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States' Rights and the Union: Imperium in Imperio, 1776-1876 (American Political Thought (University Press of Kansas)) Hardcover – October 24, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers 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 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"A bold, independent thinker, he demolishes the shibboleths of the right as readily as those of the left. . . An indispensable history." -- Eugene Genovese, The Atlantic Monthly

"One could ask for no better introduction to this important and often complicated subject...." -- Times Literary Supplement

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Product Details

  • Series: American Political Thought (University Press of Kansas)
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas; 3rd otg edition (October 24, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0700610405
  • ISBN-13: 978-0700610402
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.7 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #946,277 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By JasonM on January 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Forrest McDonald has an encyclopedic knowledge of the United State's founding and early history, and excellent writing skills. These combine to make this book an amazing read. this book is an in depth, objective, study about how states' rights was an integral part of our founding, that the U.S. is a country made up of sovereign states, not of individual citizens, and how Lincoln, Jefferson, and many other presidents approached states' rights.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Nathan Schock on June 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Among their many failings, U.S. history textbooks have often portrayed national sovereignty as a largely settled question following the revolutionary war, which was resurrected years later by southern states who wanted to hold slaves. What University of Alabama Professor Forrest McDonald shows in "States' Rights and the Union", is that states' rights infused the national debate of most issues in the first 100 years of the republic.
One of those issues on which McDonald provides a particularly interesting read is the issue of "internal improvements" (modern-day supporters call them "earmarks"; detractors "pork-barrel projects"). What has become commonplace today was once looked at as an unconstitutional extension of federal power. As part of the ongoing debate, McDonald chronicles the 1825 passage of a resolution by the South Carolina legislature which condemned "the taxing of the citizens in one state 'to make roads and canals for the citizens of another state.' Virginia adopted a similar resolution early in 1827, as did Georgia late in the year." Where would today's politicians be if they couldn't deliver for their constituents road and canals? (and bridges and buildings and museums and subsidies).
The book is filled with Supreme Court cases, which serves to reinforce McDonald's contention of the Court's centrality in the states' rights debate. Although today the Supreme Court is looked at with an almost sacred awe, it wasn't always that way. Indeed, McDonald notes in the epilogue that it was with the dismissal of 20th century southern segregationist laws that "the Supreme Court gained an enormous fund of moral capital in the rest of the country" which it used to consolidate its power.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Joe Zika TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
States' Rights and the Union: Imperium in Imperio 1776-1876 written by Forrest McDonald is a very illuminating work on the vexing theme of States' Rights vs Union, a theme in American history and politics that has and will continue to elicite debate.
Forrest McDonald works both sides of the debate in this book and you'll find yourself straddling the fence here, wary of federal power or states' rights, as the Constitution gave the central government expansive powers, but it also legitimated the doctrine of states' rights, resulting in dual-sovereignty or as McDonald says, Imperium in Imperio, (sovereignty within sovereignty, supreme power within supreme power), or the division of power within a single jurisdiction. This inherent tension and uncertainty was, I think, intentionally written into the constitution to keep both sides honest. This debate seems to always keep the pot hot, only occasionally boiling over into contention.
McDonald has a pleasenly elegant narrative that is easily readable giving an insightful look at the delicate balance of dual-sovereignty. Taking us from the Federalist Era through the Jeffersonians to finally the Civil War and Reconstruction all the while giving the reader insight to the various positions each serving a purpose as authority between general and local seemed to sway in one direction or another, only to be upset anew and to move back toward the opposite position, but the contention never went away. The division of sovereignty was generally regarded as impossible, but only in America where political thinking underwent a fundamental transformation, bringing unparalleled and unprecedented constitution-making, and only until Americans devised a way of doing it, did it happen.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Philip M. Montesano on April 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Forrest McDonald's study examines the conflicts that exist in America between a strong central government and the power of each state. Such a study has relevance for both students and teachers of United States History and American Government. McDonald starts by showing how the Constitution divided sovereignty between the states and the federal government. Given this division of power, the states and the federal government have disagreed repeatedly over whose sovereignty takes control in handling such issues as Native Americans, slavery, impeachment of federal judges, responsibility for improvements in infrastructure, banking, commerce, taxing, and many other political and foreign policy issues.
The conflicts over federalism and states' rights have appeared a number of times in American History. For example, the appointment of judges by the Federalist John Adams in the final weeks of his presidential administration aroused the opposition of anti-federalist Thomas Jefferson, which led to famous Supreme Court case, MARBURY V. MADISON (the court declared an act of Congress unconstitutional). The political disagreements between federalists and the supporters of states' rights led to other conflicts such as the attempted impeachment of Justice Chase and secessionist talk by New Englanders fearing the rule of the "slaveocracy." Other examples included the Supreme Court cases of McCULLOCH v. MARYLAND (confirmation of "implied powers" of congress), GIBBONS V. OGDEN (freed internal transportation from state restraints), the removal of the Cherokees from Georgia, SOUTH CAROLINA EXPOSITION AND PROTEST (a publication supporting nullification of federal laws by Southern states), and finally Jackson's refusal to recharter the Bank of the United States.
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