Chapter II

To the English observer, the American constitutional system is sharply differentiated from the one with which he is familiar, not only because of the separation of powers between the three departments of government, but, even more so, because of the division of authority between the national and State Governments. The doctrine of parliamentary supremacy is wholly inconsistent with a federal form of government, such as that which exists in the United States. In a federal system, the authority of the central legislature is limited by that possessed by the legislative organs of the governmental units which make up the federation. Such circumscription of power is essential to the functioning of federalism. It is entirely incompatible with the unrestricted sovereignty of Parliament, upon which the working of the constitutional system in Britain turns. 'The principle, in short,' states an outstanding English text, 'which gives its form to our system of government is (to use a foreign but convenient expression) "unitarianism", or the habitual exercise of supreme legislative authority by one central power, which in the particular case is the British Parliament. The principle which, on the other hand, shapes every part of the American polity, is that distribution of that limited . . . authority among bodies each co-ordinate with and independent of the other which . . . is essential to the federal form of government."1

The recognition of this basic difference between the American and English constitutional systems does not, however, of itself enable the outside observer to obtain an accurate picture of the functioning of federalism in the United States. For, as Viscount Haldane, L.C., pointed out in an important case, not all federal governmental systems are alike. 'In a loose sense the word "federal" may be used . . . to describe any arrangement under which self-contained States agree to delegate their powers to a common Government with a view to entirely new Consdtutions even of the States themselves. But the natural and literal interpretation of the word confines its application to cases in which these States, while agreeing on a measure of delegation, yet in the main continue to preserve their original Constitutions.'2

Within the British Commonwealth itself there are examples of both

Dicey, Law of the Constitution ( 9th ed. 1939). 139.
Attorney-General v. Colonial Sugar Refining Co. Ltd., [ 1914] A.C. 237, 253.


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
American Constitutional Law


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 364

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?