The Issue of Federal Regulation in the Progressive Era

By Richard Abrams | Go to book overview

II FROM THE ABSTRACT TO THE CONCRETE: THE "AMERICAN WAY" REVIEWED

WHATEVER THE VIRTUE OF THE FACT, AMERICAN LEGISLATION HAS BEEN "empirical." Though Americans have continued to give verbal honor to "self-help" and "laissez-faire." various groups in American society, "having the power." have made interested use of government--primarily state government, but also Federal government (e.g., land grants to railroads). In the following selection, Robert A. Lively comments on more than a dozen books and articles by American scholars completed within the past twenty years which have conclusively established the fact of vigorous government participation with private enterprise throughout the nineteenth century in the development of the national economy. ( Robert A. Lively , "The American System: A Review Article", The Business History Review, XXIX [ March 1955], 81-96.)]

. . . [ALL THE men reviewed] are united in their belief that the activities of state and local governments were of crucial importance in the stimulation of enterprise in the United States. . . . In their report of the struggle of communities and states for control of inland produce or for access to markets, they document the emergence of a sturdy tradition of public responsibility for economic growth. The tradition as they describe it, persistent to the very end of the nineteenth century, was so extensively employed that it seems expanded in no theoretical respect by its modern uses in the Tennessee Valley or in the exploitation of atomic energy. . . .

The error [of past historians in overlooking these activities] was one of monumental proportions, a mixture of over-looked data, interested distortion, and persistent preconception. . . .

In applying the word "planning" to ante-bellum practices, [the recent revisionists] quite consciously gave the word its modern meaning --that is, the adoption by communities of "deliberate and concerted policies . . . designed to promote economic expansion or prosperity and in which positive action to provide favorable conditions for eco-

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