Federal Government Expansion of Authority

Topics: President of the United States, Federal government of the United States, United States Congress Pages: 6 (2209 words) Published: November 20, 2011
The role of the institution has grown tremendously over the centuries ever since the founders of the United States desired a Federal Government with limited powers whose aim was primarily concerned with promoting the civil liberty of the Americans. According to Savage (2008), during the reign of George Washington, the federal bureaucracy had only three cabinet departments; however, the federal government has since grown not only to more than eight cabinet departments, but also with other numerous bureaus, agencies, government authorities, administrations, and corporations. Between the periods of independence and the civil war, the federal government performed limited duties with regards to the daily lives of the American people. During these early decades of our nationhood, the state, and local governments were known to exercise more autonomy and were more prominent in the daily lives of American people than they are today. The decline in the autonomy and prominence of the state and local government has been due to the progressive and rapid expansion of the federal government over the centuries. The expansion of the Federal Government is particularly clearly in the events surrounding the ‘Civil war, Reconstruction, the Progressive Era, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights era’. As this paper will demonstrate, the expansion of the Federal Authority was unprecedented but has been continuously prompted by the increasing need to guarantee economic and social welfare apart from promoting civil liberty of the citizens.

One of the single most important events that marked the beginning of the expansion of the federal government over the local and state government was the Civil War. It is important to note that the declaration of the Civil war was made by President Abraham Lincoln against the constitutional requirement that a formal declaration be sanctioned by Congress. Prompted by the urgency to stop the Confederate offensives at Fort Sumter in South Carolina, the president went beyond his powers to sanction a war in order to protect his people and stop the impending crisis (Hummel, 1996). Having seen the impeding crisis (as he later told Congress), President Lincoln dramatically expanded the Union’s navy and army, blockaded the Southern ports, spent money without Congress’ appropriation, and arrested Northerners considered sympathizers of the Confederate (Savage, 2008). All these powers were far beyond what was stipulated in the constitution as far as presidential powers were concerned. Being aware of his excesses, the President justified his actions by arguing that he acted to protect the political, social, and economic sovereignty of the Union that was under threat of the Confederate government. Thus, he asked the congress to retroactively sanction his actions which Congress did (Hummel, 1996). Although, the overriding motive of the war was to protect the Union and to incorporate the southerners into the Union (Hummel, 1996), the actions of the President marked the beginning of the expansion of the federal authority as was seen later in subsequent governments. The Civil War was also important in a number of ways as far as expansion of the federal authority was concerned. For instance, it was after the civil war that the growth of interest groups within the federal government was seen According to Hummel (1996), the Civil War not only brought new and more powers to the U.S. Federal Government, but also laid the foundation for the increased rise and influence of the interest groups in the national politics. Hummel (1996) notes that war veterans were the first interest group to benefit from the increased powers of the Federal Government. The group systematically raided the U.S. Treasury with the help of the Federal Government officials. Originally, only those veterans that had been injured in wars were paid pension dues by the Union and were required to claim their benefits within five years. For...

References: Higgs, R. (1987). Crisis and Leviathan: Critical episodes in the growth of American government. New York: Oxford University Press.
Holcombe, R. G. (1996). The Growth of the Federal Government in the 1920s. Cato Journal, 16 (2), 175-199.
Hummel, J. R. (1996). Emancipating slaves, enslaving free men: A history of the American Civil War. Chicago: Open Court Press.
McDonald, F. (1994). The American presidency. Kansas: University Press of Kansas.
Savage, C. (2008). Takeover: The return of the imperial presidency and the subversion of American democracy. Boston: Back Bay Books.
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