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May 27 , 2008

How Big Government Won the West


This short essay argues that "big government" begins in America's earliest days – despite our founding myth of small government and limited federal activity. The essay addresses the federal government's indispensable role in land acquisition, its regulation of the fur trade, and its role in managing defense, trade, and social policies. Complementing a wave of new scholarship, "How Big Government Won the West" offers a brief and compelling look at governance in the republic's first century. Rockwell addresses numerous examples of federal government activity in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: government-run trading houses designed to drive American Indians into debt, thus forcing land cessions; the federal response to the Whiskey Rebellion; the cost of the Louisiana Purchase; the construction of the National Road; the building of seacoast fortifications; the tragedy of Indian Removal; the terror of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850; and federal initiatives addressing health, welfare, veterans' pensions, the mails, and disaster relief.

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