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Describe The Main Features Of American Federalism.

2296 words - 9 pages

American federalism is constantly used as a benchmark for democratic societies. Having been successfully implemented along with the constitution, it has shown that it has been able to adapt to the changing environments throughout history. One scholar has claimed, “Federalism – old style – is dead.” However I disagree. In the following paragraphs, I will show how federalism is a part of the United States but how some problems make it seem like it is failing in the modern environment.

American federalism is a system of dual-sovereignty between two levels of government. It is a constitutional feature that power is divided between the national government and the governments of the states, and that both are mutually dependant on the other for their existence while both being removed from any fear of dissolution from the other. However, “The Framers left many questions relating to federalism unanswered or unclear.” These questions include the amount of power established to each sovereign. Powers assigned to national governmental powers, such as the roles of Congress, are defined, but all that is mentioned of the state’s powers is the 10th Amendment.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

This is what the Framers intended though. By not specifying boundaries, they ensured that federalism would be adaptable to change.

The Framers decided upon a federal system of government for many different reasons. Firstly it protects minorities. As Madison argued in Federalist No. 10,
The smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it…the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority…the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens

By introducing a federal system of government, the power is diffused between the states and the national government. Because this system takes in a large number of people, it is better than a centralised government as “…you take in a greater variety of parties and interests” meaning minorities are protected, as there are too many interests for any one majority to have power.

Following on from this, it prevents centralised power. As both the states and the national government share the power, one cannot act without the support of the other. There is a common understanding between the two as to what each is responsible for – it is outlined in the constitution. It would be impossible for one to intrude upon the other’s control. Because of this, the national government cannot become more powerful than the states. Indeed, Hamilton voices fears in Federalist...

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