Federalism in the United States
After attaining independence from England, the thirteen American colonies changed and became states. This system of government was described and documented in the Article of Confederation. Unfortunately, this system allowed the state governments to have more power than the national government, which was left feeble to exercise any authorities. The American Founding Fathers, on realizing this challenge, came together and decided to develop a new document that was intended to replace the Articles of Confederation. The new paper became the constitution, which made the national government a little bit stronger. However, the top priority of this system was to divide powers between both the national and state governments. It was the beginning of federal United States, thus acquiring the term federalism. Therefore, the justification of this study is to provide a persuasive discussion that will assist in the deeper understanding of the nature of the American government and reveal how federalism reflects the concerns of its framers.
The fundamental reason for composing the constitution was to ensure that both national and state governments exercised independent authorities within their spheres of governance, a principle called separation of powers. In fact, the separation of power interprets that the three branches of a federal government have their enumerated powers. The executive branch, for instance, has the veto power comprising the president. The legislature offices comprise the congress and senate, which has the authority to advise and approve the appointment of the judicial or executive officers. Additionally, the judicial arm comprises the court and judicial officers and has the power to make judgments. However, the Supreme Court in America has attempted to interpret Separation of power in two different ways (Long, 1949). Firstly, there is formalism, which outlines that the constitution’s goal is to divide the federal government into two categories, with each branch exercising its set of powers. Functionalism is the second interpretation, which outlines that the three branches of government are not delineated but complements each other. This definition sums up that the primary aim of separation of power that ensures that each branch only retains the necessary powers, thus acting as checkmates for each other.
Nevertheless, the constitution framers had other reasons for composing this document that included tyranny avoidance, using the state as “laboratory” for experimenting new ideas and programs, and enabling countries to participate more in political matters. Concisely, the constitution has laid down power distributions where the national and state governments work together on specific duties while others are exercised separately. For instance, the central government coins money, conducts foreign relations, declares war, and oversees both foreign and interstate trade affairs (Long, 1949). On the other hand, state governments monitor their trading activities, manage education issues, oversee public health and safety, and ratify amendments. Notably, both parties’ duties include making and enforcing laws, taxation matters, and borrowing money.
During the making of the constitution, the founding fathers were faced with a series of issues that raised concerns and disagreements that needed documentation and concrete solutions. Some of these concerns included sectional differences over slavery, representation, how to elect the president, and protect fundamental liberties. Nonetheless, the federalism issue was the biggest problem. The framers of the constitution, in a bid to protect the freedom of their citizens’ argued that there was a need to avoid establishing a document based on pure democracy (McClellan, 2000). The reason for evasion of pure democracy was to protect the rights of the minority citizens who otherwise would experience insufficient attention.
Thus, the Constitution designed a way of protecting their states by making up the Senate and an electoral college. In the national legislature, two senators represent each state. In this approach, the states with small populations are protected by the senatorial representation, which is more efficient than being served in the House of Representatives, where the people of a country are the determinant of their issues. Consequently, presidential elections were regulated to prevent occurrences where a single vote by each would be the determining factor for the outcome of a presidential election. Therefore, this ensured that even the lesser populated states had a voice of their own during such crucial elections. To mitigate the framers’ concerns about the tyranny of numbers, they enacted the Electoral College. Therefore, two senators and how well they are represented in the House of Representatives determine each state’s electoral vote. Consequently, two electors exclusively represent even those states with small populations.
As a result, the fundamental principle of evolving federalism guarantees that citizens are motivated to become actively involved in their public affairs, thus promoting the American people civic responsiveness and competence (McClellan, 2000). Moreover, federalism allows states to embrace policy experimentation at regional and local levels and the influences they have from the same undertaking. This results in varying regulations in every state because individual states serve as testing grounds for new remedies for issues concerning their citizens. Concisely, state-based policy reforms are believed to adapt to local preferences and circumstances. Eventually, these innovative experiments often pave the way for these programs to be recommended to other states.
The framers of the new constitution in America found that it was a solution to many problems, including the fundamental principle of limiting the national government to protect both the people and their states. Significantly, the framers of the constitution were renowned political theorists and history students who understood the dangers of building either a pure democracy or a unitary government. Besides, they knew that the Articles of Confederation system was not working out. For instance, the New Jersey plan did not offer to amend these articles, however; they demonstrated the need for a more powerful Confederation Congress. Nevertheless, the framers of the constitution wrote the constitution in a language that explicitly declares that the American constitution is the supreme law of their land. This supremacy clause is outlined in article VI of the constitution, that “establishes the supremacy of the Constitution over all federal statutes, state constitutions, and state laws” (Hendrickson, 2014). Therefore, neither national nor state governments can supersede the supremacy of the American constitution. However, despite the constitution’s clarity of power, some leaders like Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry and others viewed it with suspicion. Their reasons spelled out that they feared and distrusted the larger central government because it could either trample on liberties or swallow up the state governments.
Despite these arguments the founding fathers encouraged both people and the state to become vigilant and take responsibility against federal overreach. Being vigilant means that they must protest, employ petitions, seek revision of the constitution, and instruct their political representatives once the federal government overreaches its legal powers. Thus, Alexander Hamilton advised the legislature to serve as guardians of the rights of the American citizens (Hendrickson, 2014). In this way, they could alarm the people if the national government abuses their powers.
The American Constitution begins with these famous words “We the People of the United States…,” which is the clear indication that it is a sovereign state created by the public. Thus, this constitution’s framers denied sovereignty to the national and state governments. In fact, the framers of the constitution may have seemed illogical, but federalism is very crucial for all the American people because it not only reflects the concerns of the population, but also serves a standard gauge for those who are in power.
Hendrickson, J. A(2014). Citizen’s introduction to federalism: Federalism and the Future of Constitutional Government, 14(4), 1-88.
McClellan, J. (2000). Liberty, order, and justice: An Introduction to The Constitutional Principles of American Government. Indianapolis, Ind: Liberty Fund.
Long, N. E. (1949). Power and administration. Public Administration Review, 9(4), 257-264.