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Article

Alison L. LaCroix

Federalism refers to the constitutional and political structure of the United States of America, according to which political power is divided among multiple levels of government: the national level of government (also referred to as the “federal” or “general” government) and that of the states. It is a multilayered system of government that reserves some powers to component entities while also establishing an overarching level of government with a specified domain of authority. The structures of federalism are set forth in the Constitution of the United States, although some related ideas and practices predated the founding period and others have developed since. The balance between federal and state power has shifted throughout U.S. history, with assertions of broad national power meeting challenges from supporters of states’ rights and state sovereignty. Federalism is a fundamental value of the American political system, and it has been a controversial political and legal question since the founding period.

Article

John Quincy Adams was one of the most significant statesmen-intellectuals of the Early American Republic. Highly intelligent, well-traveled, and massively educated, Adams was a Christian nationalist who believed that the American Republic was destined to be a shining example of democracy and liberty to the rest of the world. He was profoundly influenced by his parents, John and Abigail, and embraced his father’s political philosophy which was rooted in a written constitution and a strong three branch government constrained by checks and balances. Adams served as US minister to several European nations before becoming secretary of state in 1817 and then the sixth president of the United States in 1824. He began life as a Federalist but strongly supported the foreign policies of the Jefferson and Madison administrations. The three pillars of his foreign policy were neutrality toward Europe, continental expansion, and hemispheric hegemony. Adams chaired the US delegation that negotiated the Treaty of Ghent in 1814 and was the driving force behind the Convention of 1818 and the Transcontinental Treaty of 1819. Adams partnered with President James Monroe in formulating the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, which canonized the principles of the two hemispheres including European non-colonization in the Western hemisphere and US non-interference in European affairs. Domestically, Adams was a relentless exponent of the American System in which the federal government would fund a system of internal improvements—turnpikes, canals, ports—that would create a national market and bind the various regions together by means of a national economy. In this, he was disappointed in part because he had the misfortune to be president when Jacksonian democracy was taking hold in America and distrust of the federal power was growing. Defeated for re-election by Andrew Jackson in 1828, Adams briefly retired from public life but then accepted election to the House of Representatives in 1830 where he served until his death in 1846. In the House, he proved to be an avid opponent of the further extension of slavery into the territories, and ironically, of further continental expansion. He became convinced that a civil war was inevitable but held abolitionists at arm’s length because of their rejection of the Constitution as a means to achieve racial justice in America. Adams died with a deep sense of failure, believing that his earlier career as an expansionist had produced not an empire of liberty but an empire of slavery.

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While presidents have historically been the driving force behind foreign policy decision-making, Congress has used its constitutional authority to influence the process. The nation’s founders designed a system of checks and balances aimed at establishing a degree of equilibrium in foreign affairs powers. Though the president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and the country’s chief diplomat, Congress holds responsibility for declaring war and can also exert influence over foreign relations through its powers over taxation and appropriation, while the Senate possesses authority to approve or reject international agreements. This separation of powers compels the executive branch to work with Congress to achieve foreign policy goals, but it also sets up conflict over what policies best serve national interests and the appropriate balance between executive and legislative authority. Since the founding of the Republic, presidential power over foreign relations has accreted in fits and starts at the legislature’s expense. When core American interests have come under threat, legislators have undermined or surrendered their power by accepting presidents’ claims that defense of national interests required strong executive action. This trend peaked during the Cold War, when invocations of national security enabled the executive to amass unprecedented control over America’s foreign affairs.