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American Federalism (Essay Sample)


This paper was required to outline the evolution of American federalism and the factors that have influenced this evolution.


Federalism refers to a system of government whereby the constitution confers power top the central government and regional governments (states) (Jillson, 2007). The two governments are in different levels, but the correlation between the two is that they both serve the people and are answerable to them. In American politics the phrase “federal government” has been misinterpreted many a time to refer to the National government, thereby ignoring the roles played by the other state governments. The hallmark of American politics is Federalism. Federalism confers power to the Executive and states as outlined in Dillon’s Law (Jillson, 2007). Over the course of history, federalism has evolved to what it is today. This paper outlines the evolution of American federalism and the factors that have influenced this evolution.
In the course of American history, Federalism has evolved. In all these times of evolution, the balance between the central and state governments was altered substantially. The 21st century has witnessed an expansion in the role of the national government; an expansion that did not characterize the yester years. The period between 1789 and 1945 marked an era in Federalism referred to as “Dual Federalism” (Jillson, 2008). This was the type of Federalism in the first 150 years of the American republic. At this time, the constitution had given dual provisions for governance: national and state governments. The roles of the two types of government were different whereby the national government was concerned with foreign policy, national defense and commerce while the state governments dealt with local matters of the state, economic matters and criminal law. This was widely christened as the “Layer-cake Federalism’ because the roles of the two governments did not overlap, just like a layer cake (Holdstedt, 2006).
The next evolution in American Federalism was the era between 1861 and 1868, the era of the Civil War and the subsequent Fourteenth Amendment. The Civil War (1861-1865) was partly due to conflicts to do with Federalism (Holdstedt, 2006). For instance, the Southerners wanted complete state autonomy in decision making. At the time, legalizing slavery was a major point of discussion. While Northerners wanted the national government to abolish it, Southerners wanted that decision to be taken by individual states. Southerners seceded from the Union based on these disagreements since they felt that by doing, they would be able to protect their rights. On the other hand, Northerners led by Abraham Lincoln felt that there was no way the Union could be dissolved. Eventually the Union was retained, and this victory ensured that the Federal Government had power over the states. A few years, The Fourteenth Amendment ensured that state power was limited and that basic rights of citizens were provided for by all states.
Cooperative Federalism was the next evolution between 1945 and 1969. Unlike the previous years, Federalism in these years was more like a marble cake and not the layer cake. Federal authority and state authority were now overlapping and intertwined in terms of roles. There was integration of the national government in state and local government affairs. From then on, states had to depend on federal funds to support their own programs.
The period between 1969 to the present era marks what has come to be called “The New Federalism”. Prior to this, there were three main eras that shaped American Federalism to what it is today. American Federalism has now shaped American politics whereby the national government and the state governments have intertwined affairs in the form of a marble cake. Various factors have ensured that Federalism has come to shape American politics. One factor is the rights of citizens. Throughout American History, Federalism has changed so as to accommodate the rights of citizens. Respecting the rights and preferences of citizens is the hallmark of a mature political system. Notably, the 14th Amendment stipulated that states respect the legal rights of citizens and the immunities of American citizenship (Allan, 2008). The other two factors that have shaped American politics through Federalism are industrialization and globalization. The period between 1865 and 1945 marked a very important period in American history. Dubbed the era of industrialization and globalization, this era also impacted positively on American politics (Allan, 2008). As a result of these two processes, the national governm...
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