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Federalism  

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

Piracy in Colonial North America  

Mark G. Hanna

Historians of colonial British North America have largely relegated piracy to the marginalia of the broad historical narrative from settlement to revolution. However, piracy and unregulated privateering played a pivotal role in the development of every English community along the eastern seaboard from the Carolinas to New England. Although many pirates originated in the British North American colonies and represented a diverse social spectrum, they were not supported and protected in these port communities by some underclass or proto-proletariat but by the highest echelons of colonial society, especially by colonial governors, merchants, and even ministers. Sea marauding in its multiple forms helped shape the economic, legal, political, religious, and cultural worlds of colonial America. The illicit market that brought longed-for bullion, slaves, and luxury goods integrated British North American communities with the Caribbean, West Africa, and the Pacific and Indian Oceans throughout the 17th century. Attempts to curb the support of sea marauding at the turn of the 18th century exposed sometimes violent divisions between local merchant interests and royal officials currying favor back in England, leading to debates over the protection of English liberties across the Atlantic. When the North American colonies finally closed their ports to English pirates during the years following the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), it sparked a brief yet dramatic turn of events where English marauders preyed upon the shipping belonging to their former “nests.” During the 18th century, colonial communities began to actively support a more regulated form of privateering against agreed upon enemies that would become a hallmark of patriot maritime warfare during the American Revolution.

Article

The Separation of Church and State in the United States  

Steven K. Green

Separation of church and state has long been viewed as a cornerstone of American democracy. At the same time, the concept has remained highly controversial in the popular culture and law. Much of the debate over the application and meaning of the phrase focuses on its historical antecedents. This article briefly examines the historical origins of the concept and its subsequent evolutions in the nineteenth century.

Article

The Significance of Society in the 18th Century: Conversations about Governance  

Andrew Cayton

The American Revolution was an episode in a transatlantic outcry against the corruption of the British balance of power and liberty institutionalized in the Glorious Revolution of 1688–1689. English speakers during the 18th century reflected on this constitutional crisis within a larger conversation about the problem of human governance. Although many people excluded from Parliament supported political reform, if not revolution, they also sought remedies for the perversion of political power and influence in new forms of social power and influence. This article looks at the convergence of political and social discussions in a common discourse about the nature of power and the ways in which human beings influenced each other. The first section outlines the meanings of power and influence in British politics. The second section uses the novelist Sarah Fielding’s Remarks on Clarissa (1759) to delineate revolutionary notions about social power and influence. The third section turns to the speeches and writings of Edmund Burke in the run-up to the American Revolution to look at how English speakers deployed notions of social power to advocate for political reform.

Article

US-Russian Relations before 1917  

Paul Behringer

From the American Revolution until the late 19th century, the United States and Russia enjoyed a “distant friendship,” meaning that the first interactions and perceptions between Russians and Americans were mostly positive, but the affinity for one another did not run particularly deep. The two peoples looked at each other across a wide geographic and cultural chasm. As the United States spread across the North American continent and into the Pacific, and Russia established colonies in Alaska and at Fort Ross, Russians and Americans began to encounter one another more frequently. Occasionally this trend led to tension and competition, but overall relations remained cordial, reaching a high point in the 1850s and 1860s when the United States tacitly supported Russia during the Crimean War and Russia backed the Union during the American Civil War. The goodwill culminated in the Russian decision to sell Alaska to the United States. Soon, however, differences in ideology and interests drove the two countries into a more tense and competitive relationship. Americans came to view Russians as squandering their land’s great potential under the yoke of an autocratic government and cultural “backwardness,” while Russians scoffed at America’s claims of moral superiority even as the United States expanded into an overseas empire and discriminated against Black and Asian people at home. These views of each other, combined with growing rivalry over influence in Northeast Asia, drove US-Russian relations to a low point on the eve of World War I. Many of the stereotypes about each other and the conflicts of interest, papered over briefly as allies against the Central Powers in 1917, would resurface during the Soviet period.