DANIEL J. ELAZAR
The more than continental stretch of the American domain is given form and character as a federal union of fifty different states whose institutions order the American landscape. The existence of these states made possible the emergence of a continental nation where liberty, not despotism, reigns and self-government is the first principle of order. The great American republic was born in its states as its very name signifies. America's first founding was repeated on thirteen separate occasions over 125 years, from Virginia in 1607 to Georgia in 1732, each giving birth to a colony that became a selfgoverning commonwealth. Its revolution and second founding was made by those commonwealths, now states, acting in congress, and its constitution was written together and adopted separately.
As the American tide rolled westward from the Atlantic coast, it absorbed new territories by organizing thirty-seven more states over the next 169 years. Americans, older and newer, transformed the fledgling republic into the leader of the free world by establishing free government at home first and foremost. Nineteenth-century American patriots liked to speak of the American empire, but it was an empire of self-governing states by design. Without those states the American people could not provide for their domestic concerns or maintain their federal government. Other forms of political order could not provide the same combination of order and diversity, liberty and self-government.
Most of the American states are larger and better developed than most of the world's nations. Each has its own story, its own character as a civil society; each is a polity with its own uniqueness. They share a common tradition of governance, but to view them as the same because their institu-