearing an ermine mantle made from 4,000 skins, was anointed "Lady Catherine the Second, Empress and autocrat of all the Russias."

It has been said that "Peter the Great created Russia's body, but Catherine endowed it with a soul." She did, in spades. Catherine would quickly prove to be a gifted politician, a consummate actress, and a visionary statesman. Her reign would attract eminent scholars and poets, philosophers, architects, and artists. She would build the grand Hermitage for her good friend, the esteemed French philosopher Voltaire, in case he ever came to Russia. And she embraced many of the other great philosophes of the age, including Diderot, Locke, Blackstone, Grimm, and Montesquieu, a number of whom she personally befriended. During her rule, she herself became an enlightened legislatrix, a patron of the arts, a playwright and poet and writer of epigrams, satires, histories, and dissertations in her own right. And among her many charms, she had the gift of wit, a sharp tongue, and a certain impishness.

But few leaders would also come to embody the tensions and ferment of the age as Catherine, who would become inextricably intertwined within the tapestry of the two great revolutions germinating in America and France, all with seismic consequences for years to come.

Slowly, but inexorably, the Old World and its immutable orders, and the New, were on a collision course. Exploration was not only traversing the oceans, but the realms of the human mind in science, music, art, and literature. Such staples of modern life as the telescope and the microscope, the thermometer and the compass, wax candles and streetlights, were all rapturously unveiled. The arts flourished: Vivaldi, Handel, and Bach debuted their music; Molière, Racine, Hobbes, and Locke published their finely honed words; and poets like John Milton captured and educated the aristocratic ear. Freed from blind adherence to ancient shibboleths and religious dogma, scientists hurtled forward into the future, exhuming the minutiae of the natural world. The names of these pioneers are immortal: Descartes plunged into analytic geometry, Boyle calculated the density of gases, and Leeuwenhoek opened up astonishing vistas through the tiny lenses of his microscope. Preeminent among the towering thinkers of the day was Sir Isaac Newton, whose work gave the world the law of universal gravity, not to mention insights into physics and astronomy, chemistry and botany, and even calculus, which soldiers soon employed to better calibrate the deadly trajectory of an artillery shell.

With equal zeal, Europeans were expanding outward across oceans and over the immensity of open spaces, exploring and colonizing, settling and civilizing. Expeditions overcame logistics, disease, epidemics, and great distances. Already, the lion's share of South America and a large chunk of North America were possessions of the Spanish crown. Elsewhere, competition for the world's spoils was stiff: Half a dozen nations had laid claim to swaths of Africa; even the landlocked state of Brandenburg controlled a colony on the continent's Gold Coast. In the harsh, craggy corners of Asia, the foothills of the Himalayas had not yet been reached -- they would one day yield the war--torn Afghan frontier -- but in the jigsaw of states and principalities that today is known as India, a land of strutting peacocks and ruling rajas, the colors of the English and Portuguese nations had been raised. Meanwhile, pirates cruised to Manila, Palo Condore, China, and the Spice Islands, even as far as Australia.

Without minerals to mine or exotic spices to harvest, the eastern lands of North America seemed a bit of an afterthought. Maps were few and poorly drawn, but still, France and England, the two great European powers, had already established competing colonial outposts. Actually, France's was much larger, stretching from Montreal to Quebec, and the Great Lakes down into the flat plains of today's United States. In fact, while Russia's Peter the Great was dispatching a delegation to observe the fleet of the Knights of Malta, France was laying claim to the Mississippi Valley; in 1699, the mouth of the great river was christened Louisiana, thus exalting the name of his most Christian majesty, Louis XIV.

And there were the English settlements, tightly clustered along the gray Atlantic waters, from Massachusetts to the Carolinas. By the sullen, red glow of twilight at day's end, the map was constantly rearranged. The Dutch New Netherlands -- today's New York -- had already been ceded to England as a battle prize, divvied up after the second Anglo--Dutch naval war in 1664. And at a time when Versailles was not yet fully finished and St. Petersburg didn't even exist, New York, Philadelphia, and Boston were already thriving English towns with more than 30,000 inhabitants among them; even the venerable college of Harvard had opened its doors as far back as 1636. And the continent was barely explored.

Yet the Europeans increasingly came in droves. Despite the dangers, North America offered a measure of religious freedom for sects like the Puritans, as well as economic opportunity and a fresh start for those in need. So it was that in 1638 one Henry Adams of Somersetshire, England, arrived in Braintree, Massachusetts, as part of the vast Puritan migration, coming to the Massachusetts Bay Colony to escape the long arm of the Church of England and to help build his own godly version of a city on a hill. The Adamses were farmers who supplemented what they could raise in the rocky soil with other trades; Henry thus also made malt for brewing or baking. Two generations later, in 1735, John Adams, a farmer, shoemaker, and church deacon, would welcome a son by the same name, a boy whom he fully expected to follow in the family's now well--established line of "virtuous, independent New England farmers."

Eighteen years after Henry Adams set sail, John Washington, of arguably more noble pedigree, boarded a boat for the colony of Virginia. Records place John's family in northeast England as far back as 1180, where they were among the landed gentry. John's own grandfather, Lawrence, was the master of Sulgrave Manor. Barred by the laws of primogeniture from inheriting his father's estate, Lawrence's fifth son, also Lawrence, attended Oxford and entered the clergy. And here the tale might have ended, were it not for the English Civil War. Accused of being a "malignant royalist," Lawrence Washington died penniless; his wife soon followed him to the grave. Orphaned and just twenty--two, John Washington struck out for the New World. In Virginia he married the daughter of a lieutenant--colonel and received, as a wedding gift, a 700--acre estate on the colony's Northern Neck. It was here, on a now 1,700--acre parcel, that George Washington, a third son, was born in 1732.

Not every colonial was so meticulous about his roots. Thomas Jefferson dryly recorded that his father's family came from Wales, near the mountain of Snowdon, which he characterized as the "highest in Great Britain." On his father's side, Jefferson was at least a fourth--generation colonial -- one ancestor may have arrived as early as 1619, making his the earliest of the founding families to arrive in the Americas -- while his mother, the daughter of a sea captain, was actually born in England, and claimed a long--standing Scottish and English heritage. James Madison, whose later relatives traced his British family's roots back to Charlemagne and the barons of Runnymede, was himself a fifth--generation Virginian, whose forebearer, John Madison, acquired 600 acres of Virginia Tidewater land in 1653, in return for paying for the passages of twelve immigrants from England. By 1683 those holdings had grown to nineteen hundred acres.

Others were less fortunate in the New World. Alexander Hamilton's maternal grandfather was a French physician named John Faucette, who, during the Huguenot purge, was driven from his homeland by the mighty Sun King, while Hamilton's own father was pushed to the New World by the small, ignoble act of birth order. James Hamilton had grown up in a Scottish castle on a sizable estate, but as a fourth son, he had no realistic hope of inheriting anything. In 1741 he made his way to the West Indies, where he repeatedly failed in business. His love match was not much better, for while Dr. Faucette's daughter, Rachel, was smart and charming, she was also already married. James and Rachel's union nevertheless produced two sons, but the boys were condemned to be known as bastards. The younger one, Alexander, escaped for good in 1772, when he boarded a ship for Boston. He never returned to the West Indies.

Benjamin Franklin was sixty--six years old when Hamilton's ship docked, but he knew something of the vagaries of apprenticeships and birth order -- and even bastard sons, having fathered one of his own, William. Franklin's father, Josiah, had arrived in Boston eighty--nine years before, ostensibly as a Puritan refugee, but also as a man looking to provide a passable living for his wife and children. In Oxfordshire, Josiah Franklin was a cloth dyer with no prospects. Thus did the New World beckon. Josiah became a candle and soap maker, a burgeoning profession in Boston. He had seventeen children, thirteen of whom navigated the perilous passage to adulthood. At the age of twelve, Benjamin, the last of his surviving sons, was duly apprenticed to his brother James, twenty--one, who was setting up shop as a printer.

By such circuitous routes did these figures, the virtuosi of the American enlightenment who would transform this slender patchwork of settlements into a nation, gain their formal footing upon the stage. And inside these adolescent colonies and among these men, an unmatched generation of political talent in the annals of the world, would percolate ideas on natural history and global geography, free trade and material prosperity, matters of state and the human condition, the nature of man and the nature of government. In the bustling New World, all were endlessly discussed and debated, in Jefferson's telling phrase, like "Greek colloquia."

But not yet. It had been said that history was "like a clock, unwinding itself forward according to God's design." However, as the 1700s prepared to dawn in the British colonies of North America, it was hard to perceive the taut, logical engineering of such a divinely inspired design. Even as Versailles was being finished, and the Streltsy revolt was running amok in Russia, a once--thriving corner of North America was in the grips of its own tumult. The Second Indian War was raging on the northeastern frontier, as settlers pleaded with the British crown to intervene on behalf of their beleaguered villages. Meanwhile, less than a hundred miles south, the rule of law was also spontaneously breaking down, but here the genesis was quite different: It was not over politics or economics or dynastic power struggles, but witchcraft. It came to be known as the Salem hysteria.

It didn't happen overnight. It was not uncommon in America, as in Europe, for people to speak of the devil, to warn of the devil, to fear the devil. Others claimed to see the devil. It was also a time where there were still pagan nightmares of werewolves and griffins crouched under a full moon, or warlocks feasting on serpents' hearts or witches in disguise. Accordingly, religious dissidents in New England, such as the Quakers, were regularly stripped and examined for witch's marks. For many of these New Englanders, the devil was omnipresent, forever lurking, the haunting master of the witches. In Connecticut, ten people were hanged because of "familiarity with the Devil." Witches were prosecuted in Anglican Virginia, too. So was a "little old woman," suspected of being a witch, in Catholic Maryland; she was cast into the sea to appease a violent storm. But in 1692 Salem suddenly found itself in a grip of accusations, and a sinister brew of trials and inexplicably brutal punishments. The facts are well known. The hysteria began with two young girls, both of whom suffered fits, screaming and rolling on the floor. The girls were medically examined and questioned closely; they fingered "Tituba" as the source of their trouble -- Tituba was a female slave who was part of the household, though different accounts label her as black or Indian. Pressured, Tituba confessed, admitting she was a "servant" of Satan and ranting about hogs and cats and the devil's book "signed by nine in Salem." Thus, the hunt began.

A special court was set up to get to the bottom of the matter -- in sorcery cases it was now judged that the ordinary law would not suffice. The proceedings were as outrageous as the accusations. Those who confessed to doing the "Devil's work" were released; ironically, those who refused to plead to crimes they had not committed were judged guilty. Throughout the long, hot summer, the hysteria raged. By early autumn, fourteen women and five men were hanged. Giles Corey was, of course, uniquely pressed to death with heavy stones -- the dreaded peine forte et dure. Even two dogs were slaughtered. Meanwhile, another 150 people awaited trial in damp, stinking, overcrowded jails; some died there.

It was only in October when the new governor arrived that suddenly the spell was broken. The special court was dissolved. Those under arrest were released. And out of this paroxysm of self--righteousness and superiority against an imagined threat, justice was eventually done: The General Court of Massachusetts passed a motion deploring the acts of the special judges. Members of the jury signed a statement of regret. Indemnities were later granted to families of the victims who had been hanged.

And here Salem becomes a very different tale. In retrospect, what was so striking -- at least for this age -- was the speed with which the rule of law was restored and also the willingness of the local colonial government to confess its wrongdoings and to make reparations. In cosmopolitan France, where the Sun King's court had its own witchcraft scare, confessions were obtained by torture, trials were dispensed with, and the accused spent the rest of their lives in prison -- so why not in rough--hewn America? One partial explanation is that the doctrines of the Enlightenment philosophers, though originating in Europe (and including the eminent Englishman John Locke), had widely penetrated the American colonies, and that Massachusetts itself was growing ever more secular by the year.

Still, there is another partial explanation, one harder to quantify but no less compelling. History is indeed composed of such small incidents, but with the end of this frenzied summer, it seemed as though in British North America there was something new, something strange, and something wonderful taking place.

Even then. By the mid-1700s this patch of Royal Britain would find itself uncommonly blessed with growing cities, all throbbing with commerce and industry and the sounds and sights of jostling humanity -- blacksmiths fresh from the forge plying their wares; farmers in muddy boots making their way to the taverns; pamphleteers hawking their ideas; and newly arrived settlers wrestling with their common lives. And there were the cities, Boston and Philadelphia, New York and New Haven, Williamsburg and Richmond, with their handsome parks, grassy residential squares, and tree-lined avenues, all humming with urban enterprise. Day in and day out, their waters teemed with coastal and oceangoing vessels, ships that with increasing frequency traded not only with the countryside and the mother country across the Atlantic, but with the far corners of Europe, and even Russia, Alaska, and Asia as well. And too, these cities soon became the intellectual spokes of this New World, redolent with the steady cry of politics and the slow building of civic lives, out of which an infant nationalism was to be formed.

Indeed, the first colonists in Virginia, cast in the sturdy English empirical mold of fair--mindedness, were a largely pragmatic people, wedded to the rites of hierarchy and patriarchy, and deeply stepped in tradition. One of those traditions, of course, was governance. A number of the colonies were established not just to further religious freedom but to embody advanced political ideals. As early as 1619 in Virginia they had set up a miniature parliament when they debated "the Dale's code." Within a decade, "sweating and stewing and battling flies," they had already develop
List of Maps
Prelude: At the Threshold
Part I: The Promise of a New Age
Part II: Turmoil
Part III: Terror
Part IV: A World Transformed
Epilogue: The Founding
Bibliographic Notes
Illustration Credits
Table of Contents provided by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

ISBN: 9781847393807
ISBN-10: 1847393802
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 659
Published: 2nd March 2009
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 19.800 x 13.000  x 4.5
Weight (kg): 0.478