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by Ballard C. Campbell
Federalism had significant effects on governance in the United States during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. American federalism divided political authority between the national government and the states, with each entity possessing certain policy prerogatives. James Bryce, the famed British observer of American politics, called this structural bifurcation "the characteristic feature... of the American Union." He likened its operation to "a great factory wherein two sets of machinery are at work... each doing its own work without touching or hampering the other." ( _The American Commonwealth_ 1890 edition, 318). "Thus every American," he wrote, "lives under two governments and two sets of laws," an arrangement few fully understood, but most readily accepted. Bryce's lyrical description of the American system, whose tiers of government kept "within their respective spheres," evolved into the metaphor of "dual federalism." Comprehension of this arrangement, Bryce opined, required that observers look beyond Washington and study the states (412).
Despite Bryce's Brahmin biases, _The American Commonwealth_ has aged well. It remains a useful starting place for understanding federalism in the Gilded Age (see especially volume 1, chapters 2, 27-36). Besides anticipating most later assessments of older federalism, _Commonwealth_ stands in for the absence of a modern survey of the subject. W. Brooke Graves, _American Intergovernmental Relations_, offers a broad but dated overview that reviews some history, especially on the development of grants-in-aid. Harry Scheiber has conceptualized the evolution of federalism in several valuable monographic-length articles, including "Federalism and the American Economic Order, 1789-1910." Scheiber's construction rests heavily on judicial decisions, an orientation less pronounced in John Kincaid's "From Cooperation to Coercion in the American Federalism: Housing, Fragmentation and Preemption, 1780-1992." Kincaid's novel approach to federalism, which pivots around national policy toward housing, contains a section (pp. 353-68) on the GAPE period. Ballard Campbell's _The Growth of American Government_ described the character of civic activity at state/local and national levels during the Cleveland era, and linked these patterns to federalism and its ideological underpinning. The foundation of these structures eroded during the GAPE era as governance expanded and power drifted toward Washington.
The metaphor of dual federalism focuses attention on the particular tasks that states, cities, and national government performed. Constitutional provisions, leavened by court adjudication, suggest this division of labor, but a complete portrait of governance requires the reconstruction of the actual uses of power at each level of the system. Because historiographical practice tends to obscure subnational activities in favor of national politics, this essay emphasizes recent writing on the states and cities. The focus here on comparative research unfortunately excludes many fine studies of individual states and cities. Scholars lack a comprehensive overview of state and urban legislation and administrative practices over time and among places. Morton Keller, _Affairs of State_ on the Gilded Age and his successive volumes on the progressive era (1990, 1994) offer rich surveys of governance in the GAPE period, with federalism an implicit factor. William R. Brock's _Investigation and Responsibility_ is an important comparative study of state governance that concentrated on four policy areas between 1869 and 1900. Jon C. Teaford's _The Unheralded Triumph_ is a revisionist portrait of urban governance that compares the activities in large American cities with European counterparts. Eric H. Monkkonen illuminated the role of smaller municipalities in _The Local State_, which examines local investment in infrastructure. Ballard Campbell (1992) documented the substantive range of state legislative actions in the GAPE era and charted the predominance of state-local finance during these years.
Few studies have tapped the potential of comparing economic policy among the states along the lines of H. Rodger Grant, _Insurance Reform_, and Donald J. Pisani's study of water law, _To Reclaim a Divided West_. Pisani's work is regionally set, as is William A. Link's analysis of southern "progressivism," which traced policy concerning liquor, public health, schools, female suffrage, and child labor. The dominance of the states in setting social policy is manifested in Theda Skocpol's examination of workers' compensation and mother's pensions, Linda Gordon's discussion of single mothers and welfare, and Michael Grossberg's research on the law of domestic relations, which included policy on marriage, abortion, and adoption. The latter work documents ways that the states established mechanisms of social control, a theme developed in Amy Dru Stanley's "Beggars Can't Be Choosers," which sketched the context of vagrancy enactments. Although John Duffy's _The Sanitarians_ did not focus exclusively on the GAPE period or just on the sub-national level, his fine synthesis demonstrates the leadership role of the states and cities in public health work during the era.
Duffy's book discloses how the public health movement fostered new administrative structures and practices during the gilded age. Brock, Teaford, and Stanley Schultz, _Urban Culture_, expand the field of view on this subject, and challenge the traditional indictment of public administration in the Gilded Age. Link, on the other hand, pointed to the "powerlessness" of state officials in enforcing public health and educational standards in the south. Such local and regional diversity is inherent to American federalism, a fact that provides a compelling reason to take note of how different jurisdictions performed. Bryce contended that the semi-sovereign character of the states prompted "a people to try experiments." Yet these structural properties could also thwart innovation. William Graebner (1977) and David B. Robertson (1989) argued that the competition among states to attract and retain business exerted a conservative influence on subnational politics, especially concerning taxation and labor law. The movement to adopt "uniform" state laws failed to overcome this impediment inherent to federalism.
The fate of many state and local enactments during the GAPE years hinged on judicial reaction. Stanley Schultz (1989) has traced the rise of state police power (chapters 3, 4), which became the legal keystone for regulations designed to protect the health, safety, and welfare of individuals in the various commonwealths. Contrary to general impression that jurists placed government, and the states especially, in legal straitjackets, William Brock and Melvin Urofsky (1985) argue that state courts afforded wide discretion to state lawmakers. The federal courts were more compliant than state jurists in this regard, despite the _Lochner_ decision (1905), which Howard Gillman showed in _The Constitution Besieged_ reiterated classical themes in American jurisprudence. Jurists endeavored to delineate laws that benefited the general community (acceptable) from those that favored only a particular "class" (unacceptable). Labor legislation often fell into the latter category, as William Forbath demonstrated in _Law and the Shaping of the Labor Movement_, which documents the range of court hostility to regulations affecting workers, especially concerning hours, wages, and the use of injunctions. This judicial impediment, Forbath argued, pushed labor toward a defensive, "minimalist" political strategy. William Ross contended that criticism of the courts was cyclical and reached a crescendo in the Progressive Era. Herbert Hovenkamp and Charles McCurdy agreed that the Supreme Court both respected dual federalism, and imposed limits on states whose actions restricted the formation of a national commercial market.
These recent contributions from legal historians have sharpened our understanding of how jurisprudence effected governance. Less attention has focused on other dimensions of intergovernmental relations, along the lines of Bruce Seeley's _Building the American Highway System_. Seeley tracked the role of road engineers in the enactment of the Federal Highway Act of 1916 and in the use of federal grants to promote a national road system. Clifford Staten analyzed Theodore Roosevelt's acceptance of this new "cooperative" federalism, which challenged traditional governing practices. Women were instrumental in inaugurating Federal interest in child welfare, a commitment they nurtured into a federal grant program in the 1920s. Robyn Muncy (1991) recounted this process, arguing the importance of gender in the history of the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Act of 1921. Richard F. Hamm (1995) has traced the conflict between the national government's power to tax and to regulate interstate commerce, and state police power over liquor and other social conduct in a study that concludes with the adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment.
Political sentiment soured on national prohibition and child welfare in the 1920s, yet Progressive Era efforts at social control and moral reform contributed to a trend that eroded the moorings of classical dual federalism. Expanded Federal regulation of commercial practices (e.g. Federal Reserve banking system), the introduction of new services for individuals (e.g. rural free delivery of mail), war-induced control of prices, speech, and personal income (e.g. higher income taxes), coupled with the development of Federal police powers (e.g. prohibition) and grant-in-aid programs substantially enhanced Washington's role between 1900 and 1920 and blurred traditional policy distinctions among America's governments.
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