History Ph.D. Dissertations


Partners in Crime: Federal Crime Control Policy and the States, 1894 – 1938

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Judith Sealander


The dramatic expansion of federal criminal law jurisdiction and policing responsibilities in recent times has raised questions regarding the historical origins of these developments and their impact upon the continuing efficacy of the nation's federal system of government. This dissertation examines, within the context of federal criminal law enforcement and the evolving nature of crime, those social, economic, and legal forces and events that played a critical role in the growth of the states' police powers and made federal collaboration an increasingly important factor in the suppression of crime. Since the founding of this nation, federal anti-crime legislation, which tended to be reactionary in its formulation, inconsistent in its development, and supplemental by design, implicitly embodied a policy that forbade the impairment of the powers of the states. This orientation remained a fundamental aspect of federal criminal jurisdiction until well after the New Deal, the central point of this thesis, and did not begin to change until the latter half of the century when the nation's doctrinal ties to federalism and its faith in the importance of local police powers in the constitutional balance that defined the nation's political structure were substantially weakened. The practices by which federal crime suppression policies were implemented, a factor that underscored the broad range of policing contexts with which the federal government came into contact, were used in this study as the primary means of documenting the tensions that arose between the nation's federalist principles and those national experiences that encouraged a more bureaucratic and coordinated response to crime and the threat of disorder. This literature, supplemented by secondary source material, seriously questions whether federal criminal law could ever meet the foundational requirements or offer the breadth of vision that characterize those local and state systems through which justice historically has been dispensed.