The Evolution of the Constitution American federalism has changed drastically since its genesis. In 1776 the thirteen colonies adopted the Articles of Confederation in order to coordinate their efforts in the war for independence. The Articles of Confederation bound the states together in two main aspects; foreign and military affairs. The Articles of Confederation worked well while all the states had a common cause. However, as soon as the war ended and interests began to change, it became obvious that the Articles were not enough. This brings on the creation of Federalism (Reinventing American Federalism).
In May of 1787, in the city of Philadelphia, delegates from all thirteen states met in order to "create a more perfect union." The result was the Constitution of the United States. Delegates debated over which form of government would best suit both the security, and the freedom that many sought in this new government. The delegates rejected both con federal and unitary models of government for a new form of government called federalism. Federalism differs from the former two in that, unlike the unitary form of government, which is ruled by a central government, federalism is not based on a hierarchy in which the state levels of government perform the duties and tasks handed down by the central governmental system.
Also, unlike the con federal system which gave all power to the states, only some of the power would be granted to the states. The federal government would handle foreign affairs, trade, military, and the economy (Reinventing American Federalism). Throughout the first half century of federalism, many argued over the roles that the federal and the state systems should play. By the time of the civil war, slavery was at the top of the debate. Should slavery be a national or a state issue? The end of the civil war brought an answer to this debate with the addition of the 13 th, 14 th, and 15 th amendments (Hyde). These amendments ended slavery, and reduced the power of the states over civil rights matters.
The federal government started taking on a bigger role in the turn of the twentieth century. President Roosevelt expanded federal authority with his New Deal program. The New Deal program was funded by the federal government, but administered by the states. This brought on the grant-in-aid system, a system in which the federal government uses its financial resources to give money to states to pursue mutually agreed upon goals, also known as cooperative federalism. The Supreme Court allowed this expanded role of federalism, and has allowed the federal government to create its own boundaries ever since in many areas including racial segregation (Brown vs. Board of Education), which gave the federal government powers that were originally assumed by the states (Reinventing American Federalism).
Perhaps the greatest example of this took place on June 11 th, 1963 when President Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard, and forced Alabama's Governor Wallace to step aside and allow Vivian Malone and James Hood, two black students, to register at the University of Alabama. The federal government overturned a decision made by the state (Simon). Cooperative federalism began to fade away with Johnson's Great Society program. This program often enacted grant-in-aid programs that the states were not interested in, or were opposed to. The grant-in-aid policies not only affected a few state programs, but now affected many city programs as well. Causing many people to argue that the federal government was taking on a much bigger role than it was intended to.
Reagan, during his administration fought to decrease the far-reaching policies of the federal government. He increased defense spending, social security payments and tax cuts, causing less money to be spent on grant-in-aid programs. The trend set by Reagan has been carried on throughout the more recent administrations. The role of the state and the federal government has evolved little since Regan's service in the White House (Reinventing American Federalism).
Federalism has many advantages, and many disadvantages. The main advantage of federalism is that it allows there to be a central governmental system which takes care of the foreign affairs, the military, and the trade. It also allows there to be smaller forms of government: state, town, etc. This allows for a more personal government for the people. Citizens don't have a politician half way across the country deciding what streets to put stoplights on, or which parks get new swings. The greatest disadvantage of federalism is that the roles of the federal government have been hard to define and even constrain.
What will prevent the federal government from getting into state, even city affairs? The most important questions about federalism are: Where does the federal government fit in with state the government? On what issues does the federal government have the right to override the decisions of the state government? These are all questions that surely went through the minds of every one of those delegates in Philadelphia. These questions are still being debated today. The role of the government is constantly changing. It has the great ability to adapt to the needs of the people.
During the great depression, the federal government stepped in and gave aid to the needy. During the struggle for equality, the federal government gave rights to minorities when states would not. Federalism is perhaps the greatest form of government by the people and for the people because of its evolution. Because people and society change, so must the form of government that presides over them.
Federalism allows the flexibility to do so. Works Cited Hyde, Henry. The Constitution of the United States of America. Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 2000.
Reinventing American Federalism. Issues of Democracy: Electronic Journals of the U. S. Information Agency. April, 1997 Volume 2, Issue 2. Sid low, Edward, and Beth Henshcen eds.
America at Odds 4 th ed. California: Wadsworth, Thomas Learning, 2004. Simon, Dennis. The Civil Rights Movement, March 26, 2005. web.