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The Paradox of Power: Statebuilding in America, 1754-1920, Ballard C. Campbell

Reviewed by John A. Dearborn
 

How has the power and authority of the American state changed over time? Ballard Campbell’s The Paradox of Power offers an essential addition to this rich debate in American political development scholarship. Campbell asks how a country with a significant antistatist tradition grew to have a more powerful state by the early twentieth century. In this sweeping history, Campbell addresses federal, state, and local government power, pointing to five factors that he views as integral to American state development: geography, war, economic development and crises, identity and citizenship, and political capacity.

One major strength of the book is its holistic examination of the activities of all levels of government from 1754 through 1920. After recounting how the colonies effectively became “little republics” (31) with significant powers of their own, Campbell describes the evolution of state government activity, such as exercising “police powers” and promoting economic development in the first half of the nineteenth century; contributing to the Union cause during the Civil War (including outfitting regiments and caring for wounded veterans or the families of those killed); promoting education, public health, and regulation in the Gilded Age; and imposing direct taxation and turning to executive leadership during the Progressiv

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