Essay History: Federalism and States

Submitted By sinlove82
Words: 2419
Pages: 10

Federalism has been an integral part of the American system of government since its inception. Our Constitution divides governmental power between the national government and the state governments, giving substantial functions to each. As Frederick Ogg points out, the relation between these two centers of power is dynamic, not static, and "must be readjusted and reshaped by each generation to meet the changing needs of our society." In response to these changing needs, our federal system has evolved from a relationship of near equality at the formation of the Union to one of national dominance today.
The generation that lived in the years just before the Civil War struggled with this evolution. Their challenge was to balance the power relation between the national government and the states during a time of increasing tension over different economic and social systems in the North and South. In an attempt to protect infant industry in the North, the national government imposed tariffs so high that Southerners were forced to purchase what they considered to be inferior goods from the North.

In 1828 the passage of The Tariff of Abominations, as it was called in the South, provoked a constitutional crisis; South Carolina threatened to secede rather than be bound by a law of the national government that it considered null and void. A combination of compromises and threat of force averted the crisis temporarily, but this crisis of state vs. national supremacy was ultimately joined by the secession of the Confederate States from the Union and the war that followed.

The generation of the 1950s also had to define this relationship between states and national government. Because of the centralization of federal power following two world wars and the social welfare legislation of the New Deal, the national government was left with greatly expanded powers. Against this background were set the tensions created by state segregation laws that violated the rights of black Americans under the Constitution. Unlike the crisis of the 19th century, this crisis was settled by the Supreme Court. Beginning with the Brown decision, the Supreme Court struck down all state segregation laws that came before it, effectively dismantling long-establish


The relationships among the federal, state, and local governments often confuse people, yet federalism is at the heart of critical battles over the nature and scope of public policy in the United States. Neighborhood schools are run by locally elected school boards but also receive state and national funds, and with those funds come state and national rules and regulations. Understanding the scope and nature of local, state, and national governments is thus critical to learning about the development of public policy in the United States.
We generally speak of three forms of governmental structures-federalism, unitary, and confederate. Federalism is a way of organizing a nation so that two or more levels of government have formal authority over the same area and people. Chapter 3 explores the complex relationships between different levels of government in the United States. It describes the ways that the federal system has changed over two centuries of American government and why American federalism is at the center of important battles over policy.
Federalism is not the typical way by which nations organize their governments; there are only eleven countries with federal systems. Most governments in the world today are unitary governments, in which all power resides in the central government. Although American government operates under a federal system at the national level, the states are unitary governments with respect to their local governments. In the United States, local governments are legally "creatures of the states": they are created by the states and can be changed (or even abolished) by the states.
In a confederation, the national…