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In 1801 the Jeffersonian Republicans took charge of Congress, the presidency, and the national administration, determined to roll back the state-building excesses of their Federalist predecessors. In this effort they were partially successful. But the tide of history and the demands of a growing nation confounded their ambitions. While reclaiming democracy they also built administrative capacity. This Article examines administrative structure and accountability in the Republican era in an attempt to understand the “administrative law” of the early nineteenth century. That inquiry proceeds through two extended case studies: the Jeffersonian embargo of 1807-1809 and the multi-decade federal effort to survey and sell the ever-expanding “public domain.” The first was the most dramatic regulation of commerce attempted by an American national government either before or since. The second began a land office business that dominated the political and legal consciousness of the nation for nearly a century. The embargo tested the limits of administrative coercion and revealed an escalating conflict between the necessities of regulatory administration and judicial review in common law forms. The sale of the public domain required the creation of the first mass administrative adjudication system in the United States and revealed both the ambitions and the limits of congressional control of administration in a polity ideologically devoted to assembly government. Together these cases describe the early-nineteenth-century approach to a host of familiar topics in contemporary administrative law: presidential versus congressional control of administration, the propriety and forms of administrative adjudication, policy implementation via general rules, and the appropriate role of judicial review. Perhaps most significantly, both the embargo episode and the efforts to privatize the public domain demonstrate the singular importance of internal administrative control and accountability in maintaining neutrality and consistency in the application of federal law. This “internal law of administration” remains both a crucial and an understudied aspect of American administrative governance.
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