American Federalism

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Federalism, by definition, is the division of government authority between at least two levels of government. In the United States, authority is divided between the state and national government. "Advocates of a strong federal system believe that the state and local governments do not have the sophistication to deal with the major problems facing the country" (

Even before the Constitution was ratified, strong argument were made by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison in the Federalist Papers urging the inclusion of a federal form of government to replace the failed confederation. In Federalist Paper No. 9 Hamilton states, "This form of government is a convention by which several smaller states agree to become members of a large one, which they intend to form. It is s kind of assemblage of societies that constitutes a new one, capable of increasing, by means of new associations, until they arrive to such a degree of power as to be able to provide for the security of a united body" ( The people of the United States needed a central government that was capable of holding certain powers over the states.

Those who feared that the federal government would become too strong were assured by Madison in Federalist No. 14 that "in the first place it is to be remembered that the general government is not to be charged with the whole power of making and administrating laws…The subordinate governments, which can extend their care to all those other objects which can be separately provided for, will retain their due authority and activity" (

The "necessary and proper" clause was included in the Constitution to allow for an "active and powerful government." It is also known as the Elastic Clause and basically stated that the national government had the ability to pass any law that was necessary and proper to carry out national business. John Marshall expanded the interpretation of the "necessary and proper" mainly through the Supreme Court decision in McCulloch v. Maryland. His decision that a state could not tax an agency of the national government was not the only outcome of the court case. Marshall took the opportunity to say that even though it is not mentioned in the Constitution, the national government has the right to charter a national bank ( The first era of federalism is dual federalism. Dual federalism is the belief that having separate and equally powerful levels of government is the best arrangement. One major leader during this era was Roger B. Tanney, who was the head of the Supreme Court. During this era, there was heated political debate on the issue of slavery. The Dred Scott v. Sanford decision in 1857, this was the first decision to take powers away from the national government. During this time, the Civil War occurred ( After the Civil War, with the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments became sources of power for the national government when it came to its jurisdiction over the states. By passing laws against slavery and allowing "equal protection under the law," the national government gave itself the power to enforce those laws and therefore enhanced authority over the states. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and in Section 2 stated that "Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation." By adding Section 2 to the amendment, Congress was simply ensuring their supremacy over the state governments. Among other things, the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees "equal protection under the law" to all citizens. Since all citizens are guaranteed protection, it is left up to the national government to make sure all citizens are receiving these rights. Even though many thought that the Fourteenth Amendment meant that the Bill of Rights was nationalized, its interpretation by the Supreme Court was much different. Just as in the Thirteenth Amendment, the...
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