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Image of John Abert
(Col. John J. Abert, Chief, Topographical Corps of Engineers)

My research interests include political institutions, the American presidency, and American political development. Most recently, my book Engineering Expansion: The U.S. Army and Economic Development, 1787-1860 was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. In the book I argue that, notwithstanding its small size, the early Army proved to be a powerful instrument for promoting economic expansion by preserving the rule of law, expanding the nation’s territorial boundaries and making land available for white settlement through expropriation of Native lands, while also fostering engineering and technical expertise and building infrastructure across the nation. The Army was the strongest part of the early American state, forcing us to rethink how we conceptualize the development of the administrative state, the origins of bureaucratic autonomy, and presidential/civilian control over a widely dispersed military force.


Portions of my research have been published in the following articles.

William D. Adler, "Whose President? Donald Trump and the Reagan Regime," in American Political Development and the Trump Presidency, eds. Philip Rocco and Zachary Callen (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020): 101-113.

Yuchen Zhou, Mark Dredze, David Broniatowski, and William D. Adler, "Elites and Foreign Actors Among the Alt-Right: The Gab Social Media Platform." First Monday 24:9 (September 2019).

William D. Adler, "’History Has Its Eyes On You’: Hamilton and the Introductory American Government Course." PS: Political Science & Politics 52:1 (January 2019): 123-126.

William D. Adler, "The Politics of Internal Conquest in the United States and Canada." Oxford Bibliographies in Political Science ed. Sandy Maisel. New York: Oxford University Press (2014).

William D. Adler and Jonathan Keller, "A Federal Army, Not a Federalist One: Regime Building in the Jeffersonian Era." Journal of Policy History 26:2 (April 2014): 167-187.

William D. Adler, "'Generalissimo of the Nation': War Making and the Presidency in the Early Republic." Presidential Studies Quarterly 43:2 (June 2013): 412-426.

William D. Adler, "State Capacity and Bureaucratic Autonomy in the Early United States: The Case of the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers." Studies in American Political Development 26:2 (October 2012): 107-124.

William D. Adler and Andrew J. Polsky, "Building the New American Nation: Economic Development, Public Goods, and the Early U.S. Army." Political Science Quarterly 125:1 (Spring 2010): 87-110.

Andrew J. Polsky and William D. Adler, "The State in a Blue Uniform." Polity 40:3 (July 2008): 348-54.