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Recent historical literature on the early American state shows that collective energy, programmatic action, and instrumental approaches to public authority were all present at the creation. By implication, the strong state in America is neither a twentieth century departure nor a cultural aberration. But a history of political creativity and pragmatic adaptation elides basic problems of state development and conveys a false sense of continuity. Closer attention relations of authority and institutional forms puts more distance between past and present and offers a better guide to the current political impasse.