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Governmental Institutions as Agents of Change: Rethinking American Political Development in the Early Republic, 1787–1835*

  • Richard R. John (a1)
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1. Adams's, Henry most important historical writing is his History of the United States 9 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 18891891), a survey of public administration during the presidencies of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. White's, Leonard D. principal works on governmental institutions in the early republic are The Federalists: A Study in Administrative History (New York: Macmillan Co., 1948); The Jeffersonians: A Study in Administrative History, 1801–1829 (New York: Macmillan Co., 1951); and The Jacksonians: A Study in Administrative History, 1829–1861 (New York: Macmillan Co., 1954). For an overview of White's contribution to American historical writing, see John, Richard R., “Leonard D. White and the Invention of American Administrative History,” Reviews in American History 24 (06 1996): 344–60.

Gates's, Paul Wallace major works include The Farmers's Age: Agriculture, 1815–1860 (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1960), and History of Public Land Law Development (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1968). Several of Gates's essays have been brought together in The Jeffersonian Dream: Studies in the History of American Land Policy and Development, ed. Bogue, Allan G. and Bogue, Margaret Beattie (Albuquerque, N.M.: University of New Mexico Press, 1996). For a sampling of the work of Gates's students, see Ellis, David M. et al. eds., The Frontier in American Economic Development: Essays in Honor of Paul Wallace Gates (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1969). For an introduction to Gates's legacy, see Bogue and Bogue, “Introduction,” ix–xx, and Scheiber, Harry N., “The Economic Historian as Realist and as Keeper of Democratic Ideals: Paul Wallace Gates's Studies of American Land Policy,” Journal of Economic History 40 (10 1980): 585–93. Recent works that build on Gates's legacy include Aron, Stephen, How the West Was Lost: The Transformation of Kentucky from Daniel Bonne to Henry Clay (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996); Taylor, Alan, Liberty Men and Great Proprietors: The Revolutionary Settlement on the Maine Frontier', 1760–1820 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990); and id., William Cooper's Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).

Scheiber's, Harry N. publications include Ohio Canal lira: A Case Study of Government and the Economy, 1820–1861, 2d ed (1968; Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1987); “The Road to Munn: Eminent Domain and the Concept of Public Purpose in the State Courts,” Perspectives in American History 5 (1971): 329–402; “Property Law, Expropriation, and Resource Allocation by Government: The United States, 1789–1910,” Journal of Economic History 33 (March 1973): 232–51; “Federalism and the American Economic Order, 1789–1910,” Law and Society Review 10 (Fall 1975): 57–118; “American Constitutional History and the New Legal History: Complementary Themes in Two Modes,” Journal of American History 68 (September 1981): 337–50; “Regulation, Property' Rights, and the Definition of ‘The Market’: Law and the American Economy, “Journal of Economic History 41 (March 1981): 103–11; and “Public Rights and the Rule of Law in American Legal History,” California Law Review 72 (March 1984): 217–51.

2. Wood, Gordon S., “The Significance of the Early Republic,” Journal of the Early Republic 8 (Spring 1988): 4.

3. Other historiographical traditions that neglect the role of governmental institutions include the “new” economic history and modernization theory. The new economic history, whose leading practitioners include Robert William Fogel and Douglass C. North, once regarded law, public policy, and public administration as irrelevant to the study of market rationality and economic growth. Recently, however, both Fogel and North have turned their attention to governmental institutions. See, for example, Fogel, Robert William, Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1989); and North, Douglass C., Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990). The best known application of modernization theory to the history of the period is Brown, Richard D., Modernization: The 'Transformation of American Life, 1600–1865 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1976). Though Brown touched on institutional developments, particularly in communications, he was ultimately more concerned with changing modes of cultural expression. For a critique, see Henretta, James A., “‘Modernization’: Toward a False Synthesis,” Reviews in American History 5 (12 1977): 445–52.

4. Useful introductions to the new social history include Alice Kessler-Harris, , “Social History,” in The Neio American History, ed. Foner, Eric (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990), 163–84; Sterns, Peter N., “Toward a Wider Vision: Trends in Social History,” in The Past Before Us: Contemporary Historical Writing in the United States, ed. Kammen, Michael (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1980), 205–30; and Henretta, James A., “Social History as Lived and Written,” American Historical Review 84 (12 1979): 1293–322.

5. Henretta, James A., “Comment,” American Historical Review 84 (12 1979): 1331.

6. Berkhofer, Robert F., “Comment,” American Historical Review 84 (12 1979): 1326. For a related discussion that focused specifically on the colonial period, see Appleby, Joyce, “A Different Kind of Independence: The Postwar Restructuring of the Historical Study of Early America,” William and Mary Quarterly 3d ser., 50 (04 1993): 245–67. Appleby's theme was the centrality of the concept of society to recent scholarship on colonial America. “Investing the typical conditions of everyday existence with an importance they had never known before,” Appleby wrote, “historians made society – its geographic setting, its enduring traditions, its productive and reproductive activities – the central focus of historical research” (ibid., 250).

7. Johnson, Paul E., A Shopkeeper's Millennium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York, 1815–1837 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1978), 8388. For a critique, see John, Richard R., Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995), chap. 5, esp. 324 n.55, 326 n.86.

8. Surveys of the new political history include Jensen, Richard J., “Historiography of American Political History,” in Encyclopedia of American Political History (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1984), ed. Greene, Jack P., 125; and Allan G. Bogue, ”The New Political History in the 1970s,” in Past Before Us, 231–51. For a recent update, see Formisano, Ronald P., “The Invention of the Ethnocultural Interpretation,” American Historical Review 99 (04 1994): 453–77.

The assumption that political history is a branch of social history has become so wide-spread that at least one political historian felt it incumbent to remind his readers that his monograph was not a work of social history. Cayton, Andrew R. L., The Frontier Republic: Ideology and Politics in the Ohio Country, 1780–1825 (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1986), 185.

9. Holt, Michael F., “The Election of 1840, Voter Mobilization, and the Emergence of the Second American Party System: A Reappraisal of Jacksonian Voting Behavior,” in A Master's Due: Essays in Honor of David Herbert Donald, ed. Cooper, William J. Jr, Holt, Michael F., and McCardell, John (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985), 1658. For a critique, see Ronald Formisano, P., “The New Political History and the Election of 1840,” journal of Inter-disciplinary History 23 (Spring 1993): 661–82.

10. Formisano, Ronald P., The Transformation of Political Culture: Massachusetts Parties, 1790s–1840s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), 16.

11 Ibid., 41.

12. Ibid., 316–20, 342.

13. McCormick, Richard L., The Party Period and Public Policy: American Politics from the Age of Jackson to the Progressive Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 1415. “The most important message conveyed by ethnocultural analysis,” McCormick wrote, “is not that voters were ethnically and religiously motivated, but that grass-roots concerns are so irrelevant to public policymaking” (ibid., 56).

14. Ibid., 18.

15. Ibid., 131–32.

16. Ibid., 87.

17. Ibid., 19.

18. Ibid., 206.

19. McCormick borrowed the concept of distributive politics from a well known typology that political scientist Theodore J. Lowi devised in 1964 (ibid., 204). Prior to 1890, Lowi declared, the distribution of resources by the government was “almost the exclusive type” of national domestic policy. After 1890, Lowi added, regulation and redistribution also became important. Lowi, Theodore J., “American Business, Public Policy, Case-Studies, and Political Theory,” World Politics 16 (07 1964): 689

Lowi's characterization of American public policy in the period before 1890 complements the well known thesis of legal historian Willard Hurst that legal rule-making in this period was fragmented, opportunistic, and market-driven. On this point, see Scheiber, Harry N., “Public Economic Policy and the American Legal System: Historical Perspectives,” Wisconsin Law Review (1980): 1184–85, and “At the Borderland of Law and Economic History: The Contributions of Willard Hurst,” American Historical Review 75 (February 1970): 753. Scheiber's own interpretation of nineteenth-century legal doctrine highlighted the centrality of a distinctive “public rights” tradition that was distinct not only from the legal instrumentalism of Hurst – and, more recently, Morton J. Horwitz – but also from the rights-based jurisprudence of Edward S. Corwin. Scheiber, “American Constitutional History and the New Legal History,” 347. See also Selvin, Molly, “The Public Trust Doctrine in American Law and Economic Policy, 1789–1920,” Wisconsin Law Review (1980): 1403–42.

20. Heaton, Herbert, “General Memorandum. …,” in Handlin, Oscar and Handlin, Mary Flug, Commonwealth: A Study of the Role of Government in the American Economy: Massachusetts, 1774–1861, rev. ed. (1947; Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1969), 270.

21. For a survey of the scholarship fostered by the SSRC project, see Scheiber, Harry N., “Government and the Economy: Studies of the ‘Commonwealth’ Policy in Nineteenth-Century America,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 3 (Summer 1972): 135–51.

22. Handlin and Handlin, Commonwealth, xiv, xvii.

23. Ibid., 224, 228, 243. It is worth noting that at no point in Commonwealth did the Handlins explicitly term the nineteenth-century polity a “liberal state.” Rather, they called it a “humanitarian police state,” a “reform state,” or a “regulatory police state” (ibid., 203, 229, 242). Later historians, however, settled on the liberal state tag – picking up, no doubt, on the Handlins's brief but suggestive reference to liberalism – and for this reason it is highlighted here.

24. Hartz, Louis, Economic Policy and Democratic Thought: Pennsylvania, 1776–1860 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1948), xi.

25. Ibid., 294–95.

26. This point is made in Horwitz, Monton J., The Transformation of American Law. 1780–1860(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1977), xiv.

27. Handlin and Handlin, Commonwealth, xvi, xiv.

28. Hartz, Economic Policy and Democratic thought, 32–33.

29. It was partly for this reason, speculated legal historian William J. Novak, that the commonwealth and mixed-enterprise studies have failed to challenge the “fundamentally liberal-capitalist portrait of nineteenth-century America.” Novak, , The People's Welfare: Law and Regulation in Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 284 n.6. Of the scholars who have produced studies in the commonwealth tradition, only Scheiber has challenged the primacy of instrumentalist considerations in the shaping of nineteenth-century American law.

30. Scheiber, “Government and the Economy,” 144. See also Lively, Robert A., “The American System: A Review Article,” Business History Review 29 (03 1955): 8196. The Handlins and Hartz, Lively noted, “instead of eliminating the laissez-faire theme from analysis of public policy. … merely changed its chronology. Each assumed general adherence to the philosophy after the mid-century point at which their studies ended. … The authors set out to describe what the people of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania conceived to be the role of their governments, rather than to outline government activity; and with this definition of their work as exercises in intellectual history, they very often relegated principal economic themes to the position of supporting detail” (ibid., 82–84).

Lively exaggerated when he termed the Handlins' and Hartz's studies “exercises in intellectual history.” He was closer to the mark when he faulted them for treating government economic activism as episodic. For a view that stresses the continuity in government economic policymaking throughout much of the nineteenth century, see Miller, George H., Railroads and the Granger Laws (Madison, Wise.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1971). See also Scheiber, Harry N., “Public Policy, Constitutional Principle, and the Granger Laws: A Revised Historical Perspective,” Stanford Law Review 23 (19701971): 1029–37.

31. Oscar, and Handlin, Mary, The Dimensions of Liberty (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961); Hartz, Louis, The Liberal Tradition in America: An Interpretation of American Political Thought since the Revolution (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1955).

32. Bailyn, Bernard, Origins of American Politics (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1968), 25, 101–5.

33. Bailyn, Bernard, “Shaping the Republic to 1760”, in The Great Republic: A History of the American People, ed. Bailyn, et al. (Lexington: D. C. Heath and Co., 1977), 1:133–34, 188–97, 209–16.

34. Rakove, Jack N., “‘How Else Could it End?’ Bernard Bailyn and the Problem of Authority in Early America”, in The Transformation of Early American History: Society, Authority, and Ideology, ed. Henretta, James A., Kammen, Michael, and Katz, Stanley N. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991), 5455, quotation on 55. Only occasionally did Bailyn explicitly refer to the concept of the liberal state in his writings; see Bernard Bailyn, “The Central Themes of the American Revolution: An Interpretation”, in Essays on the American Revolution, ed. Stephen G. Kurtz and James H. Hutson (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press), 25, 30. Bailyn did, however, repeatedly refer to the concept in his teaching. Jack N. Rakove to Richard R. John, February 6, 1996. Rakove has recently affirmed Bailyn's position: “The United States was little less a confederation when Madison died in 1836 than it had been when he set off for the Annapolis conference half a century earlier” (Rakove, , Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996], 397 n.68).

35. Ibid., 212–13, 399–400 n.23. “For all that has been written about ‘the rise of the assembly’ in America”, Rakove observes, “its legislative output has not been rigorously analyzed” (ibid., 213).

36. Berthoff, Rowland, An Unsettled People: Social Order and Disorder in American History (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), 170.

37. Rowland Berthoff and John M. Murrin, “Feudalism, Communalism, and the Yeoman Freeholder”, in Essays, 284, 278, 285–88. Berthoff and Murrin predicated their argument on the assumption that colonial America was, in fact, a monarchical society undergoing a “feudal revival” in which ties of personal dependence were becoming increasingly critical to one's political and economic standing. This conclusion has been challenged for Massachusetts by Bushman, Richard L., King and People, in Provincial Massachusetts (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985). Eighteenth-century Massachusetts, Bushman wrote, had a “monarchical culture” but was not a “monarchical society” (ibid., 85). Intriguingly, Bushman interpreted popular opposition to the British in the period after 1765 to the fear that the British were about to create a monarchical society in America (ibid., 207).

38. Berthoff, Rowland, “Writing a History of Things Left Out”, Reviews in American History 14 (03 1986): 116.

39. Murrin, John M., “The Great Inversion, or Court versus Country: A Comparison of the Revolution Settlements in England (1688–1721) and America (1776–1816)”, in Three British Revolutions: 1641, 1688, 1776, ed. Pocock, J. G. A. (Princeton, N.J.:, Princeton University Press, 1980), 425.

40. Murrin, John M., ”A Roof without Walls: The Dilemma of American National Identity”, in Beyond Confederation: Origins of the Constitution and American National Identity, ed. Beeman, Richard, Botein, Stephen, and Carter, Edward C. II, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987), 346, 347.

41. Gordon S. Wood, “Framing the Republic, 1760–1820”, in Great Republic, 1:341, 366.

42. Wood, Gordon S., “Equality and Social Conflict in the American Revolution”, William and Mary Quarterly 3d ser., 51 (10 1994): 709, and id., “Interests and Disinterestedness in the Making of the Constitution”, in Beyond Confederation, 69–109.

43. Wood, Gordon S., The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992), 8.

44. Morris, Richard B., The Forging of the Union, 1781–1789 (New York: Harper & Row, 1987); Linda K. Kerber, “The Revolutionary Generation: Ideology, Politics, and Culture in the Early Republic”, in New American History, 42; Wood, “Significance”, 12–18. The phrase “deep change” was coined by Fischer, David Hackett and can be traced back to his first book. The Revolution of American Conservatism: The Federalist Party in the Era of Jeffersonian Democracy (New York: Harper & Row, 1965). Fischer deployed the concept to refer to the organizational changes in party behavior that political leaders set in motion with the victory of Thomas Jefferson in the election of 1800. “There is no period in American history” – Fischer wrote, with reference to the period between the election of 1800 and the War of 1812 – “in which fundamental change proceeded with greater power, speed, and effect” (ibid., 199).

45. Though Wood is hardly a behavioralist, in an early essay, he did praise what he termed a “behaviorist” perspective on the American Revolution. ”Precisely because they sought to understand both the Revolutionary ideas and American society” – Wood observed, in referring to the scholarship of Merrill Jensen and his students – and notwithstanding their “crude conceptualizations”, the “behaviorist historians of the Progressive generation” have “still offered us an explanation of the Revolutionary era so powerful and so comprehensive that no purely intellectual interpretation will ever replace it” (Wood, , “Rhetoric and Reality in the American Revolution”, William and Mary Quarterly 3d ser., 23 [01 1966]: 32).

46. Although Wood, in Radicalism, relied on the concept of American society as a whole as his basic unit of analysis, he now questions the value of this concept for the colonial era. For early Americanists, Wood wrote in 1995, the concept of society was no longer a viable organizing theme:So detailed has our understanding of the various bits and pieces of society become, so numerous are the monographs on this group or that local community, that historians have steadily lost confidence in their ability to conceive of early American society or even the society of a single colony as the proper area for study. Wood's observation raises the issue, which no one has yet explored systematically, of how and why a relatively coherent American society eventually emerged. Wood, Gordon S., “A Century of Writing Early American History: Then and Now Compared; Or How Henry Adams Got it Wrong”, American Historical Review 100 (06 1995): 694–95.

47. Several historians have touched on Wood's neglect of issues of agency. See, for example, Rakove, Jack N., “Gordon S. Wood, the ‘Republican Synthesis’, and the Path Not Taken”, William and Mary Quarterly 3d ser, 44 (07 1987): 621. We ought to remember, Rakove contended, that republican politics were not primarily an exercise in semiotics but rather, and more elementally, a process by which “real historical actors” balanced and determined the conflicting claims that have “clamored for protection and promotion in every phase of our history” (ibid., 621).

48. Wood, ”Significance”, 4.

49. Wilentz, Sean, “On Class and Politics in Jacksonian America”, Revieius in American History 10 (12 1982): 52. Wilentz's theme was the social significance of the creation of mass parties that were anti-ideological in character. In keeping with this theme, Wilentz treated governmental institutions as more-or-less synonymous with political parties. The “ultimate problem” for political historians of the period, Wilentz wrote, was to determine the “social, ideological, and political contradictions” in electoral politics that led to the demise of the party system that had been organized around the Democrats and the Whigs (ibid., 59). See also his “Society, Politics, and the Market Revolution, 1815–1848”, in New American History, 51–71. For an elaboration, with a particular focus on urban artisans, see Wilentz, , Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788–1850 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984). The relationship between social circumstance and party formation is a theme of the two recent studies of Jacksonian politics: Watson, Harry L., Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1990), and Sellers, Charles, The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815–1846 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991). See also Stokes, Melvyn and Conway, Stephen, eds., The Market Revolution in America: Social, Political, and Religious Expressions, 1800–1880 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996). Both Watson and Sellers concentrate on the role of the so-called “market revolution” in shaping partisan loyalty in the decades following the War of 1812. For works that focus on the role of slavery in shaping party development, see Freehling, William W., The Road to Disunion: Secessionists at Bay, 1776–1854 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990); Richards, Leonard L., ”The Jacksonians and Slavery”, in Antislavery Reconsidered: New Perspectives on the Abolitionists, ed. Perry, Lewis and Fellman, Michael (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1979), 99118; and Cooper, William J. Jr, Liberty and Slavery: Southern Politics to 1860 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983).

50. See, for example, Appleby, Joyce, Capitalism and a New Social Order: The Republican Vision of the 1790s (New York: New York University Press, 1984); Nelson, John R. Jr, Liberty and Property: Political Economy in the New Nation, 1789–1812 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987); and Kornblith, Gary J. and Murrin, John M., “The Making and Unmaking of an American Ruling Class”, in Beyond the American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism, ed. Young, Alfred F. (DeKalb, Ill.: Northern Illinois University Press, 1993), 2779. For one of the most influential critiques of the role that earlier historians had assigned to the central government in nineteenth-century American life, see Cochran, Thomas C., “The ‘Presidential Synthesis’ in American History”, American Historical Review 53 (07 1948): 748–59. See also Farnham, Wallace D., “‘The Weakened Spring of Government’: A Study in Nineteenth-Century American History”, American Historical Review 68 (04 1963): 662–80.

51. Hatch, Nathan O., The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 14.

52. Greene, Jack P., Pursuits of Happiness: The Social Development of Early Modern British Colonies and the Eormation of American Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988); id., Peripheries and Center: Constitutional Development in the Extended Polities of the British Empire and the United States, 1607–1788 (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1986).

53. Newmyer, R. Kent, “John Marshall and the Southern Constitutional Tradition,” in An Uncertain Tradition: Constitutionalism and the History of the South ed. Hall, Kermit L. and Ely, James W. Jr, (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1989), 115.

54. Newmyer, R. Kent, “Harvard Law School, New England Legal Culture, and the Ante-bellum Origins of American Jurisprudence,” Journal of American History 74 (12 1987): 820. See also Pisani, Donald J., “Promotion and Regulation: Constitutionalism and the American Economy,” Journal of American History 74 (12 1987): 740–68.

55. Hurst's primary writings include Law and the Conditions of Freedom in the Nineteenth-Century United States (Madison, Wisc.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1956); Law and Economic Growth: The Legal History of the Wisconsin Lumber Industry (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964); The Legitimacy of the Business Corporation in the Law of the United States, 1780–1970 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1970); Law and Social Order in the United States (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1977); and “Old and New Dimensions of Research in United States Legal History,” American Journal of Legal History 23 (1979): 1–20. For a bibliography of Hurst's writings, see Wisconsin Law Review (1980): 1131–32.

56. Scheiber, “Borderland,” 744–56. See also Gordon, Robert W., “J. Willard Hurst and the Common Law Tradition in American Legal Historiography,” Law and Society 19 (Fall 1975): 955.

57. Cited in Keller, Morton, “Social Policy in Nineteenth-Century America,” in Federal Social Policy: The Historical Dimension, ed. Critchlow, Donald T. and Hawley, Ellis (State College, Pa.: Penn State Press, 1988), 102.

58. Crenson, Matthew A., The Federal Machine: Beginnings of Bureaucracy in Jacksonian America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975). For sympathetic glosses of Crenson's argument, see Nelson, Michael, “A Short, Ironic History of American National Bureaucracy,” Journal of Politics, 44 (08 1982): 760–62; Morone, James A., The Democratic Wish: Popular Participation and the Limits of American Government (New York: Basic Books, 1990), 8794; Cole, Donald B., The Presidency of Andrew Jackson (Lawrence, Kans.: University of Kansas Press, 1993), 240; and Wood, Radicalism, 303–5. For a critique, see John, Spreading the News, esp. 79–83, 241–52, 337 n.164, 337 n.166, 337 n.168; Shefter, Martin, Political Parties and the Stale: The American Historical Experience (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994), 68; and Pessen, Edward, rev. of Federal Machine, in Journal of Southern History 41 (11 1975), 553–54.

59. Crenson's analysis echoed the conclusions of historian Lynn Marshall, who propounded a similar thesis, with a similarly exalted view of the Post Office Act of 1836, in a major article that he published in the American Historical Review in 1967. Marshall, Lynn, “The Strange Stillbirth of the Whig Party,” American Historical Review 72 (01 1967): 445–68.

60. Much depends, of course, on one's definition of bureaucratization. Yet, if one identifies this process with formal job descriptions, meritocratic hiring and promotion procedures, and the cultivation of a sense of esprit de corps, then it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Jacksonians slowed – and, to a significant degree, reversed – the largely successful bureaucratization of the central government that had been vigorously promoted in the 1820s by energetic and ambitious administrators such as Postmaster General John McLean.

61. Young, James Sterling, The Washington Community, 1800–1828 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1966), 27. See also Nelson, Michael, “The Washington Community Revisited,” Virginia Historical Review 61 (Spring 1985): 189210; and Bogue, Allan G. and Marlaire, Mark Paul, “Of Mess and Men: The Boardinghouse and Congressional Voting, 1821–1842,” American Journal of Political Science 19 (05 1975): 207–30.

62. Young, Washington Community, 35.

63. Ibid., xi.

64. Cunningham, Noble E. Jr, The Process of Government under Jefferson (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978), 210, 303, quotation on 303.

65. Skowronek, Stephen, Building a New American Stale: 'The Expansion of National Administrative Capacities, 1877–1920 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 19.

66. Ibid., viii, ix.

67. Ibid., 3, 5. Skowronek based his own account of these developments largely on the existing secondary literature, which, with few exceptions, reached a similar conclusion. See, for example, Hollingsworth, J. Rogers, “The United States,” in Crises of Political Development in Europe and The United States, ed. Grew, Raymond (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978), 163–95. Skowronek's characterization of the American policy in the early republic as a state of “courts and parties” has proved so influential among historians as well as political scientists that it is worth noting that, particularly for the period before 1829, it rests on a thin empirical base. During the past few years, historians have documented numerous instances of administrative activism during the presidencies of James Monroe and John Quincy Adams. See, for example, Cunningham, Noble Jr, The Presidency of James Monroe (Lawrence, Kans.: University of Kansas Press, 1996), and Hargreaves, Mary W. M., The Presidency of John Quincy Adams (Lawrence, Kans.: University of Kansas Press, 1985). For a related discussion, see Bright, Charles C., “The State in the United States during the Nineteenth Century,” in Statemaking and Social Movements: Essays in History and Theory, ed. Bright, and Harding, Susan (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 1984), 123, 134–43. Skowronek himself recently amplified his account of national politics in this period to take into account this recent work. See, in particular, his suggestive survey of the Monroe and Adams administrations in The Politics Presidents Make: leadership from John Adams to George Bush (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993), 86–127.

68. Skowronek, Building a Nnu American State, 3–35.

69. Among historians, recognition of the new institutionalism as a distinct intellectual tradition dates back at least as far as 1965, when John Higham drew attention to it in an influential study of the historical profession:Deriving partly from studies in entrepreneurial and business history and partly from contemporary American sociology, this kind of history is less concerned with motives than with structure and process. … Perhaps we may call this the new institutionalism; for it is bringing back to life a morphological study of organizations, now freed from the formalistic, evolutionary emphasis of nineteenth century scholarship. (Higham, John, History: Professional Scholarship in America [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1965], 231)

70. Skocpol, Theda, “Bringing the State Back In: Strategies of Analysis in Current Research,” in Bringing the State Bach In, ed. Evans, Peter B., Rueschemeyer, Dietrich, and Skocpol, Theda (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 21; Orren, Karen and Skowronek, Stephen, “Beyond the Iconography of Order: Notes for a ‘New Institutionalism’,” in The Dynamics of American Politics: Approaches and Interpretations, ed. Dodd, Lawrence C. and Jillson, Calvin (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1994), 311–30; and id., “Institutions and Intercurrence: Theory Building in the Fullness of Time,” Nomos 38 (1996): 111–46. For a related discussion, see Leff, Mark H., “Revisioning U.S. Political History,” American Historical Review 100 (06 1995): 829–53; Leuchtenberg, William E., “The Historian and the Public Realm,” American Historical Review 97 (02 1992): 118; id., “The Pertinence of Political History: Reflections on the Significance of the State in America,” Journal of American History 73 (December 1986): 585–600; and McDonald, Terrence J., “The Burdens of Urban History: The Theory of the State in Recent American Social History,” Studies in American Political Development 3 (1989): 329.

71. For a recent appreciation of scholarship in the old institutionalist tradition, see “The Intellectual Legacy of the Hopkins, JohnsSeminary of History and Politics: Reconsidering the Geneology of the Social Sciences,” Studies in American Political Development 8 (Fall 1994): 375408. See also Robertson, David Brian, “The Return to History and the New Institutionalism in American Political Science,” Social Science History 19 (Spring 1993): 36.

72. Kulikoff, Allan, The Agrarian Origins of American Capitalism (Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1992), 109. See also Smith, Merritt Roe, “Army Ordnance and the ‘American system’ of Manufacturing, 1815–1840,” in Smith, , Military Enterprise and Technological Change: Perspectives on the American Experience (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1985), 40. Smith's essay includes a suggestive discussion of how governmental institutions in nineteenth-century America shaped cultural norms. See also his “Technological Determinism in American Culture,” in Does Technology Drive History: The Dilemma of Technological Determinism, ed. Smith, Merritt Roe and Marx, Leo (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1994), 135.

73. See, for example, Elkins, Stanley and McKitrick, Eric, The Age of Eederalism: The Early American Republic, 1788–1900 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); and Sharp, James Roger, American Politics in the Early Republic: The New Nation in Crisis (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993).

74. Cayton, Andrew R. L., “‘Separate Interests’ and the Nation-State: The Washington Administration and the Origins of Regionalism in the Trans-Appalachian West,” Journal of American History 79 (06 1992): 66.

75. Cayton, Frontier Republic, 32, 131. See also id., “‘Separate Interests’ and the Nation-State,” 39–67; id., “Land, Power, and Reputation: The Cultural Dimension of Politics in the Ohio Country,” William and Mary Quarterly 3d sen., 47 (April 1990): 266–86; and , Cayton and Onuf, Peter S., The Midwest and the Nation: Rethinking the History of an American Region (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1990).

76. See, for example, Wright, Esmond, Fabric of Freedom, 1763–1800, rev. ed. (1961; New York: Hill and Wang, 1978), 168.

77. Onuf, Peter S., Statehood and Union: A History of the Northwest Ordinance (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1987), xiii.

78. For a related discussion, see Kloppenberg, James T., “The Virtues of Liberalism: Christianity, Republicanism, and the Ethics of Early American Political Discourse,” journal of American History 74 (06 1987): 933.

79. White, Richard, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

80. Limerick, Patricia Nelson, The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1987).

In the West … it has been possible to see the future and to see that it works – sometimes. Heavy reliance on the federal government's good graces, the example of the West suggests, does expose the two principals to substantial risk – to inefficiency and mismanagement on the part of the benefactor and to resentment and discontent on the part of the beneficiaries. To a striking degree, the lessons of the problems of the American welfare state could be read in the nation's frontier past, (ibid., 89)

81. Historians of Great Britain have recently touched on broadly similar themes. See, for example, O'Brien, Patrick K., “Political Preconditions for the Industrial Revolution,” in The Industrial Revolution and British Society, ed. O'Brien, and Quinault, Roland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 124–55, and Mathias, Peter, The First Industrial Nation: An Economic History of Britain, 1700–1914, 2d (1969; London: Methuen, 1983), 3175.

82. Smith, Merritt Roe, Harpers Ferry and the New Technology: The Challenge of Change (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1977), 324.

83. Smith, Merritt Roe, “Military Entrepreneurship,” in Yankee Enterprise: The Rise of the American System of Manufactures, ed. Mayr, Otto and Post, Robert C. (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1981), 95. For a related discussion of military influence in railroad management, see Charles F. O'Connell Jr., “The Corps of Engineers and the Rise of Modern Management, 1827–1856,” in Military Enterprise and Technological Change, 87–116.

84. John, Spreading the News, 5. See also Kielbowicz, Richard B., News in the Mail: The Press, Post Office, and Public Information, 1700–1860s (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1989).

85. Only after the adoption of the federal Constitution, as J. R. Pole explains, would a “politics of trust,” which presupposed that ordinary people possessed little knowledge about political matters, be supplanted by a “politics of vigilance” that invested the citizenry with the right to be more-or-less continuously informed about the affairs of state. The invention of this new vision of governance, Pole adds, was distinct from, and even more conceptually daring than, the institutionalization of the principle of political representation. “Neither political representation nor popular government was a new idea at the time of the American Revolution,” Pole explains: “What was new in the politics of the time was the use of representation as a clearly defined institutional bridge between people and government. The two-way traffic over the bridge was a traffic in knowledge. The men who devised the Constitution and the men who wrote the Federalist Papers had not yet anticipated that the principle of accountability would assume forms that would subject it to subject it to such intimate, yet public, investigation and control. … Only through knowledge of the government of America could the people confide to it their confidence and trust.” Pole, Jack R., The Gift of Government: Political Responsiblity from the English Restoration to American Independence (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1983), 140. For a related discussion, see Lacey, Michael J. and Furner, Mary O., “Social Investigation, Social Knowledge, and the State: An Introduction,” in The Stale and Social Investigation in Britain and the United States, ed. Lacey, and Furner, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 8.

86. On the role of public policy in the creation of the public sphere, see Carey, James W., Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989), 19, and John, Spreading the News, chap. 2. See also id., “American Historians and the Concept of the Communications Revolution,” in Information Acumen: The Understanding and Use of Knowledge in Modern Business, ed. Bud-Frierman, Lisa (London: Routledge, 1994), 98110. For a discussion of cultural values rather than institutional developments, see Brown, Richard D., The Strength of a People: The Idea of an Informed Citizenry in America, 1650–1870 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996); id., Knowledge is Power: The Diffusion of Information in Early America, 1700–1865 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989); and Warner, Michael, The Letters of the Republic: Publication and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990). See also Brooks, John L., “Ancient Lodges and Self-Created Societies: Voluntary Association and the Public Sphere in the Early Republic,” in Launching the Extended Republic': The Federalist Era, ed. Hoffman, Ronald and Albert, Peter J. (Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1996), 273377; and Leonard, Thomas C., News for All: America's Coming-of-Age with the Press (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), chap. 1.

87. Though Tocqueville recognized the significance of voluntary associations in American public life, he overlooked the role of the central government in helping association organizers to spread their message. On this point, see Theda Skocpol, “The Tocqueville Problem: Civic Engagement in American Democracy,” Social Science History (forthcoming).

Tocqueville's inadequate account of the central government, Tocqueville specialist James T. Schleifer has observed, was the “basic error” of his discussion of the nature and future of the American federation. Interestingly, Schleifer attributed this error to an uncritical reliance on political commentators such as Massachusetts jurist Joseph Story, who deliberately exaggerated the strength, ambition, and rights of the states. Schleifer, James T., The Making of Tocqueville's Democracy in America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980), 111.

88. The expansion of the postal network was greatly facilitated by the petition process, another important element of the postconstitutional civic infrastructure. To establish a new post route, Congress required interested parties to petition Congress with a formal request. Thousands of these petitions have survived and can be sampled at the National Archives. Many were earnest, handwritten appeals. As such, they constitute eloquent testimony to the relevance of the government to everyday affairs and to the determination of the American people to secure the benefits that only the government could confer. For a more extended discussion of the petition process, see John, Spreading the News, 49–51, 173–74, 185–86, 189.

89. For a related argument, see Shefter, Political Parties, 68.

90. The role of the civic instrastructure in shaping political attitudes deserves more attention than it has thus far received. Political mobilization, as J.G.A. Pocock reminds us, can be a “most powerful engine in determining political and historical subjectivity.” Pocock, J.G.A., “The Limits and Divisions of British History: In Search of the Unknown Subject,” American Historical Review 87 (04 1982): 336. Such an inquiry would complement studies of the cultural consequences of market growth. See Bender, Thomas, ed., The Antislavery Debate: Capitalism and Abolitionism as a Problem in Historical Imagination (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1992); and Haskell, Thomas L. and Teichgraeber, Richard F. III, ed., The Culture of the Market: Historical Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

91. Tomlins, Christopher L., Law, Labor, and Ideology in the Early American Republic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); Kerber, Linda K., “The Paradox of Women's Citizenship in the Early Republic: The Case of Martin vs. Massachusetts,” American Historical Review 97 (04 1992): 349–78; Grossberg, Michael, Governing the Hearth: Law and the Family in Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985); and id., A Judgment for Solomon: The D'Hautville Case and Legal Experience in Antebellum America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

92. Hartog, Hendrik, Public Property and Private Power: The Corporation of the City of New York in American Law, 1730–1870 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983), 6.

93. Ibid., 264.

94. Ibid., 10.

95. Ibid., 156–57.

96. Ibid., 153–54.

97. Novak, People's Welfare, 284, n.6.

98. Novak, William J., “Common Regulation: Legal Origins of State Power in America,” Hastings Law Journal 45 (04 1994): 1096.

99. Novak, People's Welfare, 49.

100. Here new institutionalists build on the insights of older scholars such as Scheiber. See, in particular, Scheiber, “Federalism and the American Economic Order, 1789–1910.”

101. Onuf, Peter, “Reflections on the Founding: Constitutional Historiography in Bicentennial Perspective,” William and Mary Quarterly 3d ser., 46 (04 1989): 345. “Could it be,” Onuf asks rhetorically, “that the proper ‘deconstruction’ of the ratification debates lead back to federalism – and the problems of the union – and not into the deeper structure of American society?” (ibid., 357). See also id., The Origins of the Federal Republic: Jurisdict ion al Controversies in the United States, 1775–1787 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983).

102. Dunlavy, Colleen A., Politics and Industrialization: Early Railroads in the United States and Prussia (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994), 5155.

103. Taylor, George Rogers, The Transportation Revolution, 1815–1860 (New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, 1951). For an appreciation of Taylor's achievement, see Scheiber, Harry N. and Salsbury, Stephen, ”Reflections on George Rogers Taylor's The Transportation Revolution, 1815–1860: A Twenty-Five Year Retrospect,” Business History Review 51 (Spring 1977): 7989. For a critique, see Scheiber, , “The Transportation Revolution and American Law: Constitutionalism and Public Policy,” in Transportation and the Early Nation (Indianapolis, Ind.: Indiana Historical Society, 1982), 57. Notwithstanding Scheiber's admiration for Taylor, Scheiber faults him for exaggerating the role of social processes such as sectionalism in explaining opposition to public works, while downplaying the role of principled objections rooted in constitutional law(ibid., 5).

104. Dunlavy, Politics and Industrialization, 4.

105. Ibid., 196.

106. Andrew R. L. Cayton, “Comment,” in author's possession, 7–8.

107. Kessler-Harris, “Social History,” 180.

108. Freehling, William W., The Reintegration of American History: Slavery and the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 152–53.

109. On public finance, see Forsythe, Dall W., Taxation and Political Change in the Young Nation, 1781–1833 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977); Brownlee, W.Elliott, Federal Taxation in America: A Short History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 946; and Sylla, Richard, Legler, John B., and Wallis, John J., “Banks and State Public Finance in the New Republic: The United States, 1790–1860,“ Journal of Economic History 47 (06 1987): 391403.

110. Bourke, Paul and DeBats, Donald, “Identifiable Voting in Nineteenth-Century America: Toward a Comparison of Britain and the United States before the Secret Ballot,” Perspectives in American History 11 (19771978): 275. Since voting in the early republic was open, Bourke and DeBats note, even ordinary Americans had ample opportunity to monitor electoral irregularities at first-hand; Bourke, and DeBats, , Washington County: Politics and Community in Antebellum America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995).

111. McDonald, Terrence J., “Reply to Professor Katznelson,” Studies in American Political Development 3 (1989), 54.

112. Pocock, J.G.A., The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1975), esp. 548.

113. Pocock, J.G.A., “Early Modern Capitalism – The Augustan Perception,” in Feudalism, Capitalism, and Beyond, ed. Kamenka, Eugene and Neale, R.S. (London: Australian National University, 1975), 82. See also Pocock, , “The Machiavellian Moment Revisited: A Study in History and Ideology,” Journal of Modern History 53 (03 1981): 64; and id.,“Between Gog and Magog: The Republican Thesis and the Ideologia Americana,” Journal of the History of Ideas 48 (April–June 1987): 343.

114. For a related discussion, see Rodgers, Daniel T., “Republicanism: The Career of a Concept,” Journal of American History 79 (06 1992): 40.

115. Larson, John Lauritz, “Liberty by Design: Freedom, Planning, and John Quincy Adams's American System,” in The State and Economic Knowledge: The American and British Experiences, ed. Furner, Mary O. and Supple, Barry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 8996, quotation on 95. On popular attitudes toward internal improvements, see also Russo, David J., “The Major Political Issues of the Jacksonian Period and the Development of Party Loyalty in Congress, 1830–1840,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 62, pt.5 (1972): 351, esp. 28.

116. On this point, see also Forbes, Robert P., “Slavery and the Meaning of America, 1819–1833” (Ph. D. dissertation, Yale University, 1994). Forbes traces the injection of an explicitly racist rhetoric into American political discourse to Jacksonian public figures such as Martin Van Buren, who used it to expand his political base.

117. Huston, James L., “The American Revolutionaries, the Political Economy of Aristocracy, and the American Concept of the Distribution of Wealth, 1765–1900,” American Historical Review 98 (10 1993): 1079–105. See also Bushman, Richard L., “‘This New Man’: Dependence and Independence, 1776,” in Uprooted Americans: Essays to Honor Oscar Handlin, ed. Bushman, et al. (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1979), 93.

118. For a related discussion, see Tilly, Charles, Big Structures, Large Processes, Huge Comparisons (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1984).

* Of the many individuals who have helped me sort out the ideas in this essay, I should like particularly to thank Andrew R. L. Cayton, Colleen A. Dunlavy, Robert P. Forbes, William J. Novak, Peter S. Onuf, Jack N. Rakove, Daniel Scott Smith, Benson Stein, Gordon S. Wood, Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Alfred F. Young, and two anonymous referees for Studies in American Political Development. None of these individuals, of course, are responsible for what I have done with their good advice. I am also indebted to Karen Orren for editorial suggestions that have improved the text. Earlier versions were presented at the Newberry Library's seminar in social history and at the Woodrow Wilson Center of the Smithsonian Institution. I am especially grateful to the Wilson Center for financial assistance in the preparation of an earlier draft.

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Studies in American Political Development
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