|We The People: Constitutional Competition
Author: AhCyKaiLael PM
Series of essays and four minute presentations for a Constitutional Competition.Rated: Fiction K - English - Chapters: 11 - Words: 12,549 - Published: 11-16-06 - Status: Complete - id: 2277749
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Federalism and Problems Thereof
Americans are considered dual citizens of two entities: their home state and the United States of America as a country. The balance of power between the states and the nation has never been an easy one and continues to be a central issue of American politics. Federalism has always been an issue for the United States right from the beginning. "The federalism issue in its previous incarnations had torn the British Empire apart in the mid 1770s and had bedeviled America's first efforts at continental coordination in the mid 1780s." Federalism was such a troubling issue for these time periods because of the lack of understanding of federalism, the misunderstanding of federalism, and the applications of the previous incarnations of federalism.
The issue of federalism during the mid 1770s began with Parliament's renewed interest in the American colonies and culminated in the Revolutionary war. There was a lack of federalism within the British system of government; power was located in Parliament and almost nowhere else. Americans were used to governing themselves and had erected a small town localized system that governed local issues, while state legislatures dealt with state issues. Federalism was the norm, uninterrupted for over fifty years. With the direct taxes implemented by Parliament on the colonists, there was a breach of the federalism the Americans had believed existed when in fact it had not. Acts such as taxing, that had previously been under the control of state legislatures were ripped away into the great maw of Parliamental powers.
The issue of federalism during the mid 1780s was the exact opposite of the issues during the 1770s. In essences the pendulum had swung the complete opposite direction and was now at the opposing extreme of confederacy. There was a misunderstanding in how federalism would best work for the American people. The more power was centralized in the states, the more bickering and harm befell the fledgling nation. Without the proper balance of government power treaties could be easily violated and wars fought together would not be easy. Shay's Rebellion brought this into focus as the Massachusetts farmers protested their high taxes and misrepresentation in the state assembly. This misunderstanding of federalism was to be semi-resolved by the creation of the Constitution. By forming and instituting a federal government instead of a unitary or confederation, the American people were able to keep part of their ideal of foederalism while embracing a new idea formed in compromise, what we now know as federalism.
The 1770s and the 1780s were both situations in which federalism was non-existent or did not serve any purpose. They were the wrong applications of a system meant to work in the middle of compromise and balance not in extremes of government control. The Federal system is the happy medium of Unitarianism and Confederacy.
These three systems of government are best distinguished by how they structure central authority. In a Unitary government, it is the central government that amasses most of the authority and law-making power. The use of local authorities lies in their ability to accomplish the aims of the central government. The government of Great Britain is cited as a unitary form of government because the British counties rely on the national government for their survival and merely carry out the laws created by that authority.
A Confederation is the polar opposite of the unitary system of government. With the realization that the English system would not work for Americans, the political leaders after the Revolutionary War went in the complete opposite direction when setting up a government. Within a confederation the local branches are more powerful than the central authority. Usually the local parts of the confederation are giving up some of their power in order to guarantee protection from other parts of the confederacy. America's Articles of Confederation gave supreme authority to the states at the expense of effective national governance. The centrality of the states was formed, truly, for only the purposes of war or trade; there is no real power within the central authority.
The Federal System of government as it exists today is, in essence, the power split between the central authority and the local authorities. Federal government is the happy medium between that which the British had and what the Americans tried as an unsuccessful experiment. There is usually a constitution that is held as the supreme law of the land above both the national and state governments. America has been the poster child for federalism and had built a new kind of federalism through the Constitution and the creation of American federalism tradition.
It was this federalism that the Framers hoped would follow the ideals set forward in the Preamble of the Constitution: that there maybe a "more perfect Union" with justice and tranquility, and people's liberty should be protected and also the populous should have their "Blessings of Liberty" secured. It was these ideals that the Framers hoped to establish for themselves and for posterity through the new federalism of the Constitution.
Under the Articles of Confederation there had been bickering between states, especially over national issues such as trade. The central government formed by the Constitution would help to solve this issue since it would have the power to force compliance with treaties made with foreign nations and people groups. The central government was also responsible for making states play nice with other states. However, there still existed the question of whether or not there was supremacy in the national government. Gibbons v. Ogden answered this question when Chief Justice Marshall and the other justices supported the option of exclusive national powers. It was to be held that national laws could overturn state laws in instances. This is the new federalism supporting justice and tranquility: there is obviously a hierarchy, but there are also times for both governments to work together side by side.
Liberty was the second main reason for the federalism in the Constitution. Checks and balances between branches of government work, but only if an outside force can also keep an eye on the power struggle. The state governments were expected to keep an eye on the national government and prevent citizens' liberties from being disturbed, while the national government did the same thing for the state governments. And because the people still hold the supreme power, there exists a check on both governments through elections. The Framers did not want the issues of the Articles to revisit the Constitution newly established as the law of the land.
American federalism has been proven a successful alternative to the confederacy those of the revolutionary period gave to America. States have had their roles and the National government has its role, and it is only recently that issues involving contradictory national and state legislation have led to the renewed debate over American federalism.
The traditional roles of states are changing as the world becomes smaller. With the New Deal legislation passed during the Depression, the national government became more involved in people's lives. This tradition continued on through the rest of the century with the advent of new technology that allowed instantaneous long distance communication, and allowed normal everyday people to be involved with the workings of Washington politics. As the world becomes smaller more people become involved in politics and in politically active groups.
National legislation also has a farther-reaching effect. The No Child Left Behind Act to help public schools is one example of how national legislation reaches farther into state controlled areas. Public education has consistently been dictated by the state. Every state has its own standards and is expected to uphold those standards. However, with the No Child Left Behind program, the national government is becoming involved in an intrinsically state run program. Federalism has been successful because it has helped to accomplish the goals set forth in the Preamble of the Constitution. However it is in danger of being overshadowed by the power of the national government as it infringes on areas traditionally under state control.
Federalism was an issue for the 1770s because of a lack of federalism in the British form of government. It was and issue in the 1780s because of a misunderstanding about the balance of power that should exist in federalism. The federal system America possesses is a happy medium between the unitary and confederate government structures, with the state and national power being split between the governments. The Framers used federalism to embody the principles of the Preamble of the Constitution and enable the governments to have a hierarchy and still be on equal footing at times. Federalism also allows the people to be the supreme authority over their state and national governments. And it is federalism that has allowed for the success of America in the years past and will allow in years to come.