Federalism by definition is the division of power between a central government and its participating members. How that power is divided is the subjective aspect of federalism that was before the framers of the United States. Through compromise and necessity the seeds for a strong central government were planted alongside already strong state governments. Over time the seeds for strong central government grew; wars, economic fluctuations and national growth established a strong central government. As America’s idea of federalism changed the central government grew more powerful, the state’s government gave more power away, and local governments were established. In American Intergovernmental Relations, Laurence O’Toole cites Harry Scheiber five stages of federalism to identify three key terms of federalism in the U.S as “dual federalism,” “cooperative federalism,” and “creative federalism.” According to Scheiber the five stages of federalism, are still a valid history of federalism in the United States.
The first stage, 1789-1861, he calls the “era of dual federalism” in which national, state, and local governments operated independently of one another. This “layer-cake” stage was a product of Congress, “refraining from making innovative policy in many areas formally opened to it by the Court.” It was apparent during this time that Congress was not yet ready to move to a more centralized government that would interfere with state and local governments.
Scheiber identifies the second stage, 1861-1890, as a period of transition to a more centralized government. Change to the Constitution, expansion of federal court powers, business regulation, and Supreme Court activism all worked to increase the power of national government and move towards a more centralized view of federalism. Schreiber’s third stage from 1890 to 1933 continues this move towards centralization with World War I as a catalyst.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal “inaugurated” Scheiber’s fourth stage. “Cooperative federalism” surfaces in this stage that promoted interaction and funding between the state, local, and national governments in order to facilitate new programs under the New Deal. Although this stage, labeled the marble-cake stage, is still marked with a strong national government, Washington relied on the state and local governments to plan, allocate funds, and monitor progress within their sphere.
Schreiber’s fifth and final stage is the post-World War II era. Here, “creative federalism” is born. Creative federalism points to a strong centralized government that initiates federal programs to fight poverty, hunger, crime, and other social issues. This stage sees a noticeable increase of power given to the national government by the Warren Court.