The sheer magnitude of the America Online/Time Warner deal — widely touted as the largest corporate merger ever — will inevitably attract the scrutiny of federal regulators. But even if government overseers are less than thrilled with the union, there probably isn’t much they can do about it.

The deal will be reviewed by either the Department of Justice or the Federal Trade Commission based on standards set by the Sherman and Clayton antitrust acts — laws with their roots in the 19th century marketplace of oil tycoons, steel barons, and railroad magnates.