Railroads and American Political Development
Infrastructure, Federalism, and State Building
America’s founders envisioned a federal government of limited and enumerated powers. What they could not envision, of course, was the vast and complex infrastructure that the growing nation would demand—a demand that became ever clearer as the power and importance of railroads emerged. The requirements of a nationwide rail network, it also became clear, far exceeded the resources of state and local government and private industry. The consequences, as seen in this book, amounted to state building from the ground up. In Railroads and American Political Development Zachary Callen tells the story of the federal government’s role in developing a national rail system—and the rail system’s role in expanding the power of the federal government. The book reveals how state building, so often attributed to an aggressive national government, can also result from local governments making demands on the national state—a dynamic that can still be seen at work every time the US Congress takes up a transportation bill.
Though many states invested in their local railroads, and many quite successfully, others were less willing or less capable—so rail development necessarily became a federal concern. Railroads and American Political Development shows how this led to the Land Grant Act of 1850, a crucial piece of legislation in the building of both the nation’s infrastructure and the American state. Chronicling how this previously local issue migrated to the federal state, and how federal action then altered American rail planning, the book offers a new perspective on the exact nature of federalism. In the case of rail development, we see how state governments factor into the American state building process, and how, in turn, the separation of powers at the federal level shaped that process. The result is a fresh view of the development of the American rail system, as well as a clearer picture of the pressures and political logic that have altered and expanded the reach of American federalism.
“An important book. Highly recommended.”
—Journal of Transport History
“Callen has produced an important and compelling work on federalism and the development of the nation’s early infrastructure that should be read widely by scholars.”
—Political Science QuarterlySee all reviews...
“Provides much to ponder.”
“Zachary Callen deftly probes the interface between federalism and the emergence of the railroad system in the antebellum era. He carefully traces the gradual shift away from state-centered railroad policy, pointing out that difficulties in promoting and coordinating railroads were common and induced western states to take the lead in calling for federal assistance. This volume casts welcome light on the nascent movement for federal control of the rail network and raises far-reaching questions about the nature of federalism in the American constitutional order.”
—James W. Ely Jr, author of Railroads and American Law
“We know a lot about American national state building. But Callen tells a story that puts the states and federalism front and center. It's a refreshing perspective on how national capacities are built through the actions and inactions of other levels and branches of government.”
—Patricia Strach, Associate Professor of Political Science and Public Administration & Policy, University at Albany
“Bristling with original insights into the way federalism structured railroad development and national state building in the US, Railroads and American Political Development is a model of multi-method scholarship, which weaves statistical analysis and case studies into an elegant narrative. With this book, Zachary Callen joins a select group of eminent social scientists, who have taught us to see the relationship between Western industrialization and political development anew through careful study of the railroads.”
—Gerald Berk, author of Alternative Tracks: The Constitution of American Industrial Order, 1865–1917
“In this thoughtful new book, Zachary Callen reveals the politics of space at the center of America's antebellum railroad saga. The political energy of railroads played out in state legislatures, in Congress, and the tensions within and between them. An innovative reading of early American federalism, its limits and its long-run reverberations in American industrialization and political development.”
—Daniel Carpenter, Freed Professor of Government, Harvard University
“Zachary Callen employs geographical information to enhance and transform our understanding of the development of America’s railroad system and its interconnections with American political development. An innovative and important work.”
—Daniel D. Sledge, author of Health Divided: Public Health, Individual Medicine, and the Making of Modern American Health PolicySee fewer reviews...