A vigorous civics lesson of 19 case studies that illustrate America’s evolving democratic processes and institutions.
Based on a course at Harvard Business School taught by Moss (A Concise Guide to Macroeconomics, 2007, etc.), this set of well-documented, accessible essays presents the prickly challenges facing the rapidly changing American democracy, for lawmakers and citizens alike. The author aims to give readers an immediate sense of whether these conflicts provided constructive or destructive forces to the republic. The lively debate over the making of the Constitution and the states’ bruising battle for ratification showcase the first important challenge to the new nation. It’s a well-worn piece of American history, but the author’s third essay, about the arguments for and against Cherokee Removal (1836), is less trod, and he shows how it divided lawmakers and Native Americans alike over the issue of sovereignty. No doubt reflecting Moss’ areas of expertise, several of these fascinating cases involve the banking system, and not just Alexander Hamilton’s push to establish a national bank. The author also examines banking and political reforms in New York (1838) and the issue of debt at the New York Constitutional Convention of 1846, and he surveys the evolution of the Federal Reserve, culminating in the crisis of 2007-2009. Moss emphasizes the dramatic changes that have taken place at the state and local levels, such as the struggle over public education and its funding in early America (1851). However, as he points out, since the late 18th century, there has been “far less expansion of formal popular influence at the federal level.” The author also delineates the reform of the jury system in terms of racial equality, the adoption of the secret ballot, the influence of muckraking journalism on the abuses of big government (e.g., Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, 1906), and the dire ramifications of allowing First Amendment rights for corporations (Citizens United, 2010), among other compelling cases.
A sterling educational tool that offers a fresh presentation of how “democracy in America has always been a contact sport.”