The Evolution of Federalism

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The Evolution of the Constitution

American federalism has changed drastically since its genesis. In 1776 the thirteen colonies adopted the Articles of Confederation in order to coordinate their efforts in the war for independence. The Articles of Confederation bound the states together in two main aspects; foreign and military affairs. The Articles of Confederation worked well while all the states had a common cause. However, as soon as the war ended and interests began to change, it became obvious that the Articles were not enough. This brings on the creation of Federalism (Reinventing American Federalism).

In May of 1787, in the city of Philadelphia, delegates from all thirteen states met in order to "create a more perfect union". The result was the Constitution of the United States. Delegates debated over which form of government would best suit both the security, and the freedom that many sought in this new government. The delegates rejected both confederal and unitary models of government for a new form of government called federalism. Federalism differs from the former two in that, unlike the unitary form of government, which is ruled by a central government, federalism is not based on a hierarchy in which the state levels of government perform the duties and tasks handed down by the central governmental system. Also, unlike the confederal system which gave all power to the states, only some of the power would be granted to the states. The federal government would handle foreign affairs, trade, military, and the economy (Reinventing American Federalism).

Throughout the first half century of federalism, many argued over the roles that the federal and the state systems should play. By the time of the civil war, slavery was at the top of the debate. Should slavery be a national or a state issue? The end of the civil war brought an answer to this debate with the addition of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments (Hyde). These amendments ended slavery, and reduced the power of the states over civil rights matters.

The federal government started taking on a bigger role in the turn of the twentieth century. President Roosevelt expanded federal authority with his New Deal program. The New Deal program was funded by the federal government, but administered by the states. This brought on the grant-in-aid system, a system in which the federal government uses its financial resources to give money to states to pursue mutually agreed upon goals, also known as cooperative federalism. The Supreme Court allowed this expanded role of federalism, and has allowed the federal government to create its own boundaries ever since in many areas including racial segregation (Brown vs. Board of Education), which gave the federal government powers that were originally assumed by the states (Reinventing American Federalism). Perhaps the greatest example of this took place on June 11th, 1963 when President Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard, and forced Alabama's Governor Wallace to step aside and allow Vivian Malone and James Hood, two black students, to register at the University of Alabama. The federal government overturned a decision made by the state (Simon). Cooperative federalism began to fade away with Johnson's Great Society program. This program often enacted grant-in-aid programs that the states were not interested in, or were opposed to. The grant-in-aid policies not only affected a few state programs, but now affected many city programs as well. Causing many people to argue that the federal government was taking on a much bigger role than it was intended to. Reagan, during his administration fought to decrease the far-reaching policies of the federal government. He increased defense spending, social security payments and tax cuts, causing less money to be spent on grant-in-aid programs. The trend set by Reagan has been carried on throughout the more recent administrations. The role of the state and the federal...
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