Federalism In The U.s

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Under the Articles of Confederation Congress had no power to command people in the states to do anything. Congress having no power was a problem because they could not properly deal with disobedient citizens, taxes, or making legitimate agreements with foreign nations. After Shay’s Rebellion people realized that a change needed to take place and so the Constitutional Convention was arranged in 1787. At this convention they were supposed to change the Articles of Confederation but ended up booting the Articles out and making the Constitution. “The Constitution created a new national government, but left, or reserved” many powers to the states. Under this system, known as federalism, there would be two governments; state and national. Federalism is a “constitutional arrangement in which power is divided and shared between a central government having nationwide responsibilities and constituent governments having state or local representation” Federalism was made so that not only could the national government have powers but also the state governments. James Madison in the Federalist paper 45 said that powers needed to be given to the states because they would “extend to all the objects, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.” Citizens also have rights under both state and national government, this is called dual citizenship. The National government keeps the country going and the State government helps the people in their communities with things that deal with their everyday lives.

The Constitution does not “plainly identify” the exact powers that are left to the states but does make many suggestions. In Article I Section 9, they tell of eight powers that the states do not posses. The states are not allowed to “place taxes or duties on articles” from that state. They are also not allowed to give “titles of nobility.” The reserved powers thatare given to the states are called police powers. Police powers are the government enacting “legislation” to protect the safety, health, and welfare “within its jurisdiction.” Some examples of this would be making school zones, and “executing criminal and civil laws.” Although states do have laws that they can make, the Constitution is the supreme law.

The Constitution lets Congress control interstate commerce, but the national government must let the states regulate the trade in their state’s borders. The idea of Grant-in-aid programs have played a large role in what the national government can and cannot do. Grant-in-aid programs allow for cooperative federalism, which is the national and state governments working together to get financial aid for transportation and welfare. Since the national government cannot set rules for states, sometimes they will hold out money so that they can influence the state’s decisions in making policies. Congress also cannot set school policy. These are some of the limitations that the national government has.   

Justice Louis D. Brandeis believed that one of the best things about federalism was that citizens can try “economic experiments in states” without ruining the country. For example, in 1900 Wyoming began letting women vote in local and state elections. Some other experiments that citizens can do at a local level are the initiative, referendum, and recall. These let people be involved in direct democracy. Initiative comes in two forms; direct and indirect. With direct initiative, a person “drafts” up a state amendment or constitution. Then signatures are gathered on a ballot to be voted on or against. With indirect initiative, the ideas go to the legislature. If it is rejected or no action is taken, it is then placed on a ballot. Recall gives citizens the opportunity to remove an elected official from office which gives people a sense of being able to control who is the best candidate to run their state.

Today I believe Federalism is still alive and thriving. Although there are still some problems about whether or not certain things should be handled locally or nationally, federalism allows for me to be able to participate. It is a great way of making and enforcing laws in the country and different states. Each government has their limitations and federalism allows for citizens to participate locally and nationally.


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