Friday, September 14, 2007

Reviewed: Federalism in America: An Encyclopedia

Joseph R. Marbach, Ellis Katz, and Troy E. Smith, eds., Federalism in America: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2006) is reviewed on H-Law by Christopher N. Fritsch, Independent Scholar. The editors have assembled a two volume set of nearly 400 entries on federalism. Fritsch writes:
The a set of volumes with entries which are relatively concise and very to the point. The individual entries vary in length. Topics such as abortion and the Constitution of 1787 encompass the better part of five pages; other topics such as Shreveport Rate Case (1914) and West Coast Hotel Company v. Parrish (1937) receive much less space, often less than a page. This variety, however, was planned and executed quite well. Smaller entries provide a description of their importance in relation to federalism and then, as is true with all of the entries, the authors provide key links to other entries within the encyclopedia. The more lengthy articles contain not only a reasonable understanding of their relationship to the topic of federalism, but often give significant historical detail and summation. The entries often provide new and insightful thoughts on both the subject and federalism. Authors frequently move beyond the conventional context of the United States and incorporate the origin of ideas from outside. For these entries, authors give historiographical analysis and description, such as the discussion of Harold Berman's Law and Revolution (1983) in the entry on self-government and federalism (pp.559-561). Often entries provide new and insightful thoughts, which move beyond an analysis through a strict American or North American context.
If this was the only strength of the volumes, we still would have four hundred outstanding entries. However, many entries provide scholars with bibliographies containing the standard works within a subject and more recent studies. These entries provide a brief bibliography that spans the entry's history. For example, on the aforementioned topic of self-government and federalism, Professor Vincent Ostrom provides a bibliography which includes the works of Harold Berman, James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, and JohnR. Commons as historical and political science investigations, along with The Federalist Papers and Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America. Here lies the second strength of these volumes--the ability of readers to understand the subject and its relationship to other related topics and to have a brief, but comprehensive,bibliography providing primary and secondary sources for further examination.

The rest is here. The book description from the press is more precise about the encyclopedia's content:
When the representatives of the 13 former British colonies convened in Philadelphia in 1787, they sought to create a governing document that would define the nature of the government for their new country. Many delegates, having long experience in colonial legislatures battling royal officials for control of the functions of local government, were hesitant to give up the rights of their separate constituencies. Others, cognizant of the great difficulties that a weak Congress had caused throughout the Revolution, were in favor of granting power to a strong central government at the expense of the new states. Those varying views were reflected in the new draft constitution that proposed a federal system where power was shared between the new states and a central government consisting of an elected congress, president and a supreme court. However, no sooner than the compromises were struck to create a new constitution did the debate begin over what the words meant. The first fruit of those initial debates over the limits of the power of government yielded the Bill of Rights. However, the give and take over the role of the federal government has been going on ever since.
This new encyclopedia examines the course of that debate in American history. The 378 articles explain the constitutional provisions, Congressional legislation and Supreme Court decisions that have shaped the relationships of the state and federal governments in the United States. Also noted are the roles played by leading political figures, from John Adams to Sandra Day O'Connor, in defining various areas of jurisdiction. From abortion and Affirmative Action to slavery and welfare policy, historic policy debates are used to illustrate the changing roles of government. Other entries examine the current and historical relationships of different levels of government, including federal, state, and municipal sectors. The influence of historic events and national organizations is explored. Finally, competing theories of federalism, from states' rights to Ronald Reagan's "New Federalism," are explained. Appendices include the Articles of Confederation plus the US Constitution and its amendments. This scholarly survey provides students of political science and history with an excellent introduction to one of the fundamental issues of American government. The set is recommended for high school, public and academic libraries.