All posts by D. Davis

The Wall Street Journal review of ‘The Panic of 1819’: Easy Money, Bad Decisions

The Panic of 1819 has been reviewed by the Wall Street Journal!

A boom in lending was followed by a bust and hard times. The crisis inspired a new spirit of self-reliance and impressive economic debate.


The Second Bank of the United States was heavily criticized in the aftermath of the Panic of 1819. PHOTO: KEAN COLLECTION/GETTY IMAGES

James Grant

April 17, 2019 6:54 p.m. ET

Few will feel the urge to spray confetti in this year of the bicentennial of the 1819 panic. The wondrous thing, by Andrew Browning’s telling, is that the young country survived it. The title of Mr. Browning’s fine and formidable history only hints at its scope. “The Panic of 1819” is, in fact, a political, social and financial history of the U.S., before, during and after America’s first great depression.

If you have a subscription to the WSJ, you can continue reading here:

A Republic in Crisis: A Postscript to Farewell to Prosperity

9780826220295Lisle A. Rose’s 2014 A Farewell to Prosperity: Wealth, Identity, and Conflict in Postwar America is an in-depth study of the Liberal and Conservative forces that fought each other to shape American political culture and character during the nation’s most prosperous years. The book’s central theme is the bitter struggle to fashion post–World War II society between a historic Protestant Ethic that equated free-market economics and money-making with Godliness and a new, secular Liberal temperament that emerged from the twin ordeals of depression and world war to stress social justice and security. Now, Rose has written a postscript that focuses on the current political situation under “Trumpism.”

The University of Missouri Press encourages the free exchange of ideas. Occasionally, we host additional content from our authors, giving them the chance to discuss their work, others’ work or the world at large. The views and opinions expressed in these posts are those of the authors and are not necessarily shared by the University of Missouri Press.

Read the entire postscript here:

Farewell to Prosperity Postscript: A Republic in Crisis

Other titles by Lisle A. Rose

Rose - Americas Sailors in the Great War 72 dpiAmerica’s Sailors in the Great War
Seas, Skies, and Submarines
$36.95 • 9780826221056 • Hardcover • 344 pp. • 25 illus.




The Life of Richard E. Byrd
$34.95 • 9780826217820 • Hardcover • 568 pp. • 32 illus.



Rose jktsPower at Sea, Volume 1
The Age of Navalism, 1890-1918
$24.95 • 9780826217011 • Paperback • 384 pp. • 16 illus.



Rose jktsPower at Sea, Volume 2
The Breaking Storm, 1919-1945
$24.95 • 9780826217028 • Paperback • 536 pp. • 21 illus.



Rose jktsPower at Sea, Volume 3
A Violent Peace, 1942-2006
$24.95 • 9780826217035 • Paperback • 392 pp. • 14 illus.

Robert H. Ferrell, 1921-2018

We are sorry to announce the death of author and American historian, Robert H. Ferrell, who died on August 8th at the age of 97. The New York Times gives a very nice account of his life in their obituary.

Today, we feature a tribute to Ferrell from friends and former students in the form of a book the University of Missouri Press published several years ago: Presidents, Diplomats, and Other Mortals, edited by J. Garry Clifford and Theodore A. Wilson.

The Ferrell contribution rests on the special qualities of his scholarship, expressed with grace and economy, and often with humor, over the past half century. To say that he is a prolific scholar does not do justice to the stream of books—monographs, surveys, diaries, memoirs, texts, and documents—he has written or edited since the publication of his first book in 1952. They number more than fifty…

Yet it is arguable in light of the recollections of his students that his influence as a teacher may have been more significant than his accomplishments as a writer.—Lawrence Kaplan

The authors of this tribute sought to exemplify the scholarly standards of narrative diplomatic history espoused by Ferrell—especially the notion that historians should attempt to explain fully the circumstances, opportunities, and pressures that influence foreign policy decisions while remembering that historical actors cannot with certainty predict the outcomes of their actions.

Presidents, Diplomats

Presidents, Diplomats, and Other Mortals
J. Garry Clifford, Theodore A. Wilson
9780826217479 • hardcover • 352 pp. • $50.00

Robert Ferrell wrote and edited more than 60 (!) books in his lifetime and published more than 20 with the University of Missouri Press. Here are a just a few:

HST a life         Autobio of HST         Five Days

Collapse at Meuse         9780826212030         9780826220608

Harry S. Truman: A Life
97808262105000 • paperback • 520 pp. • 32 illus. • $29.95

The Autobiography of Harry S. Truman
9780826214454 • paperback • 160 pp. • 32 illus. • $19.95

Five Days in October: The Lost Battalion of World War I
9780826220738 • paperback • 152 pp. • 17 illus. • $19.95

Collapse at Meuse-Argonne: The Failure of the Missouri-Kansas Division
9780826221421 • paperback • 176 pp. • 21 illus. • $24.95

Harry S. Truman and the Cold War Revisionists
9780826220608 • paperback • 160 pp. • $19.95

Dear Bess: The Letters from Harry to Bess Truman, 1910-1959
9780826212030 • paperback • 608 pp. • 55 illus. • $34.95

Early Missouri

Rich details of early life in Missouri’s river valleys define two of our newly available paperbacks.

Ekberg cover

$36.95 • ISBN: 978-0-8262-2132-2

François Vallé (1716–1783) was born in Beauport, Canada and immigrated to Upper Louisiana as a penniless common laborer sometime during the early 1740s. Settling in Ste. Genevieve, he engaged in agriculture, lead mining, and the Indian trade, and ultimately became the wealthiest and most powerful individual in Upper Louisiana, although he never learned to read or write.

Based entirely on primary source documents, Carl Ekberg’s François Vallé and His World: Upper Louisiana Before Lewis and Clark traces the life of Vallé, his family, and the lives of his slaves. In doing so, Ekberg provides a portrait of Missouri’s very first black families, something that has never before been attempted.

Duden cover

$39.95 • ISBN: 978-0-8262-2143-8

The mass migrations to the United States from Europe that began in the 1830s were strongly influenced by what is known today as emigration literature—travelers’ writings about their experiences in the New World. Gottfried Duden’s account, published in 1829, was among the most influential of these books. Written as a collection of letters, the idyllic descriptions of pioneer farming in Missouri made it an instant success that attracted thousands of Germans to the Midwest, particularly to Missouri. This edited and annotated translation is the first complete version to be published in English.

The Mississippi-Missouri valley reminded Duden of his native Rhineland where the rivers facilitated trade and transportation, and fertile river bottom land offered the perfect environment for agriculture. Duden farmed the land he bought during his stay in Missouri, and he includes meticulous descriptions of clearing, fencing, and harvesting. His pro-emigration bias and his ability to hire help on his farm made his view of the farmer’s life more idyllic than practical. Many would-be gentlemen farmers, inspired by his book to come to Missouri, found pioneer farming more strenuous than they had expected.

Ekberg cover

Upper Louisiana before Lewis and Clark
Carl J. Ekberg

Winner, Kemper and Leila Williams Prize in Louisiana History

$36.95 | ISBN: 978-0-8262-2132-2 |  336 pp. | 16 illus. | 6.13 x 9.25

and a Stay of Several Years Along the Missouri (During the Years 1824-1827)
By Gottfried Duden; James W. Goodrich, General Editor
George H. Kellner, Elsa Nagel, Adolf E. Schroeder, and W. M. Senner, Editors and Translators

$39.95| ISBN: 978-0-8262-2143-8 | 400 pp. | 6 x 9

François Vallé and Report on a Journey are both available at Amazon and IndieBound,  and on our website, or by calling 800-621-2736.

The Unheeded Cry

Yesterday, Sunday June 3rd, was National Animal Rights Day. In honor of this day, we’re featuring two of our books on animal ethics, The Unheeded Cry: Animal Consciousness, Animal Pain, and Science and A New Basis for Animal Ethics: Telos and Common Sense

How can science teach us that animals feel no pain when our common sense observations tell us otherwise? Bernard Rollin offers welcome insight into questions like this in his ground-breaking account of the difficult and controversial issues surrounding the use of animals. He demonstrates that the denial of animal consciousness and animal suffering is not an essential feature of a scientific approach, but rather a contingent, historical aberration that can and must be changed if science is to be both coherent and morally responsible. Widely hailed by advocates of animal welfare and scientists alike on its first appearance, the book—now in paperback—includes an epilogue by the author describing what has changed, and what hasn’t, in the use of animals in scientific research and food production.

I have watched this book reach and unlock the minds of my most skeptical science and engineering students. The Unheeded Cry demonstrates to them, as nothing else has, the sense in which science is value-laden, and why that matters.—Laurie Anne Whitt, Michigan Technological University

Rollin Unheeded


Animal Consciousness, Animal Pain, and Science
Bernard E. Rollin

$26.00 • Paperback: 978-0-8262-2126-1 • 348 pp. • 6 x 9

Available at Amazon, IndieBound, Barnes&Noble, and on our website, or by calling 800-621-2736.

Happy Birthday, Mark Twain

Mark Twain’s 182nd birthday is coming up on November 30th and we are celebrating by highlighting the Press’s recent publications on the great writer from Missouri.


Scharnhorst coverTHE LIFE OF MARK TWAIN
The Early Years, 1835–1871
Gary Scharnhorst
March | Hardcover | 978-0-8262-2144-5 | $36.95 T | 724 pp. 25 illus.

“Gary Scharnhorst’s monumental biography sets a new standard for comprehensiveness. This will prove to be the standard biography for our generation.”—Alan Gribben, author of Mark Twain’s Literary Resources: A Reconstruction of His Library and Reading

“Clear and engaging, Scharnhorst’s prose keeps you rolling happily through this consummate American adventure.”—Bruce Michelson, author of Printer’s Devil: Mark Twain and the American Publishing Revolution

Over three volumes, Gary Scharnhorst elucidates the life of arguably the greatest American writer and reveals the alchemy of his gifted imagination. This is the first multi-volume biography of Samuel Clemens to appear in over a century. All Clemens biographers since then have either tailored their narratives to fit a single volume or focused on a particular aspect of Clemens’s life; this new, comprehensive biography is plotted from beginning to end. The first volume follows Clemens from his childhood in Missouri to his work in printshops, his career as a Mississippi River pilot, his writing stint in Nevada, and his trip to Europe and the Holy Land, and ends with his move east to Buffalo, New York.

With dozens of Twain biographies available, what is left unsaid? On average, a hundred Clemens letters and a couple of his interviews surface every year. Scharnhorst has located numerous documents, including some which have been presumed lost, relevant to Clemens’s life.

Gary Scharnhorst is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English at the University of New Mexico. He is the author or editor of fifty books, including Mark Twain on Potholes and Politics: Letters to the Editor. He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Peter G. Beidler
JANUARY | Hardcover | 978-0-8262-2138-4 | $40.00 S
212 pp. | 57 illus. | 6 x 9

“Dr. Beidler’s critiques of inaccurate literary analyses and book illustrations will be of real value to historians and archaeologists with an interest in the navigation and trade on the western rivers, as well as to professionals in the field of American literature, and especially to all readers who want to know about the river world of Huck Finn.”—Kevin Crisman, author of The Eagle: An American Brig on Lake Champlain during the War of 1812

The raft that carries Huck and Jim down the Mississippi River is often seen as a symbol of adventure and freedom, but the physical specifics of the raft itself are rarely considered. Peter Beidler shows that understanding the material world of Huckleberry Finn, its limitations and possibilities, is vital to truly understanding Mark Twain’s novel. He illustrates how experts on Twain’s works have misinterpreted important aspects of the story due to their unfamiliarity with the various rivercraft that figure in the book.

Huck and Jim’s little raft is not made of logs, as it is often depicted in illustrations, but of sawn planks, and it was originally part of a much larger raft. Beidler explains why this matters and describes the other rivercraft that appear in the book. He gives what will almost certainly be the last word on the vexed question of whether the lengthy “raft episode,” removed at the publisher’s suggestion from the novel, should be restored to its original place.

Peter G. Beidler is the Lucy G. Moses Distinguished Professor of English, Emeritus, at Lehigh University and has written many books, including A Reader’s Guide to the Novels of Louise Erdrich. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

Recently available:

Harrington Jenn coverMARK TWAIN AND FRANCE
The Making of a New American Identity
Paula Harrington and Ronald Jenn
Hardcover | 978-0-8262-2119-3 | 50.00 S | 248 pp.
12 photos | 6 x 9

“Alternately takes up panoramic historical and cultural vistas and carefully analyzes passages from all sorts of text with judgment and a sense of proportion.”—Tom Quirk, University of Missouri, author of Mark Twain and Human Nature

“The authors work seamlessly back and forth between historical data, biographical detail, and attention to multiple works by Twain that illuminate his complex relationship to the French and to France.”—Linda A. Morris, University of California, author of Gender Play in Mark Twain

While critics have generally dismissed Mark Twain’s relationship with France as hostile, Harrington and Jenn see Twain’s use of the French as a foil to help construct his identity as “the representative American.” Examining new materials that detail his Montmatre study, the carte de visite album, and a chronology of his visits to France, the book offers close readings of writings that have been largely ignored, such as The Innocents Adrift manuscript and the unpublished chapters of A Tramp Abroad, combining literary analysis, socio-historical context and biographical research.

Paula Harrington is director of the Farnham Writers’ Center and an assistant professor of writing at Colby College. In 2013, she was a Fulbright Scholar in Paris, doing research that led to her collaboration with Jenn on this book. She lives in Portland, Maine. Ronald Jenn is a professor at Université de Lille, France. He is the author of La Pseudo-traduction, de Cervantès à Mark Twain. He lives in Lille, France.

Tracy Wuster
Hardcover | 978-0-8262-2056-1 | $60.00 S

“What makes this book a fresh and welcome addition to Mark Twain criticism is its focus on particular aspects of cultural production: periodicals, the lyceum circuit, after-dinner speeches, subscription publishing, and the book mock-ups prepared for the canvassers. Wuster is particularly good at bringing us in close for an inspection of the machinery of cultural judgement in periodicals, reviews of authors and their comic writing, as well as reviews of performance on the lecture circuit.”—James Caron, author of Mark Twain, Unsanctified Newspaper Reporter

Letters to the Editor
Edited by Gary Scharnhorst
Hardcover | 978-0-8262-2046-2 | $35.00 S

“As aggressive a moralist and critic as Twain seems in hi more conventional fiction, here Twain is assertive, fantastically comic, lawlessly imaginative—unruly, strident, and irascible. This raw newspaper journalism is central to understanding the writing style fo ‘Mark Twain’ as it had to be adjusted by editors like Bret Harte, William Dean Howells, and Livy Clemens for his work to rise to universal stature as art. More important, the journalism is central to understanding the pragmatic, human-centered ideology that drives Twains’ work.”—Choice

To browse our entire collection of Mark Twain titles, see our Mark Twain and His Circle series, edited by Tom Quirk and John Bird. This series incorporates books on Mark Twain and the several circles he inhabited (domestic, political, artistic, and other) to provide a venue for new research in Twain studies and, from time to time, to reprint significant studies that have been too long out of print.

The Lanford Wilson Collection at MU Libraries Special Collections and Rare Books

By David Crespy

Lanford at Wire Fence

A young Lanford Wilson

Lanford Wilson: Early Stories, Sketches, and Poetry would have never existed without the talents of Michael Holland, Head of the Special Collections, Archives, and Rare Books Division at the University of Missouri’s Ellis Library, and Anselm Huelsbergen, Technical Services Archivist, who created the Lanford Wilson Collection from the massive bequest of the Lanford Wilson estate, which had been quickly boxed and sent to the University of Missouri, with little or no time to organize the files. Essentially the materials arrived shrink-wrapped on a shipping pallet, and it took many months of careful consideration of archival provenance and organization to put

Michael Holland

Librarian Michael Holland

together a collection that consists of 53 linear feet of manuscripts and approximately 100 books.  I remember working with Mike and Anselm to determine exactly how each script was actually used—either for publication or production, or for what level of production – on or off-Broadway, in rehearsal, and determining some dating on undated materials.  Physical materials ranged from t-shirts, eyeglasses, x-rays, awards, along with correspondence, photographs, programs, posters, and contracts.

They were assisted in their efforts to determine

Lanford and Marshall

Lanford Wilson and director, Marshall Mason

the identity of people in photographs by Marshall W. Mason, the Tony Award-winning director of Lanford Wilson’s works, and by Daniel Irvine, Marshall’s husband, and former director of Circle Repertory Theatre Lab.  It was a daunting task.  It should be noted that Mike and Anselm mostly deal with university archive materials, and that this was the first theatre archive collection created at the University of Missouri, and the work they did was comparable to collections available at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.  The Lanford Wilson Collection is incredibly accessible, and a finding aid can be read at

Additionally, Kelli Hansen, Print Collections Librarian at Special Collections and Rare

Kelli Hansen

Librarian Kelli Hansen

Books, provided ongoing support and access to the resources of the Wilson Collection, retrieving a seemingly endless array of boxes, files, and folders as we worked our way through many different manuscript iterations.  Ms. Hansen worked closely with me as I attempted to make sense of what is available in the collection, finding and retrieving materials, explaining certain restrictions, and making it possible for me to determine the full extent of the collection’s importance in the field of theatre research.

Ms. Hansen also assisted me in research for productions of Lanford Wilson’s plays, Fifth of July, which was produced in Fall 2013 in MU’s Rhynsburger Theater (and received several Certificates of Merit from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival), and for Rimers of Eldritch, which will take place in Spring 2018.

LW manuscript page


However, what was particularly dazzling, was Ms. Hansen amazing facilitation of my archival research course, “Digging Lanford Wilson: An Archival Approach to Drama.”  For the course, Ms. Hansen and I met to organize the specific aspects of creating an new archive that would provide students insights into concepts such as provenance and original order, finding aids, working with fragile materials, etc.  Ms. Hansen then created what I can only describe as a spectacular website which provided glossaries of archival terms, guidelines to working in archives, resources on finding aids and archival research, citation techniques and style guides, research strategies, and a gateway site into the Lanford Wilson Collection itself.  During the course, Ms. Hansen led the initial few sessions, introducing the students to the materials and how to find items, explaining how to work with photos and other non-manuscript materials, explaining techniques on reading Wilson’s particularly challenging handwriting, and explaining the world of archival

Lanford with car

Lanford Wilson in Missouri

research in general.  I simply would not have been able to take on a course like this without Kelli’s amazing ability to carefully and systematically touch all the bases of archival research with such clarity and depth of knowledge.  This course has been repeated this Fall 2017, and once again I am delighted to have her assistance in helping guide students in their first experience in archival research.

I am deeply grateful for all the work that has been provided by the librarians of the University of Missouri in creating the Lanford Wilson Collection – which is a jewel in the crown of MU Library’s archival resources.

9780826221339LANFORD WILSON
Early Stories, Sketches, and Poems
Edited by David Crespy
$45.00 • Hardcover • 978-0-8262-2133-9 • 288 pp. • 7 illus. • 6 x 9

This post is part of University Press Week 2017. Please visit our colleagues’ blogs:

University of Nebraska Press: a post by Pat Leach, director of Lincoln City Libraries.

University Press of Florida: a spotlight on the Florida and the Caribbean Open Books Series, a collaboration between the University of Florida Press and the UF George A. Smathers Libraries.

University of Georgia Press: a post on how libraries serve as a bastion of facts and real information against the onslaught of Fake News.

University of Alabama Press: a conversation with Tom Wilson, Associate Dean for Branch Libraries and at University of Alabama.

Does the Constitution Presuppose a Moral Framework?


Dehart jkt

The U.S. Constitution has been on many people’s minds of late, with charges that the Constitution may have been violated and predictions by some of an impending constitutional crisis. Now is a good time to take a closer look at the document. Clearly the Constitution provides a framework for our laws, but what does it have to say about morality?

Paul DeHart ferrets out the document’s implicit moral assumptions as he revisits the notion that constitutions are more than merely practical institutional arrangements. In Uncovering the Constitution’s Moral Design, now available in paperback, he seeks to reveal, elaborate, and then evaluate the Constitution’s normative framework to determine whether it is philosophically sound—and whether it makes moral assumptions that correspond to reality.

This cogently argued study shows that the Constitution does presuppose a natural law to which human law must conform, and it takes a major step in resolving current debates over the Constitution’s normative framework while remaining detached from the social issues that divide today’s political arena. Uncovering the Constitution’s Moral Design is an original approach to the Constitution that marks a significant contribution to understanding the moral underpinnings of our form of government.

It hastens us to lift our gaze from the proximate and clamor to consider anew the rationale beyond the Constitution, and relatedly, its potentialities and limitations.—Law and Politics Book Review

Paul R. DeHart

$40.00 • Paperback: 978-0-8262-2130-8 • 312 pp. • 5 illus. • 6.13 x 9.25

Available at Amazon, IndieBound, and Barnes&Noble

or by calling 800-621-2736.

A Constitutional Administrative State?

All governments must collect taxes, punish criminals, enforce building codes, and license certain professions. The real debate is over how the administrative state acts and under what powers.

Daniel DiSalvo recently wrote a book review for the Witherspoon Institute on Joseph Postell’s Bureaucracy in America: The Administrative State’s Challenge to Constitutional Government in which he asks, “What would a constitutional administrative state look like today?”

Daniel DiSalvo is an associate professor of political science at the City College of New York-CUNY and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

The mere mention of bureaucracy makes many people’s eyes glaze over. Even attempts to gin up interest by using scary sounding terms like the “deep state” have yet to hold the public’s attention for very long. Yet bureaucratic power is the source of heated debate among politicians, intellectuals, and scholars. For liberals, the administrative state is the positive force by which modern government remolds society to make it more democratic and egalitarian. For conservatives, it elicits concerns about an unconstitutional “fourth branch” of government that threatens to make a mockery of liberty and self-government.

In a rich and detailed new book, Bureaucracy in America: The Administrative State’s Challenge to Constitutional Government, political scientist Joseph Postell analyzes the evolution of the administrative state and assesses its constitutional standing. He argues that there is an unresolved tension between modern bureaucratic power and American constitutionalism. To make this case, he traces the development of administrative power in the American political system from the founding to the present. He seeks to show that throughout the nineteenth century the bureaucracy was held in check by constitutional constraints. It was only after the Progressives of the early twentieth century developed new modes of bureaucratic power (which largely had to wait until the New Deal to be implemented) that the administrative state exceeded constitutional barriers. Today, the bureaucracy is largely based not on constitutional but on progressive principles.

Postell succeeds in telling what is admittedly dense and complex history. Administrative law tempts scholars into either vague abstraction (in an effort to cover a wide-range of government activities) or mind-numbing detail (in an effort to get to the core of agency decisions). Mercifully, Postell avoids both temptations, steering a middle course that is accessible and readable. Although he leaves some important questions unanswered, his book is a good foundation for more productive conversations about the contemporary administrative state.

The Founders’ Vision of Administrative Powers

Postell begins with how the founders inherited and refined a set of principles that defined constitutional administrative power. These were “lawmaking by elected representatives, unity of the executive, the separation of powers, and judicial review of administrative action.” These principles reduced administrative discretion, preserved the president’s responsibility for administrative decisions, and empowered the courts to invoke judicial review of administrative actions.

Today’s bureaucracy clearly does not embody those principles. It is staffed by career employees, protected by civil service statutes, who are empowered to formulate rules that have the force of law, implement those rules with considerable discretion, and adjudicate disputes that arise from their application. Postell’s book chronicles the shift from one type of administrative state to the other.

Postell argues that throughout the nineteenth century, the administrative state adhered to the founders’ principles of republicanism and separation of powers. The founders’ definition of republicanism entailed that all laws must derive from elected representatives (what came to be known as the non-delegation doctrine). In this view, Congress could not delegate powers to departments, because doing so would undermine representative government. In the Jacksonian era, Congress largely upheld the non-delegation doctrine. President Jackson, Postell shows, reinforced the principle of a unitary executive responsible for administrative actions, firmly establishing the president’s power to remove officers at will. The removal power facilitated the spoils system as presidents from a new party could remove officials appointed by previous presidents of the prior party and install their loyalists.

Postell maintains that traditional views of administrative power prevailed after the Civil War. Contrary to some accounts, he argues that the Pendleton Act and the creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission did not reflect a first step in the direction of today’s administrative state. Rather, the debates surrounding their passage reflected an attachment to constitutional principles, not to progressive ideas. Postell shows that those involved in the debates over the laws were not simply attacking (or defending) the patronage-based political parties or the railroads. Instead, they were concerned about constitutional strictures.

The Ascent of Progressivism

The real change, Postell argues, came in the early twentieth century, when progressive reformers advanced a new theory of administration that rejected separation of powers and representation and sought to reduce judicial review of administrative actions. In short, the progressives sought to reconfigure the distribution of power among American political institutions to make way for a more powerful bureaucracy.

Postell shows how the progressives attacked the principles of republicanism and representation. Their attack proceeded on two fronts. First, they pushed for greater direct democracy through the enactment of the initiative, referendum, and recall in many state and local governments. No representatives were needed if the people could rule directly. Second, they redefined democracy as an end rather than a process. So conceived, democracy becomes more about getting the “right” results than about how they are achieved. To ensure the realization of the right outcomes, power needs to be handed to bureaucratic experts who will secure the people’s best interests.

Because elected representatives are prone to mistaking short-term political advantage for the long-term public good, progressives sought to transfer power away from elected representatives to bureaucratic experts and to insulate the latter from politics. Ever since, however, progressives (and their liberal heirs) have struggled to square the circle of how expert administrators with discretionary powers could be brought under political or popular control.

The progressives also sought to weaken the principle of separation of powers. To refashion society, modern bureaucracy needed more power and more discretion to use that power. It needed to be able to combine legislative, executive, and judicial powers. The result was an alphabet soup of commissions, boards, corporations, and authorities that would exercise such powers at a significant remove from presidents and members of Congress.

Finally, progressives sought to blunt the force of the principle of the rule of law, as it had been traditionally understood. In their view, detailed laws should not constrain experts and courts should defer to agency decisions and intervene as little as possible. The rule of men was not just to be permitted but encouraged, so long as the right men were in charge.

The progressives established both the philosophical and practical precedents that paved the way for the dramatic expansion of the administrative state during the New Deal. Franklin D. Roosevelt “solved” the problem of the lack of democratic control of the new bureaucratic leviathan by claiming that the president would “bridge the gap” between politics and administration. His legacy has produced a paradoxical battle between liberals, who favor government action but want greater judicial review of agency decisions (especially with a Republican in the White House), and conservatives, who favor government restraint but seek greater judicial deference to presidential control of the bureaucracy. The current state of law under the Chevron decision is complex to the point of absurdity, as different levels of judicial deference apply to different types of agency decisions.

The Battle Over the Administrative State

Postell’s book demonstrates that the battle over the administrative state is a theoretical and practical one about who should rule. At the theoretical level, one view holds that the people should rule through the Constitution and the elected and appointed offices it sets up. Democracy is the process by which elected representatives and appointed judges handle issues as they arise and the people rule insofar as the Constitution is followed. The other view is that the Constitution needs to be reinterpreted to adjust for the fact that modern society requires expert management to secure the people’s long-term interests. Democracy is conceived as a set of outcomes such as reduced economic inequality and increased social solidarity.

In practice, the battle over the administrative state is a battle over the balance of power among America’s political institutions. In the nineteenth century, Congress, the courts, and the parties were strong, and presidents and administrators were weak. In the twentieth century, presidents and administrators became strong, Congress and the parties weak, and the role of courts contested.

Postell ably charts these developments and the thinking behind them. He shows what is at stake when choosing what theory to put into practice and traces each one’s practical effects. He reminds readers that the mere existence of the administrative state is not unconstitutional or inconsistent with the rule of law. Indeed, governments have always regulated all kinds of activities—and people expect government to do such things. All governments must collect taxes, punish criminals, enforce building codes, and license certain professions. The real debate is over how the administrative state acts and under what powers. Postell makes a strong argument that the administrative state was, for more than a century, in accord with the Constitution and the founders’ principles. It is only over the last one hundred years or so that things have gotten out of hand.

Unanswered Questions

However, Postell leaves a number of big questions unaddressed. He regularly asserts that the current administrative state is in “tension” with or a “challenge” to the Constitution and that it suffers from a “crisis of legitimacy.” He never quite comes out and says it is unconstitutional, but he seems to imply it. Yet, if the progressive version of the administrative state constitutes a crisis of legitimacy, it is one of the longest running crises in American history.

The reader is left wondering: what would a constitutional administrative state look like in the twenty-first century? How should it operate? Even if one takes Postell’s nineteenth-century administrative state as the model, many questions remain. Is the contemporary Congress up to the job of producing highly detailed laws that would constrain administrators? Should federal courts exercise even more power than they already do over the operations of government? Should merit systems and civil service protections for federal employees be eliminated? Would the federal government need to do far less than it does today? If, by some miracle, a constitutional administrative state could be created, would that state be any more effective in dealing with the nation’s problems than the current unconstitutional one?

Of course, the big obstacles to improving the administrative state are political. Perhaps Postell doesn’t offer such an account because his historical survey reveals that changes in the administrative state alter American constitutionalism and American constitutionalism simultaneously shapes the administrative state. The result is something of a muddle that is unsatisfying for both those promoting greater administrative power and those defending constitutional principles. Perhaps efforts to push the administrative state in a more constitutional direction will only further muddy the waters.

Ultimately, Postell has distilled the distinct strains of American thought about the administrative state and how they have interacted in concrete legal and political battles. That is an important step that will hopefully move discussion of the administrative state in a more productive direction.