Date of Award


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Political Science, PhD


School of Social Science, Politics, and Evaluation

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Ralph Rossum

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Charles Kesler

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Jean Schroedel

Terms of Use & License Information

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Rights Information

© 2020 Angus K McClellan


constitutional change, due process, principles of taxation, state constitutionalism, Thomas M. Cooley, vested rights

Subject Categories

Political Science


The purpose of this dissertation is twofold: to examine and critique key elements of the jurisprudence of the late 19th-century judge and treatise writer Thomas M. Cooley; second, to determine the extent to which his work can be applied to modern legal debates. The conclusions of this study are that Cooley was legally oriented in his jurisprudence and dedicated to upholding the American constitutions and the common law as it had been adopted in the states. Further, those written constitutions and other principles of law are still relevant and applicable, and so jurists and scholars should consider Cooley’s perspectives in their legal debates and scholarly work. Indeed, Cooley was once recognized as the most important legal commentator on American constitutional law, second only perhaps to Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, and yet today he is largely forgotten. Cooley’s position as a legal authority diminished decades after his death, either coincidentally or causally around the time a handful of scholars produced flawed and superficial studies on the jurist, casting him as either an ideologue or politician whose work deserved little attention. Later scholars largely deferred to these studies. This dissertation demonstrates how those attacks were largely speculative and contrary to clear textual evidence. The most criticized aspects of Cooley’s thought were the topics of the chapters of the study: retrospective civil legislation and vested rights; the broad protections of the due process clauses; the public purpose requirement for taxing and spending laws; and constitutional interpretation and constitutional change. His positions were based on judicial precedents, authoritative treatises, legal history, constitutional text, and the common law as adopted in the states, not political preferences or economic ideology. The final chapter demonstrates how some of his views and principles can be applied to retrospective civil legislation cases; the definition of “tax” as reviewed in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius , 567 U.S. 519 (2012); and the basis and extent of the president’s power to remove principal officers from independent agencies in Seila Law LLC v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau , 591 U.S. ____ (2020).