The State Police in Historical Context
Movement to establish state-controlled police forces in the United States is primarily a product of the first two decades of the twentieth century. Although a few states ( Texas, Massachusetts, Delaware, and South Carolina) created state-controlled enforcement agencies during the nineteenth century, they were small, specialized forces intended for specific purposes such as protecting frontier borders or enforcing liquor laws. These forces were exceptions, rather than the rule, and had little impact on police development during the 1800s.
During much of the nineteenth century, the United States was dominated by the ideology of republicanism, which emphasized decentralization of power and accountability to local constituents. Changing the police so that control would be in the hands of a single individual, or a small group of officials, who were removed from local authority would have provoked cries of despotism. 1 Moreover, Americans, like their British ancestors, had a long-standing animosity to any agency resembling a permanent military presence. The idea of a state-controlled police force was an unprecedented and controversial development in nineteenth-century America. 2 Nevertheless, toward the end of the century, important changes took place that would weaken these basic principles and create an environment more receptive to the concept of centralized police forces.