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The Age of Strict Construction: A History of the Growth of Federal Power, 1789-1861

The Age of Strict Construction: A History of the Growth of Federal Power, 1789-1861 (Paperback)

£35.95
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Synopsis

The Age of Strict Construction explores the growth of the federal government's power and influence between 1789 and 1861, and the varying reactions of Americans to that growth. The book focuses on the dispute over the spending power of Congress, the Supreme Court's expansion of the Contract Clause, and the centralizing effects of the Jacksonian spoils system. The book also surveys the conflict over constitutional interpretation--originalism v. textualism--that has divided Americans from the time of the dispute over the first Bank of the United States until the present day. The standard interpretation of American history holds that the federal government remained a weak and passive creature until the New Deal. The Age of Strict Construction argues that this interpretation is not valid--if measured against the original understanding of the powers of Congress and the Supreme Court, federal authority grew rapidly during the antebellum period. The most stunning aspect of centralization occurred with the rise of a party system heavily dependent on federal largesse for patronage.

The book also details how the federal government quickly came to play an unexpectedly prominent role in the lives of citizens, as its policies in areas such as land sales and tariffs had a huge effect on the fortunes of individual Americans. It also explains how the Founders' classical ideas of a rural electorate immune to pecuniary considerations quickly succumbed to the changes brought on by the arrival of a market economy and the growth of cities. The relationship between centralization and the sectional crisis of the 1850s is also explored. The book turns the long-running argument over the cause of secession--slavery v. the growth of federal power--on its head by revealing how the two combined to cause southern states to leave the Union.

Peter Zavodnyik is an attorney in private practice in Chicago. He is also the author of The Rise of the Federal Colossus: The Growth of Federal Power from Lincoln to F.D.R. (Praeger) .

More books by Peter Zavodnyik

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