Clio and the Compound Republic

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Although Martha Derthick has received most recognition for her contributions to political science and government, we argue that her astute accounts of federalism in action offer precisely what historians of American governance need at this moment. This essay highlights several of her contributions: her insistence on seeing the United States as a “compound republic” comprised of multiple levels of authority rather than equating government with the national government; her focus on federalism’s shifting dynamics and concern with demonstrating those dynamics empirically; her dedication to studying “the middle tier” and showing that states gained real power during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as they took on functions previously performed by localities; and her attentiveness to the endurance of localism in American politics and policy. Drawing on case studies and recent scholarship, we explain why these insights are vital to historians and suggest how historians’ more thorough incorporation of them could enrich our understanding of key aspects of the American past.

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Publius: The Journal of Federalism