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Federalism involves multiple layers of government where each level having power and authority on some issues. Despite the different government ruling the same citizens in a given area, the governments share powers amongst them and each have unique areas and each has its own jurisdiction; thus, avoiding conflicts.

According to Boyd 1997, the federal government should portray three unique characteristics. First, there must be a platform where the two governments interact in their governance roles. The governments must exercise their functions on the same citizens in a given locality. On top of this, each government must have its scope of authority and governing powers. Lastly, the governments are independent in away and cannot be dissolved by the other.

This form of governmental structure is well established in United State of America. Federalism in America involves three levels of governance; federal government, the states, and the local levels (Follesdal, 2010). Mostly, central (federal, national) government has the authority on matters of defense, foreign policies, and international roles among others. Other state where federalism has thrived well includes Canada, Australia, Europe, Russia and Nigeria. However, federations may be categorized into two; symmetric (con) federation and asymmetric (con) federations. In symmetric federation, member parties enjoy equal share of powers, contrary to asymmetric federation where bundles of power vary from one union to the other.

Constitutional declaration on federalism

The constitution holds that those powers not designated to the federal government are under the state control. The national supremacy clause recognizes the federal government as superior to state government. Therefore, in case of conflict of interest, the central government authority and /or power override the state’s law. The constitution also bestows some powers to both the state and the federal government, while some of the powers are granted to either the central government or the state government. On the footing, there are powers categorized as delegated powers which can be implemented by a state with the authority of the national government. Moreover, the elastic clause allows the state to draft laws deemed necessary for execution of powers. These powers are categorized as implied powers. Lastly, the constitution has also constrained some powers to both the central and state government (Matzke, 2009).

Historical background of federalism in America

The evolution of federalism in America can be categorized into different phases governed by the changes in the balance and boundaries of authority. The central government and the state government have undergone several rebirths in scope of authority and power. The first phase falls between 1787 and 1868 when America got its constitution. The second phase commonly referred to as the dual federalism. Afterwards, the supremacy of the central government faced opposition during the civil war. Consequently, the cooperative federalism emerged and lasted from 1913 to 1964. Following the historical industrial revolution, most of the powers bestowed to the state government were shifted to the central government. For example the revenue generating resources were now under the central government. This resulted to the birth of Central federalism last existed between 1964 and 1980 (Matzke, 2009). The citizens and the politicians revoked the central federalism due to the amassed power bestowed to it. This was then followed by the so called new Federalism. The main aim of this federalism arrangement was to reverse the power flow from federal government to the state authorities.


Birth of federalism (1787 and 1860)

The Americans were two years old in the post independence era when the federalism ideas sprouted. The laws were governing operations in America were those in the Articles of Confederation. The colonial government had managed to establish different state in US and the government was state –centered, but ratification of the Articles of Confederation, in 1781, lead to nation-centered governance. The Constitution Convention called in 1787 lead to the establishment of the New Constitution that aimed at harmonizing the conflicts deemed to arise from the powers bestowed to the state government. The convention added more power to the central government including the power to control taxation and control both interstate and international commerce. At the same time the New Constitution established three arms of government (legislature, judicially and executive). The superiority of the federal government was constitutionalized. What followed was heated campaign for the new constitution lead by Madison, Jay and Hamilton in their writing The Federalist. However, the federalist campaigners were faced by Federal Republicans. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson, one of the Federal Republicans, assumed nation leadership on the Democratic Republican party ticket (Follesdal, 2010).

The dual federalism (1860- 1901)

The dual federalism referred to the governance where the federal government had more power than the state government, though each having control in their jurisdiction spheres. However, during this period most of the citizens had a belief that the federal government laws and regulations had minimal impact. This was the time that the nation experienced civil war. The core objectives of the civil war were to address the role of the central government and outline the nature of collaboration between the two governing bodies. Some individuals especially those in the southern part of the nation believed that it was only the state that had the power to make crucial decisions (Follesdal, 2010). However, there were others who held the opinion that federal government was superior than the state government; thus, had the mandate to make weighty decisions. Interestingly the two objectives were achieved at the end of the war. The national government managed to retain control of banking and military power. Several amendments such as the Twelfth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments empowered the central government more that before. On top of these amendments there were also enacted Acts, which bestowed more authority to the national government, which were under the jurisdiction of the state government (SparkNotes Editors, 2010).

The Interstate Commerce Commission Act aided in boosting the legal mandate of the central government to control commerce. Moreover the Sherman Anti-trust Act allowed the federal government to control establishment of business monopolies. The move to seize control of commerce and business by the national government was provoked by the transformation in the country, which saw the nation moving from agricultural to industrial nation. The economy control and management was better at the hands of the federal government as opposed to the state government. America successfully progressed to being a globalized due to its vast economic advancement and market environment. 

Cooperative federalism: 1901 to 1960

Federalism in this era was characterized by intertwined authorities of both the central and state governments. At this time it was extremely difficult to tell the boundaries of the national government from those of the state and local government. The main backbone of the cooperative federalism was The New Deal agreement by President Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt increased the scope of federal powers in agreement with the state so that they could fight The Great Depression. Presidents Roosevelt form of federalism was carried on by immediate subsequent presidents JF Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Their leadership come-up with a way of helping the poor through giving grants to states, though the need had to be defined (Matzke, 2009).

The Sixteenth Amendment of 1913 legalized the income tax opening doors for the grants-in-aid system. The grant-in-aid system is characterized by spending, taxing and offering grants. The federal government uses this strategy to influence taxation in the state and local government. The grants included project grants, formula grants (distributed according to a guidelines on set factors e.g. population), block grants (more flexible in use and involved less paper work). These grants have increase cases of underfunding culminating to closure of several institutions. For instance, the underfunding of the healthcare sector due to increased unregistered immigrant led to closure of several hospitals along Mexican-American border.

New federalism (1969- present)

The reign of Richard Nixon (168-1974) brought a ray of hope in empowering the states. President Nixon and Reagan initiated the block grants that saw the state retaining power revenue management. The current federalism in America is characterized excessive authorities and powers leaving the state and the local government minimal authority (SparkNotes Editors, 2010). The supporters of the new federalism are more vigilant in advocating for restoring powers and authority to the state and local government. The growing need to prune some of the powers from the national government has been demonstrated in a number of polls. For instance, in 1987 less 50 % of Americans believed that the national government is excessively powerful compared to the state government. However, in 1994 almost 75 % of the American believed that the national government was too powerful (, 2012). The presidents after president have continuously supported reinstating more authority to the state, but the politicians have managed to gain an upper hand in preventing the new federalism theory. For instance, President Bush approved The No Child Left Behind Act, yet the national government could not fully support the education.

Campaign finance reform

The program of citizens funding the campaign started with Andrew Jackson in 1828. During the cooperative federalism, parties began seeking financial assistance from rich people. Parties also relied from the federal government funding for campaign finances. Attempts to regulate the campaign finances can be traced back to 1867. This is when the Naval Appropriations Bill that cautioned employees from soliciting financial supports from Navy yard workers (Matzke, 2009). This was followed by the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act that extended the protection of the former Act to all civil services. In 1907, Tillman Act was enacted. The Act prohibited corporate and interstate banks from fueling money to support federal politicians. After wards reforms on campaign were formulated act a higher rate than before. The Disclose Act of 2010 prohibits the foreign interference with the federal elections. In the same year, a court ruling made it possible for citizens to support a candidate of their own (Follesdal, 2010).

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