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A Government Out of Sight


  • Page extent: 428 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.7 kg
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 (ISBN-13: 9780521820974)

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$99.99 (C)

While it is obvious that America’s state and local governments were consistently active during the nineteenth century, a period dominated by laissez-faire, political historians of twentieth-century America have assumed that the national government did very little during this period. A Government Out of Sight challenges this premise, chronicling the ways in which the national government intervened powerfully in the lives of nineteenth-century Americans through the law, subsidies, and the use of third parties (including state and local governments), while avoiding bureaucracy. Americans have always turned to the national government – especially for economic development and expansion – and in the nineteenth century even those who argued for a small, nonintrusive central government demanded that the national government expand its authority to meet the nation’s challenges. In revising our understanding of the ways in which Americans turned to the national government throughout this period, this study fundamentally alters our perspective on American political development in the twentieth century, shedding light on contemporary debates between progressives and conservatives about the proper size of government and government programs and subsidies that even today remain “out of sight.”


1. Introduction: why look back?; 2. How Americans lost sight of the state: adapting Republican virtue to Liberal self interest; 3. Between revolutions: the promise of the 'developmental vision'; 4. 'To strengthen and perpetuate that union': Republican political economy; 5. Outside the boundaries: 'powers and energies in the extreme parts'; 6. The uncontested state: letters, law, localities; 7. Restoring 'spontaneous action and self-regulation': civil war and civil society; 8. Judicial exceptions to Gilded Age laissez-faire; 9. 'A special form of associative action': new liberalism and the national integration of public and private; 10. Conclusion: sighting the twentieth-century state.


"Brian Balogh recasts our understanding of the role of government in the United States. His ambitious and elegant interpretation changes the plot line of American history, replacing fantasies of ungoverned freedom and iconoclastic reformers with a deeper story, cutting against some of the most enduring myths of American history." — Edward L. Ayers, University of Richmond

Returning political history to a place of pride, and combining rich assessments of federalism, political thought, territorial expansion, political economy, and judicial decision-making, this synoptic inquiry convincingly solves a great mystery. By explaining why the vigorous activities of American federal governance were elusive and hard to credit despite the wide arc of public authority, this powerfully argued and deeply researched book puts to rest the myth of a weak nineteenth-century state. —Ira Katznelson, Columbia University

"Balogh's splendid synthesis convincingly describes how the federal government unobtrusively shaped the growth of the nation. Along the way, he also reveals the vital relationship between high political theory and policy implementation in the making of the American state." –Richard Bensel, Cornell University

"In this pathbreaking book, Brian Balogh brings into sight the hidden wellsprings of national political authority in America’s supposedly stateless nineteenth century. Combining revealing new historical research with a deft grasp of both historical and political science scholarship, Balogh not only untangles the mystery of how a national government so putatively weak could govern so powerfully in advance of modern bureaucracy. He also offers an extraordinary historical vista on the governing challenges of our own era. " —Jacob S. Hacker, University of California, Berkeley

"Balogh has produced a thoughtful, at times provocative tale. It will force us to rethink widely held assumptions about the nineteenth-century U.S. government." -The Journal of American History, Williamjames Hull Hoffer

"Balogh’s book was designed to refocus the way in which historians view the government of the nineteenth century." -Linda Spagnola, H-Law

“Balogh’s is a model synthesis… Constitutional and legal history has played a large role in the literature of American Political Development upon which Balogh draws, and constitutional history is fully woven into the account of national state formation that Balogh serves up…. Balogh succeeds in large part because his is a book driven far more than the others [Howe, Wilentz, Wood] by the consciousness of the social scientist; he formulates explicitly articulated hypotheses derived from a synthesis of a specific body of theoretically-inclined secondary literature (American Political Development) and employs them to brush a vastly larger body of literature (19th century American history) against the grain." - Christopher Tomlins, Journal of Legal Education

"The book is powerful and convincing. Balogh does a masterful job telling his story and integrating a diverse number of works into a bigger narrative about our political evolution. It is the kind of big-picture book that has been missing too often from the historical literature in recent time." -Julian E. Zelizer, H-Policy

"...Balogh has produced a stimulating and thoughtful meditation of American governance in the nineteenth century." -Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh, Canadian Journal of History

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