Synopses & Reviews
Much of today's political rhetoric decries the welfare state and our maze of government regulations. Critics hark back to a time before the state intervened so directly in citizens' lives. In The People's Welfare
, William Novak refutes this vision of a stateless past by documenting America's long history of government regulation in the areas of public safety, political economy, public property, morality, and public health. Challenging the myth of American individualism, Novak recovers a distinctive nineteenth-century commitment to shared obligations and public duties in a well-regulated society.
Novak explores the by-laws, ordinances, statutes, and common law restrictions that regulated almost every aspect of America's society and economy, including fire regulations, inspection and licensing rules, fair marketplace laws, the moral policing of prostitution and drunkenness, and health and sanitary codes. Based on a reading of more than one thousand court cases in addition to the leading legal and political texts of the nineteenth century, The People's Welfare demonstrates the deep roots of regulation in America and offers a startling reinterpretation of the history of American governance.
This is a comprehensive and well documented book, showing the author's competence in a number of disciplines.
Business History Review
Offers a vigorous and effective challenge to two related bodies of literature [on legal regulation].
American Historical Review
[A] provocative, prodigiously researched, and beautifully written book.
Reviews in American History
[A]n ambitious research design, presented with admirable clarity and verve.
Yale Law Journal
About the Author
William J. Novak is associate professor of history at the University of Chicago.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Governance, Police, and American Liberal Mythology
Chapter 1. The Common Law Vision of a Well-Regulated Society
Chapter 2. Public Safety: Fire and the Relative Right of Property
Chapter 3. Public Economy: The Well-Ordered Market
Chapter 4. Public Ways: The Legal Construction of Public Space
Chapter 5. Public Morality: Disorderly Houses and Demon Rum
Chapter 6. Public Health: Quarantine, Noxious Trades, and Medical Police
Conclusion: The Invention of American Constitutional Law