What Is Federalism?

Federalism refers to a system of political authority where diverse states are integrated under one central government and power is shared between the national and central governments. The two types of governments perform their responsibility to the people directly through their officials and roles that are written in the constitution with an aim of implementing their functions. Both governments are supreme and have the authority to agree and to make any changes to the constitution which put confidence in federalism (Trueman, 2008). In America, federal government is referred to national government which is situated in Washington, but this eliminates the role of the government that deals with the federalist structure. The different states have their own point of legal sovereignty and political implication, but the states are not treated as sovereign bodies.

How has federalism evolved from its origin to the current American political position?

The federal governance in the American political system has advanced over the centuries with many changes been noticed in the two levels of authority. The steadiness and boundaries between the national and state government have changed, whereas the role of the national government has increased in the twenty-first century. Dual federalism illustrates the progress of federalism in America between 1789 and 1939 when the Second World War started. The constitution outlined various provisions indicating the roles that were to be played by both the national and state governments (LaCroix, 2011).

Dual federalism took place in two parts: the first part occurred during the civil war (1861 – 1865); the second part occurred during industrialization and globalization which had been taking place up to the end of the Second World War. During the civil war, many Americans from the south felt that the state government could make important decisions especially on the legality of slave trade (Robertson, 2012). The national government played a huge role in industrialization change since it was well equipped and later it assumed a stronger regulatory role. The economy of the United States was very huge and the presence of a wide trading network made it a world economic power since most of the states were able to trade to all corners of the globe.

Cooperative federalism followed later from 1945 to 1969, when the state and federal authority appeared to be intertwined with the national government becoming unified with the state and local governments (LaCroix, 2011). It was hard to differentiate the role of the respective governments since most of the programs belonging to the federal government were controlled by the state and local governments. Since the early 1970’s, when the new federalism started, leaders and other people in the society requested some of the power to be given back to the state. However, the new federalism advocated for devolution, a procedure of allocating states the power and responsibility to undertake some programs.

How has federalism affected the shaping of American political behavior?

The sharing of power between the national and state governments has allowed federalism to change the American political behavior in many ways since they both remain separate sovereigns. In article 1, Section 8 of the United States constitution, there are seventeen “expressed powers” that have been given to the national government and are enhanced by the “necessary power” clause. However, in case of any conflict, the law of the federal government remains powerful and has control over that of the state, as stated in Article VI of the constitution, in order to resolve such a situation.

The states have powers that are reserved for them, called “police power,” which permits the states to regulate certain aspects of their residents, such as welfare, safety and health. Despite the power sharing between the two authorities, there exist powers which are concurrent, such as the power of tax (Ginsberg, Weir, Spitzer & Lowi, 2005). Furthermore, Article IV promotes national unity wholly by ensuring that most of the civil acts, such as the marriage and divorce, are accepted in other states as well as in the federal authority.

As a result of efforts between the national and the state governments, there is an increased national power. The national government is able to create uniform policy across all the states with the help of grants-in-aid and some regulations. These grants are given to the states and have to be spent based on the purposes stated by the Congress. Congress has also used federal anticipation and the obligation to exercise power over the states. The arising national problems have contributed to the current battle between the national government and the state government on the management of unfunded mandates, for example, expenditure in the homeland security.

President Nixon was determined to have the states regain their power through revenue sharing and block grants, while President Reagan made an attempt of giving the state more power to control and implement most of the programs (Ginsberg, Weir, Spitzer & Lowi, 2005). However, many people thought that increased state power would result in a disaster since there were no incentives for states to cater for social welfare and other forms of regulation that could have been undertaken by the federal government. In 1996, welfare reforms were implemented and limitation was put on the use of unfunded mandates giving the states the responsibility to control such programs.

How has the relationship between the federal and state government affected the creation of policies in America?

One of the factors of how the federalism has influenced the creation of American policies is the mechanism of collecting revenue at the state level. The states should be left independent in order to decide on how they are going to acquire revenue, either through taxation bases or methods. On the other hand, the congress should not put any regulation that can prevent the states from collecting the revenue, since the states assume supremacy and can therefore come up with their own ways of solving such issues.

Moreover, state standards should be conserved unless the Congress approves that the change of state laws is of interest to the whole nation and the federal law makers should take state actions in consideration before their enactment. The federal legislation can then permit the states that have structured more strict standards together with those that have developed similar standards to carry on with the enforcement of the same.

Judicial branch with its power should respect the states authority by avoiding changes to the state laws and policies enacted by the federal government with the governors encouraging the federal courts to put in place the 10th Amendments as a substantive bound on federal interference into areas of both state and local concern (Holdstedt, 2006). The federal courts should avoid replacing their judgments for those that are dealt with at the state level, since some of the policies have been taken as responsibilities of the states.


Ginsberg, B., Weir, M., Spitzer, R. J.& Lowi, T.J. (2005). Essentials of American Politics. Washington, D.C: W.W Norton & Company. Web.

Holdstedt, M. V. (Ed). (2006). Federalism: History and Current Issues. New York: Nova Publishers. Web.

LaCroix, A. L. (2011). The Ideological Origins of American Federalism. Cambridge: Harvard university press. Web.

Robertson, D.B. (2012). Federalism and the making of America. Michigan, U.S.A: Routledge. Web.

Trueman, C (2008). American politics: Federalism. Web.

Video Voice-over

Cite this paper

Select style


DemoEssays. (2023, October 8). What Is Federalism? Retrieved from https://demoessays.com/what-is-federalism/


DemoEssays. (2023, October 8). What Is Federalism? https://demoessays.com/what-is-federalism/

Work Cited

"What Is Federalism?" DemoEssays, 8 Oct. 2023, demoessays.com/what-is-federalism/.


DemoEssays. (2023) 'What Is Federalism'. 8 October.


DemoEssays. 2023. "What Is Federalism?" October 8, 2023. https://demoessays.com/what-is-federalism/.

1. DemoEssays. "What Is Federalism?" October 8, 2023. https://demoessays.com/what-is-federalism/.


DemoEssays. "What Is Federalism?" October 8, 2023. https://demoessays.com/what-is-federalism/.