William D. Adler

Apr 7, 2022

Engineering Expansion

The U.S. Army and Economic Development, 1787-1860

University of Pennsylvania Press 2021

Engineering Expansion: The U.S. Army and Economic Development, 1787-1860 (U Pennsylvania Press, 2021) threads together political science, history, economics, American political development, and administrative developments to understand the unique role that the United States’ Army played in laying the groundwork for so much of the growth and evolution both before and after the Civil War in the U.S. Political Scientist William Adler examines the understanding and place of the state in early America, digging at what really happened in the decades after the revolutionary war and the establishment of the new constitutional system. Adler highlights the interesting ways in which the U.S. Army was involved in governing this expanding territory, from providing engineering expertise, which was a scarcity at this time in the United States, to contributing to the development of economic dynamics in the young republic. As Adler notes, the U.S. Army was everywhere, but it was particularly present on the periphery of the country, in the expanding sectors of the country where the structures of the governmental system were far less present. And the research indicates that the Army had enormous latitude in what it was doing in these outposts. This antebellum period is often considered an era when the administrative state was rather weak, but Adler’s work argues that this is somewhat misleading. The Army spent this time, as the United States was involved in extensive territorial expansion, building a system of forts across the country, and in so doing, the Army became the mechanism that enforced the rule of law across the country. In this regard, while the military was established as a defensive and protective arm of the national government, it also took on the role as a coercive entity, having been allocated power from the federal seat of government to compel obedience to the law. Thus, the U.S. Army became central to national governance during this time.

Adler’s research also explores the power of those at the top of the command structure in the U.S. Army since they were making decisions based on delegated powers from the national government. The men who ran the bureaus in the War Department held office for quite lengthy tenures, providing them with institutional memory and capacities had by few others in government. These men also worked with engineers and topographers as they surveyed the land that was being incorporated into the new republic. As a result, they contributed to the growth and development of the railroads and how certain parts of the country were favored for this kind of economic investment while other parts were not. The U.S. Army trained engineers, and in so doing, provided both the public and the private sector with expertise that did not otherwise exist. This also contributed to the foundation for the industrial revolution that would soon take shape in the United States. Engineering Expansion: The U.S. Army and Economic Development 1787-1860 is a fascinating analysis of how the American state operated after the establishment of the new constitutional system, and the powerful and little-known hand that the U.S. Army had in building and establishing the new country.

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Email her comments at lgoren@carrollu.edu or tweet to @gorenlj.

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Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.

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