States' Rights and the Union: Imperium in Imperio, 1776-1876 (American Political Thought Series) / Edition 1

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Overview

Forrest McDonald has long been recognized as one of our most respected and provocative intellectual historians. With this new book, he once again delivers an illuminating meditation on a major theme in American history and politics.

Elegantly and accessibly written for a broad readership, McDonald's book provides an insightful look at states' rights-an issue that continues to stir debate nationwide. From constitutional scholars to Supreme Court justices to an electorate that's grown increasingly wary of federal power, the concept of states' rights has become a touchstone for a host of political and legal controversies. But, as McDonald shows, that concept has deep roots that need to be examined if we're to understand its implications for current and future debates.

McDonald's study revolves around the concept of imperium in imperio—literally "sovereignty within sovereignty" or the division of power within a single jurisdiction. With this broad principle in hand, he traces the states' rights idea from the Declaration of Independence to the end of Reconstruction and illuminates the constitutional, political, and economic contexts in which it evolved.

Although the Constitution, McDonald shows, gave the central government expansive powers, it also legitimated the doctrine of states' rights. The result was an uneasy tension and uncertainty about the nature of the central government's relationship to the states. At times the issue bubbled silently and unseen beneath the surface of public awareness, but at other times it exploded.

McDonald follows this episodic rise and fall of federal-state relations from the Hamilton-Jefferson rivalry to the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, New England's resistance to Jefferson's foreign policy and the War of 1812, the Nullification Controversy, Andrew Jackson's war against the Bank of the United States, and finally the vitriolic public debates that led to secession and civil war. Other scholars have touched upon these events individually, but McDonald is the first to integrate all of them from the perspective of states' rights into one synthetic and magisterial vision.

The result is another brilliant study from a masterful historian writing on a subject of great import for Americans.

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Editorial Reviews

Herman J. Belz
Vintage McDonald. A provocative book written with force, verve, and distinction.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In living memory, "states' rights" is most notoriously associated with Southern resistance to desegregation and civil rights; in historical memory it's most notoriously associated with Southern secession and the Civil War. University of Alabama historian McDonald (Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origin of the Constitution and the American Presidency) offers a brief, pithy general survey of the issue's much richer, occasionally honorable history. States' rights was deeply intertwined with most major issues of America's first hundred years, from the very formation of government, to battles over the Bank of the United States, internal improvements (such as roads), the Louisiana Purchase, military policy tariffs and Reconstruction. This study is valuable simply for following a thread through such a diversity of subjects, and illuminating its main theme in such telling detail. It's also admirably honest in noting how frequently the doctrine was adopted or dropped, depending on the purposes served. Unfortunately, the book fails to adequately analyze other doctrines that competed with, intersected with or reinforced states' rights, and the fails to explore seriously the profound inconsistencies in how the doctrine came to be applied. Furthermore, while McDonald notes the rapid transformation of centuries-old contract law to accommodate the emergence of marketplace economics in the early 1800s, he ignores the notion of similar historical necessities transforming the decades-old doctrine of states' rights. The History Book Club, which will offer this largely informative and enjoyable book as a selection, could reach most of this book's limited audience among serious readers of American history. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
McDonald (history, U. of Alabama) explores the balance between general and local authority in government. Tracing the concept of states' rights from the Declaration of Independence to the end of Reconstruction, he illuminates the constitutional, political, and economic contexts in which the issues have evolved. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Gary McDowell
One could ask for no better introduction into this important and often complicated history than Forrest McDonald's States Rights and the Union...The power of his narrative is such that even those intimately familiar with the history of American federalism will find the book worth their time. McDonald is a superb storyteller who brings history to life...[His] account is magnetic.
Times Literary Supplement
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700610402
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 1/28/2000
  • Series: American Political Thought Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.69 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface

Prologue: The Problem of Divided Sovereignty

1. The Compact

2. The Federalist Era

3. The Jeffersonians

4. An Era of Mixed Feelings, 1815-1828

5. States' Rights Triumphant

6. Government in Limbo, 1837-1845

7. A Changed Dynamic, 1845-1852

8. Dissolving the Union

9. Civil War and Reconstruction

Epilogue: The Doctrine Transformed

Notes

Index

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