What Is Federalism?

Federalism is the federal principle or system of government through which there are multiple governing bodies that have shared authority over an area. The United States, along with Canada, Australia, the European Union, India, etc. are all federal systems employing a modern interpretation of federalism.

American history is one of the coolest history subjects, particularly the time period during the Revolutionary War and the adoption of the Constitution. Not only did the United States gain its independence from the British monarchy, our founding fathers built the platform still in use by Americans to this day.

One of the most important factors in those days was the creation of federalism, but just what is federalism, and is it still around today?

Don’t interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties. – Abraham Lincoln

What is Federalism in the Context of the United States?

Image source: Pixabay

The definition of federalism, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary (found here) is: the distribution of power in an organization (such as a government) between a central authority and the constituent

In lament’s terms, Federalism in the United States of America is essentially the relationship between the federal government and the individual state governments. The history of federalism is absolutely incredible, and we still argue about federalism, even after 230 years.

Federalism in the U.S.

To understand the basis of federalism it is important to know where and why federalism came about.

As you probably already know, the United States was colonized by British subjects in 1607 (Jamestown was the first colony) as an expansion of the British empire. Now, there were also other European nations that also settled in America, but the British were the most prevalent colonizers. As time went on more and more people made the trip over to America to see the new world and to escape Britain.

There were 13 American colonies: Georgia, Massachusets, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and Connecticut. These colonies all had different governing styles and systems, but the basis was pretty much the same across the board; they were ruled by a governor that was appointed by the British and voted on laws and taxes that would affect their colonies.

Over time the population in America grew and many parts of America actually became wealthier than some cities and developments in England. The problems began when Britain started imposing taxes on the colonists and the colonists weren’t allowed to have any type of say in the matter. You have probably heard the line, “no taxation without representation”, and that refers to the taxes imposed on the colonies. Relations began to strain and eventually, the Americans began a revolution to gain independence from the British.

In 1775 in Concord, Massachusets, the American Revolution began when the British tried to seize weapons and supplies, and the Americans fought back. Of course, the United States (which was not even the name used for our new country) won the Revolutionary War and now had to set about creating a new list of rules and ideas for this brand new country. Before the birth of the Constitution, we had The Articles of Confederation, our first ever set of laws and rules designed to help this infant country. Afraid of being ruled by a tyrant again, the Articles gave a whole lot of power to the individual states and the federal government had little to no power over the states. There was also no leader under the Articles of Confederation, nor was there a central governing body. Sure, there was a unicameral congress that had representatives appointed by their state, but Congress had basically no real power over the colonies.

Thus, the need arose for a total revision of the Articles of Confederation. Many people feared that because the AoC was so weak that the country itself would fail and these people who gave their life for the Revolution would have died in vain. So, in 1787 a group of representatives began ratifying the Articles of Confederation and drafted up what is now the Constitution of the United States of America. The compromises were tough for the representatives, but one thing always remained clear; America could never have another tyrant in control.

The three branches of government were formed (executive, legislative, and the judicial) so that the power of each could be checked. Legislative makes the laws, but the executive branch can refuse them, while the judicial branch makes sure that those laws are constitutional. To get people on board with the ratification of the Constitution, many of our founding fathers wrote The Federalist Papers. where they discussed and explained the balance of power between the federal government and the individual state governments. These paper remain as one of our nation’s most treasured documents because they are what helped solidify our country into the power that we have today.

It was the Constitution that gave us federalism, yet there is absolutely no mention of the actual word federalism. Federalism, in the context of the United States, is a split of power between the federal government and the state governments. Nowadays we have a modified form of federalism. Congress is comprised of state representatives who are there to quite literally represent the state that elected them into office. The president does not answer to a specific state, but to the union as a whole. Our individual state governments create their own set of rules and laws that apply to their specific state, and not the nation as a whole. It is up to the states to decide what works best for their state and each state is really unique in their own laws. The laws do need to be in agreement with the federal law, however, since the federal law will override any state laws. An example of this is the issue of gay marriage. The supreme court ruled a federal law that marriage certificates have to be recognized in every state across the country, so states could no longer not recognize someone’s marriage.

Overall, federalism is part of what makes our country so great. We have a system of checks and balances and each state has their own set of rights in addition to the federal laws. Federalism is still as important today as it was in the late 1700’s, and it will always be important for generations to come.

About The Author

Kate Broome

Kate is a graduate of Texas A&M University with a Bachelor's degree and is currently working on getting her Master's degree at Southern New Hampshire University. She loves to read and learn about all things space, a fanatic of NASA and the latest space science news. She currently lives in Texas with her two pit bulls, Lennox and Bentley.

Speak Your Mind!

READ THIS NEXT

Recent Progress On The Synthesis Of 2-Deoxyglycosides

2-Deoxysugars refer to those sugars with two hydrogen atoms at the C-2 position. Although the occurrence of these sugars in nature is not as abundant as common sugars such as glucose and galactose et al., they are still found to be presented in a plethora of bio-important natural products and clinical agents including marketed drugs. […]

Bacteriophage Lysins As Potential Agents For Treating Biofilm-Associated Human Infections

Antibiotics have played an important role in reducing the incidence of morbidity and mortality in human infections all over the world. Subsequent to the discovery of antibiotics during the last century, it was believed that these drugs would allow humans to conquer bacterial disease. This euphoria turned out to be short-lived, as it was soon […]

Tropical Rainforest Plants: From Rare To Common

The rainforests of the world are home to many fascinating and unique plants. These plants can be common or rare within their environment, but they are all found within the tropical rainforests. Read on to learn about some of the most interesting tropical plants in the world. Tropical Rainforest Plants: Heliconia Flower Heliconia flowers ( […]

Bubble Letters: Learn The Bubble Alphabet

If you want to turn everything you write into something fun, you should try bubble letters. Learning how to write bubble letters is both easy and fun. Why learn bubble alphabet? Bubble letter writing is a fun way to express fun ideas and can be used in art classes, brochures, fliers, posters, and more. Bubble […]

Alternative Routes Of Learning In The Brain

It is interesting to see how the popularization of neuroscience has led to the use of funny expressions like, “This is too much for my brain right now,” “That girl has a big brain,” “My brain/mind can’t take it anymore,” or “My mind feels foggy.” This is funny because these expressions imply some sort of […]

What Do They Get Out Of It? The Emotional Experience Of Providing Social Support

Students and faculty in Western Washington University’s Psychology Department examined the experience of giving social support in two countries (the US and Singapore) using an innovative methodology called the Day Reconstruction Method or DRM, a technique originally developed by Princeton psychologist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman. The study was recently published in the journal […]

Cell Structure And Function

The cell structure is defined by the cell membrane, the cytoplasm, and the nucleus. A cell is the smallest unit of life and its structure helps it to work as the basic building block of biology. The cell function is to keep all of the functions of the body performing as intended. This includes keeping toxins out […]