The power of the federal government increased during this period due to crises like wars and depressions. In almost every case, major crises in American life led to more power being taken by the federal government.
When crises strike, people tend to look for strong leadership. The most visible place for that leadership to come from is the government. Therefore, when crises happen, we look to the government. We allow it to take more power. We let President Lincoln suspend the writ of habeas corpus. We let the government pass laws like the Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917 and 1918 making criticism of the war illegal. We allow the government to implement New Deal programs that make the federal government responsible for things like our pensions and for bringing electrical power to people in rural areas. All of these things are things that would not have been accepted before the crises but were accepted once it started.
While the federal government does keep all the power given to it during a crisis, it does retain more and more power as more crises occur. This gradual accumulation of power is how the power of the federal government increased during this time period.
Between 1865 and 1940, the power of the federal government increased significantly. Here are some examples which demonstrate this growth:
- In 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment finally settled the issue of slavery at a federal level. The Amendment not only abolished this practice but also forced former Confederate states to accept this decision. If they failed to do so, they lost representation on a federal level. Similarly, the Fourteenth Amendment, passed in 1868, gave the federal government the right to protect any citizen who was born or naturalized in the U.S. (See the reference link provided).
- The Revenue Act of 1913 gave the federal government the right to tax people's income.
- On December 26, 1917, the federal government seized possession of the country's railroads by through the process of nationalization.
- Also in 1917, the federal government created the Food and Drug Administration through which it controlled every aspect of this industry.