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.)
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"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
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