Federalism and the Making of America

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Though Americans rarely appreciate it, federalism has profoundly shaped their nation's past, present, and future. Federalism — the division of government authority between the national government and the states — affects the prosperity, security, and daily life of every American. But while the debate over the proper role of each level in public policymaking often gets stuck in heated debates over principle, Robertson shows that federalism is best understood as a strategic tool. These philosophical disputes usually cloak the real purpose behind the struggle over state versus national power: to get government to do something that they want it to do, or to prevent government from doing something they want to prevent. Robertson also shows that past choices shape present circumstances, and that a deep understanding of American government, public policy, political processes, and society requires an understanding of the key steps in federalism's evolution in American history. Once its framers fixed federalism in the U.S. Constitution, Americans became accustomed to it and built it into new government activities, leading to further fragmentation in the political system. This nuanced and comprehensive overview of federalism allows students to see that both major political parties throughout the country's past have swapped positions on the debate when it has suited other goals, such as conflicts over race and economic growth. Both liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, still use federalism as an expedient tool to deal with difficult issues such as the corporate behavior, the environment, education, abortion, gay rights, and other pressing policy agendas. Federalism and the Making of America is a sorely needed text that treats the politics of federalism systematically and accessibly, making it indispensible to all students and scholars of American politics.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In this deeply insightful and subtle book, David Robertson provides a crisp, policy-focused account of federalism as a developmental phenomenon, and he shows that it has persisted because every interest or actor in American politics has found federalism strategically useful at one time or another. Everyone who reads this book will come away seeing American politics in a new light."
Rick Valelly, Swarthmore College

"Students of American federalism will appreciate this book. While federalism is often thought of in terms of theory and structure, Robertson discusses the historical development of American federalism and ways in which it affects how political conflicts are addressed. The book is unique in its combined focus on this political dimension of federalism and in its broad historical perspective. With these areas of focus, Robertson sheds light on both federalism and key issues in the development of American public policy. As a result, I expect that Federalism and the Making of America will be used and appreciated in courses on American Government and Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations."
John Hoornbeek, Kent State University

"Those who think of American federalism as simply a legalistic formula for dividing up government responsibility should think again. David Brian Robertson's deft and compelling account shows federalism to be both a central arena of political conflict and a critical driving force of American political history. Few writers have done more to reveal how federalism has shaped American politics and why it still matters today."
Robert C. Lieberman, Columbia University

"Federalism and the Making of America is a striking contribution to the study of American political development. Robertson shows how federalism matters by delineating its strategic use in the key battles that have shaped political conflict since the drafting of Constitution. Essential for understanding the distinctive compromises and contradictions that mark the making of American politics and policy."
Margaret Weir, University of California, Berkeley

"Federalism takes center stage as Robertson skillfully unveils the often mystifying impact of federal-state relations on the origins and exercise of government authority. In this panoramic view of political development, he demonstrates how the theory and practice of federalism have mutually constituted each other throughout American history. There are many lessons to be learned, not the least of which is that the states have neither been bastions of reaction nor purveyors of progress."
Richard Bensel, Cornell University

"Scholarly attention to the evolution of American federalism rarely looks at both the political theories and the historical events that shaped the division of national and state government. This book, both a synthesis and an original study, does exactly that. It accomplishes the remarkable feat of illustrating how this has occurred through the entire run of US history in fewer than 200 pages of text...Throughout the entire work, the author successfully explains how federalism has influenced US politics. The ideas he develops in his narrative are exceptionally clear, and although he provides a tremendous amount of information, this book is anything but dense. It is quite scholarly, but any reading adult with an interest in US political history will appreciate it. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries."
T. Maxwell-Long, CHOICE (March 2012)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780415879194
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Publication date: 8/31/2011
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 248
  • Sales rank: 900,154
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

David Brian Robertson is University of Missouri Curators’ Teaching Professor and former chair of the department of political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction Part I: Bringing American Federalism to Life 2. Federalism at the Founding 3. Federalism, Political Parties, and Interests Part II: Enduring Fault Lines of American Politics 4. Federalism and Race 5. Federalism, Capitalism, and Economic Growth Part III: The Construction of Active Government 6. Progressive Reform 7. The New Deal 8. Liberal Activism and Intergovernmental Relations 9. Federalism and Conservative Governance after 1980 10. American Federalism in the Twenty-first Century

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