This essay argues that big government began in America's earliest days-- despite our founding myth of small government and limited federal activity. The essay addresses the federal government's indispensable role in land acquisition, its regulation of the fur trade, and its roles in managing defense, trade, and social policies. Complementing a wave of new scholarship, "How Big Government Won the West" offers a brief and compelling look at governance in the republic's first century. Rockwell addresses numerous examples of federal government activity in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: government-run trading houses designed to drive American Indians into debt, thus forcing land cessions; the federal response to the Whiskey Rebellion; the cost of the Louisiana Purchase; the construction of the National Road; the building of seacoast fortifications; the tragedy of Indian Removal; the terror of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850; and federal initiatives addressing health, welfare, veterans' pensions, the mails, and disaster relief.
"How Big Government Won the West" is designed for use in college and high school classrooms, where it can serve as a basis for debate over the scope and influence of the federal government in the nineteenth century.