For better and sometimes for worse, Congress is a reflection of the aspirations, wants, and priorities of the American people. It reflects the kaleidoscope of special interests and unselfish service to others, of favors sought and sacrifices made. During each two-year session of Congress, thousands of pieces of legislation are proposed, many hundreds are given serious consideration, but far fewer are eventually enacted into law. Most enactments have limited impact, affect few, and are quietly forgotten in the flow of legislative activity. However, a small number of laws have risen to the level of historical consequence. These are the laws that have shaped America, and they are the subject of this book.
Which pieces of legislation were the most significant for the development of the nation? Which have had an immediate or lasting impact on our society? Which laws so affected us that we could not imagine how our lives would be without them? Dennis W. Johnson vividly portrays the story of fifteen major laws enacted over the course of two centuries of American democracy. For each law, he examines the forces and circumstances that led to its enactment--the power struggles between rival interests, the competition between lawmakers and the administration, the compromises and principled stands, and the impact of the legislation and its place in American history.
"I have greatly enjoyed reading The Laws That Shaped America, a fast-moving narrative, with colorfully drawn settings and nuanced descriptions of major players. Dennis Johnson addresses major themes fundamental to lawmaking and representative democracy while effectively illustrating the inherent frustration, sluggishness, complexity, and unpredictability of the legislative process. He has brilliantly mastered a vast amount of source material with proper tone, balance, and emphasis. I learned a great deal from this book."
—Richard Baker, author of The Senate of the United States: A Bicentennial History
“Dennis Johnson has produced a masterly account of America’s landmark acts of Congress, which will be of interest to anyone interested in history and politics for years to come. It is both highly readable and exhaustive in its research. I highly recommend this book.”
— Robert B. Dove, Parliamentarian Emeritus of the United States Senate
1. Westward Expansion--The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the Louisiana Purchase Ratification of 1803 2. Slavery and the Territories--Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 3. The Promise of Land--The Homestead Act of 1862 and the Morrill Act of 1862 4. Women Gain the Right to Vote--The Nineteenth Amendment of 1919 5. Protecting the Working Family--The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 6. The Grand Contract--The Social Security Act of 1935 7. The Promise to America’s Veterans--The G. I. Bill of 1944 8. The Recovery of Western Europe--The Marshall Plan of 1948 9. Ribbons of Highway--The Interstate Highway Act of 1956 10. Assuring Equality, Guaranteeing Democracy--The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and The Voting Rights Act of 1965 11. The Lifeline to the Elderly and Poor--The Medicare and Medicaid Act of 1965 12. Protecting the Environment--The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 13. The Laws That Shaped America Appendix: Other Major Legislation