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United States Government And Federalism Essay

1595 words - 6 pages

Over the last two centuries the United States has grappled with the idea of federalism. While former President James Madison had a very concrete understanding of that form of governance, “In the compound republic of America, the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments, and then portion allotted to each subdivided among distinct and separate departments” (Madison, 1788, p. 67), the United States has never had a conclusive division of power between the state and the US Federal Governments. Instead of definitive spheres of governance as Madison envisioned, over the years the US Federal Government has played an increasingly important role in state matters. Beyond changes in the balance of power between the federal and state governments, federalism also forces political actors to play to multiple, and sometimes incompatible, political bases. Compared with a unitary system of government, federalism is the most effective for new states because it grants territories a level of regional autonomy, its divisions in government lead to more effective legislative policies, and federalist governments have been able to unify during times of national crisis.
Between the signing of the Constitution of the United States and the outbreak of the American Civil War, state governments exercised a large degree of independence from the US Federal Government. During this period state governments openly questioned the policies of the Federal Government, and the Federal Government fought to establish its supremacy over the states. The first conflict between the states and the federal government came with the establishment of the Bank of the United States. In response, the State of Maryland decided to tax the Bank of the United States. In the case McCulloch v. Maryland, the Supreme Court ruled that the US Bank was constitutional and that states did not have the right to tax the federal government. This case established the precedent that the United States Federal Government could dictate the countries monetary policies. More importantly, during this period the supremacy of federal law over state law was established with the Nullification Crisis of 1832. The ensuing conflict established the precedent that the states did not have the right to judge the constitutionality of acts of Congress. It was not until the American Civil War and the resulting defeat of the Confederate States of America that the supremacy of the US Federal Government in legislative and economic matters was established.
Between the conclusion of the American Civil War and the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the United States entered a period of definitive dual federalism. During this period “fundamental governmental powers were shared between the federal and state governments, with the states exercising the most important powers” (Lowi & Ginsberg & Shepsle & Ansolabehere, 2010, p. 73). While the US Federal Government left a majority of the decision...

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