We the People: A Concise Introduction to American Politics, 4/e
Chapter OutlineFocusing on the issue of federalism, this chapter describes the constitutional
debate in 1787 over the relationship between the nation and the states, discusses
how federalism has changed during the nation's history, concluding with an overview
of contemporary federalism.
Federalism: National and State SovereigntyThe decision to establish federalism as the form for the new national government
was the most important constitutional decision of the 1787 convention. The Framers
wanted to establish a national government that drew authority directly from
the people while preserving the states as governing bodies.
- Federalism is the division of ultimate governing authority (sovereignty)
between a national government and regional (state) governments.
- Federalism differs from a confederacy, which is a union of states in which
the states retain all sovereignty; federalism also differs from a unitary
government structure in which sovereignty is vested solely in the national
government with the state and local governing units functioning as agents
of the national government.
- Arguments presented by the Framers for the superiority of federalism centered
on protecting liberty, moderating the power of government and strengthening
- America's national government has enumerated powers, which enable the national
government to provide for defense and commerce.
- The national government acquired implied powers through the Supreme Court
interpretation of the "necessary and proper" clause. This enables the federal
government to have the flexibility and responsiveness to meet changing national
- The supremacy clause provided that national law would prevail over state
laws and actions when there was a conflict between them.
- The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution provided that the state would have
Federalism Today (Since the 1930s)The national government's policy authority has expanded greatly since the 1930s
even though that authority has been reduced somewhat in recent years. Two countervailing
trends in this development have emerged.
- The first trend is a long-term expansion of national authority that began
in the 1930s and continued for the next half century.
- The second trend is more recent and involves a partial contraction of national
authority known as "devolution."
The states and citizens have become increasingly interdependent, providing
the impetus for a stronger national government.
- National, state and local policymakers are encouraged to collaborate to
solve policy problems. This is known as cooperative federalism, which stresses
shared policy responsibilities rather than sharply divided ones.
- The federal government's involvement in policy areas traditionally reserved
for the states has increased its policy influence and has diminished state-to-state
- The federal government raises more tax revenues than do all the states
and local governments combined, which led to the development of fiscal federalism.
Fiscal federalism holds that the federal government provides some or all of
the money for a program, while the states and localities administer it.
- Federal assistance (such as in grants-in-aid) provides a significant share
of state revenue, though this varies from state-to-state. The two main types
of federal assistance to state and local governments are categorical and block
Devolution is the idea that American federalism will be improved by a shift
in authority from the federal government to state and local governments.
- Both budgetary pressures and a shift in public opinion led to changes in
relations among national, state, and local levels of government.
- The Republican Revolution in Congress in 1995 took steps to decentralize
federalism by reducing federal unfunded mandates and giving states more control
over how money would be spent. States were encouraged to take more responsibility
for welfare reform.
- The Supreme Court in recent years is leaning more towards protecting states
from congressional encroachment on reserved powers.
- Public opinion plays a role in defining the boundaries between federal
and state power.