federalism has never been a simple task. As colonies, the states
had developed independently and, even after the Revolutionary War,
they remained "distinct, different and insular communities."1 Consequently,
bringing the states together in a federal system was fraught with
controversy. The states had become very jealous of their independence
and autonomy and many people were suspicious of the new Constitutional
arrangement that would require the states to give up power to the
national government. Indeed, it was the states' reluctance to surrender
even the smallest amount of sovereignty that had made the government
under the Articles of Confederation so
weak (see "Self Rule").
events that had prompted the states to send delegates to the Constitutional
Convention, however, had also made them much more willing to accept
limitations on state power than they had been before. If a stronger
national government could help solve the states' trade and commerce
problems, they were willing to relinquish some of their independence.
Then as today, however, there was controversy about just how much independence
would have to be given up to make the national government strong enough
to achieve the ends it was being created to pursue.
Framers of the Constitution created a federal system with a national
government strong enough to unify the states in their pursuit of common
goals without completely robbing the states of their independence.
If they had not done so, it is unlikely that the ratifying conventions
in the several states would have approved the Constitution. Indeed,
the inclusion of the federal principle in the Constitution was a critical
factor in its ratification. The benefits of federalism, however, have
reached far beyond the ratification debates.
Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner. The Founders' Constitution (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1987).
Federalism - Bill Clinton
No. 44 - Restrictions on the Authority of the Several States
No. 46 - The Influence of the State and Federal Governments Compared
No. 17 - Federalist Power Will Ultimately Subvert State Authority
Think About It
In what ways does federalism promote the protection of individual rights
and liberties in the United States?
How would the United States of America be different if id had a consolidated,
unitary government with no policy making authority in the states and
Applying What You've Learned
Choose an area of public policy, e.g. education, health care, law enforcement,
and compile a list of the different governmental entities or agencies
that are responsible for the policy. To which level of government does
each of these entities belong? Is the issue you chose primarily a state
and local responsibility or is it primarily a national responsibility?
How do officials at different levels of government interact with each
other in this policy area? Do you think the policy is currently implemented
by the right level of government? Why or why not? What changes would
you make if you could?