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The Evolution of American Federalism Essay

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Updated: Mar 17th, 2022

The American constitution does not capture the term federalism despite the fact that governance method has been in existence for many years. George Washington was not of the view that federalism would totally take a place in America.

It did not occur to him that national governance would prove difficult at some point in time. The characteristic wide geographical area, expanded infrastructural network and social amenities were some of the factors that steered America towards federalism (Smith 2).

It was difficult to offer comprehensive and balanced national governance to all regions within America especially in the 18th century. The federalism was thereafter born and it enjoys its existence until today. Several interventions have seen America move towards complete federalism (Helfman 108). Close ties among state governments have been instrumental in the working together of state governments. Cooperative federalism is now in place.

It emphasizes on shared policy formulation between the respective governments. The essay discusses how federalism has evolved since James Madison wrote The Federalist, 51 and the effects of Federalism on American politics. It also explains my opinion on whether I would construct a federalist or unified system if I were to design a constitution for a foreign government.

Articles of Confederation in 1770 may be regarded as the genesis of federalism. They laid down policies on the operation of federal government. However, the work of James Madison and others in the Federalist Papers contributed significantly to the genesis of federalism in the US.

Madison alone wrote over 20 articles on the subject and helped in the development and ratification of the US constitution and the 39th article as well as Federalist 51 is regarded as the most indicative of the concept of Federalism and the reasons for the need to have checks and balances of any government respectively. In the Federalist 51, Madison suggests that there is no greater reflection on human nature than that of having a government.

The long journey towards federalism is still transforming itself to accommodate various needs (Hamilton, Madison and Jay 45). Political power sharing and power of governance are the centers of interest within this form of government. The concept of federalism has been changing over the years. The various evolution changes are discussed next.

The Articles of Confederation did not receive total support from the citizens. It was viewed as a tool for limiting the strengths of the federal government (Bailyn 13). Some citizens supported the recommendations of introducing federalism. It was the government’s failure to control the economy that sparked a rebellion from citizens in Massachusetts. The federal government could not handle the protests.

The bicameral legislature was adopted and enforced in 1887 and the formation of the US constitution given a thought in Philadelphia. Those opposed to the new constitution represented those who were also opposed to federalism. 1791 saw the passing of 10 articles drafted by Madison. The Bill of Rights was the product of these articles. The tenth Amendment held answers to the element of federalism. The conflicts that existed between proponents and opposes of federalism began to subdue with time (Martinez and Richardson 314).

The powers of the Federal government were increased once the sixteenth and seventeenth schedules were adopted. Dual Federalism lasted for a century. The demarcation of power was later characterized by the introduction of the local governments that functioned on different grounds from the state governments (Martinez and Richardson 325). The local governments were assigned duties that improved the quality of life.

Social amenities provision was left to the local governments. The federal government was assigned roles that included National Defense, Foreign policy and Currency Patents (Smith 13). It was upon the state government to ensure that Civil Service laws, family law, labor law and property law were enforced. Cases that were within each docket were handled by the respective governments.

The Great Depression experienced in US made things change in favor of the federal government. The federal government once again enjoyed a skewed amount of power.

The deterioration of the economy saw the federal government cooperate with the state governments to counter the recession. The introduction of the New Deal policies by Franklin Roosevelt gave the federal government more power to manage the financial aid (Martinez and Richardson 319).

The federal government received the aid and distributed it to the state governments. The creation of the cooperative Federalism was initiated. The absolute power to manage these grants did not ensure equitable economic development in the various states. The early 20th and 21st centuries witnessed the evolution of Cooperative Federalism to New Federalism (Martinez and Richardson 322).

President Ronald Reagan championed the shift of power from the central government to the state governments. This shift was witnessed between 1981 and 1989 and was referred to as the devolution evolution. This recent evolution has enjoyed the test of time and is still in practice today.

What was achieved in this evolution was the restoration of lost autonomy and creation of political balance between the governments (Helfman 116). Presidents that succeeded Reagan have handled this with utmost care to ensure that US remains united in all its economic, social and political goals.

The national government is superior in the sense that it ensures matters of national interest remain intact and orderly (Bailyn 16). It is upon it to ensure that states function as required by the law. The national government would thus intervene and avert cases where a state rises against the other (Martinez and Richardson 331).

It ensures that all the citizens within states adhere to both laws. A practical example involved the contested 2000 Presidential election. The disputed votes in Florida exposed America to one of the biggest legal tussles due to issues of jurisdiction (Martinez and Richardson 333).

It was a big test for both governments, at a time when the world was awaiting to witness the election of the 43rd president of USA. The US Supreme Court was the final player in this matter and ensured that the contestation was over (Bailyn 18).

This clearly attests to the fact that the national government may be forced to intervene once a matter within a state is of national interest. The local government plays a crucial role in the expansion of education, health and sanitation facilities. It is however important to establish whether a facility is of state or national interest.

The federal government is keen on highway, airport and sewage plants projects that benefit people from various states. It is therefore common to have federal funding for such projects. The federal government stipulates policies that govern the allocation of such funds.

If I were to design a constitution for a foreign government, I would construct a federalist system of government. In my view, Federalism is superior to a unified system.

A number of reasons can be cited to sufficiently support this claim. Federalism has proved to be the most effective way of power sharing without bringing a picture of political division. A concentrated power experienced in unified systems has been a source of limited democracy (Smith 28). The emergence and growth of monarchial empires have been a fruit of unified system.

Federalism ensures that policies and politics are decentralized for the good of all. It’s upon the states to decide what policies to adopt and which persons to spearhead their implementation. The adoption of policies in consideration of cultural and social norms is made possible through federalism. The state governments have been associated with remarkable innovation and democracy.

Moreover, the abolishment of slave trade in some states and the realization of affirmative action for women were witnessed in some states. Increased public participation through voting has sensitized people towards the awareness of their political rights.

Federalism, therefore, ensures that the public interests are accommodated at one level or the other. Policies that are rejected by a state may be acceptable to the national government. A practical example is the racial integration that was criticized and opposed by the southern states in 1960 (Bailyn 23).

The national government viewed the integration as a step towards attaining racial equality. Federalism is important in ensuring that decision making accommodates the needs of the citizens within a given state. A fair democratic system is that which offers a platform for positive criticism.

Federalism has proved crucial in the positive challenge of policies that may seem inappropriate at a given time. It is for this reason that a person may become a successful governor in a given state but fail to be elected at the national level. Federalism is therefore preferable to the unified system of government.

The essay has discussed how federalism has evolved since James Madison wrote The Federalist No. 51 and the effects of Federalism on American politics. It has also explained my opinion on why I would construct a federalist government instead of a unified system if I were to design a constitution for a foreign government.

Works Cited

Bailyn, Bernard. The Federalist Papers. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 2007: Pp. 13-24

Hamilton, Alexander, Madison, James and Jay, John. The Federalist Papers: 1787–88.

Reprint, New York: New American Library of World Literature, 2001: Pp. 43-76

Helfman, Tara. “The Law of Nations: The Federalist Papers’.” Journal of Legal History, 23 (August): 2000, Pp.107–128.

Martinez, J. Michael, and Richardson, D. William.”The Federalist Papers and Legal Interpretation.” South Dakota Law Review, 45, 2000: Pp. 307–333.

Smith, Jennifer. Understanding Federalism. UBC Press, 2005: Pp. 1-37

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