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Meet Rachel MacMaster, 2017 John K. Hulston Scholarship Honoree | December 4, 2017

Meet Rachel MacMaster, 2017 John K. Hulston Scholarship Honoree

Each year some two dozen historians, writers and scholars receive Research Grants to explore the archives at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. These prestigious research grants are made possible thanks to the generosity of Truman Library Institute members and donors.

Donors have made it possible for the Truman Library Institute to give out nearly $2.7 million over the years for researchers all over the world to travel to Independence to immerse themselves in archival research and further our understanding of the Truman era.

The John K. Hulston Scholarship is unique in that it allows a researcher to visit multiple research facilities—including the Truman Library—for their research. Rachel MacMaster, a Ph.D. candidate at Syracuse University, was awarded this grant and recently traveled to the Truman Library to research. We took a few minutes of Rachel’s time to learn about her research and what she learned while on site at the Truman Library.

Tell us a bit about your research project.
My dissertation focuses on the political development of the American administrative state after the passage of the New Deal and the end of World War II. Political scientists have argued for decades that the reaction to intense government problems is often to develop bureaucratic responses. This usually leads to the creation of new agencies and the transfer of power to bureaucrats and away from politicians. The 1930s and 1940s also saw the development of a form of law that gave administrative agencies the ability to resolve disputes without needing to go to courts; this is called administrative law.

By 1946, administrative law and administrative courts were given tremendous power. Since then, we’ve witnessed a back-and-forth between administrative agencies, through their administrative law arms, and courts where cases that originate in an agency are eventually tried by a federal court. Oftentimes the two legal institutions have different conclusions in identical cases.

In my research, I examine the immigration court system and, in particular, the Board of Immigration Appeals (the final court that must be visited before appealing a case to the federal courts). Though the U.S. has regulated immigration administratively since the nineteenth century, the modern immigration apparatus moved to the Department of Justice in 1940 and laid down roots there. The history of immigration courts is both rich and varied. In addition, the immigration court system of today is overburdened and oftentimes eschewing due process rights at the expense of efficiency.

Why do you think it’s important to study Truman-era history?
The Truman era is foundational for my dissertation due to the attention the Truman administration paid to bureaucratic processes in the rapidly changing political landscape of the post-war years. As a result, I am able to observe the active growth of administrative breadth and depth through a deep-dive into Truman’s administration’s bureaucratic activity. The best example of this is the passage of the Administrative Procedure Act in 1946. The APA, crafted and passed after the realization that bureaucratic activity should be regulated and standardized, provides guidance for administrative courts that can resolve disputes that result from non-compliance with the statute agencies are tasked with enforcing. President Truman created a committee comprised of leading legal scholars and led by Dean Acheson, the future Secretary of State, to identify the problems inherent in the new administrative landscape and to proscribe solutions for inclusion in the new statute. Therefore, I would not be able to fully understand why the administrative state looks as it does without a thorough look at Truman’s years at the helm.

What is the coolest discovery (or discoveries) you found during your research at the Truman Library? What does that discovery mean to your research?
Beyond the procedural side of the administrative state, my dissertation has the potential to better understand the implications of the administrative state on individual lives. Too often political science scholarship ignores the individual in hopes of understanding the whole. With a topic as deeply personal and undeniably relevant as immigration, I hope that I will be able to communicate my findings to those who interact with the immigration court system on both sides of the bench. To that point, I stumbled upon constituent service files from Truman’s time as senator of Missouri where concerned Missourians contacted the senator with hopes of bringing their loved ones to the United States. Though Truman’s years as senator fall outside of the temporal scope of my dissertation, reading those files gave me much needed context for the work I am doing, which is incredibly important when undertaking a large project like my dissertation.

Which other research facilities will the John K. Hulston Scholarship allow you to visit?
With the Hulston Scholarship, I will be visiting the Nixon Library in January. The Nixon era is a particularly interesting time for the administrative state: the Nixon administration, as conservative as it was, was committed to expanding the administrative arm of the government through the creation of new agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. While I’m in California, I’m hoping to stop by the Reagan Library. The Reagan era provided the spark for the conservative legal movement that continues to characterize the federal judiciary to this day. I have already visited the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, and the History Library at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C.

What did it mean to be awarded the 2017 John K. Hulston Scholarship?
Winning the Hulston Scholarship means more to me than the opportunity to visit archives without needing to worry about funds (though, of course, I’m very grateful for the scholarship money!). The Hulston Scholarship gave me much-needed validation that my project is interesting to others and worth pursuing in depth. The Hulston Scholarship has given me the chance to pursue an interesting line of inquiry in interesting places surrounded by interesting people. I can’t thank the Truman Library Institute enough for this honor and opportunity.

Thank you to the generous members and donors who have made it possible for researches like Rachel to conduct their research! Are you interested in ensuring that important research like this continues? Donate today.

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