Dividing Citizens: Gender and Federalism in New Deal Public Policy

By Suzanne Mettler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE Structured Governance and Citizenship in the New Deal

Next winter we may well undertake the great task of furthering the security of the citizen and his family through social insurance.

-- PresidentFranklin D. Roosevelt, "Message to Congress, June 8, 1934"

From the viewpoint of industrial democracy the pending measure will offer to these unfortunate victims of our existing economic system an opportunity to rise to industrial citizenship. . . . It marks the beginning of an industrial bill of rights for workers as against industry, just as the so-called Bill of Rights in our political Constitution guarantees personal and civil liberties of the citizen or individual as against our State or Federal Governments.

-- John L. Lewis, Hearings on the Fair Labor Standards Act, 1937

During the century and a half preceding the New Deal, under the unique system of federalism hammered out at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the actual content of American citizenship was defined primarily by the individual states rather than by national government. State governments determined the rights and privileges and the duties and obligations of those living within their borders by enacting the vast majority of policy decisions that affected their residents' daily lives. They legislated on subjects as diverse as property, family, morality, education, commerce and labor, banking, and criminal procedure. The national government was restricted from interfering in such activities because its powers were understood to be relatively limited, extending primarily to the promotion of commercial activity through such means as subsidies and tariffs.1 As a patchwork of laws developed, the character of American citizenship evolved

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1
Edward S. Corwin, "The Passing of Dual Federalism," Virginia Law Review 36 ( February 1965): 1-24; Theodore J. Lowi, The Personal President ( Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), p. 24; see also Harry N. Scheiber, "The Conditions of American Federalism: An Historian's View," in American Intergovernmental Relations, ed. Laurence J. O'Toole, Jr. ( Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, 1993), pp. 67-74.

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