Federalism

Federalism

Federalism

Federalism

Synopsis

This book will help students to debate issues and controversies surrounding the creation of our federal republic, and the rights of the federal government.

Excerpt

In 1776 American patriot leaders, in separating from English constitutional authority, created what they hoped was a viable substitute for the sovereignty of Parliament, a republic based on divided sovereignty, or federalism. In the Articles of Confederation they embarked on an unprecedented experiment. Always before, sovereignty (literally meaning “supreme power”) had been seen as indivisible, the concept of two supreme powers in one body politic being incongruous. Unfortunately, the first experiment with federalism did not work. The structure of the Articles was lopsided. It gave so much power to the states and so little to Congress that within a decade the government collapsed. In 1787 at Philadelphia, fifty-five delegates from twelve states convened to try again. This time they invented a form of government whose basic operating constitutional principle was balanced federalism.

The delegates at the Constitutional Convention had just experienced historical lessons that spoke to them with ringing urgency. One, the most recent, was the hard reality that a government where the states were supreme in almost all areas was unworkable. The second lesson, twelve years of arguing with England over Parliament's sovereignty, convinced them that a supreme central power was equally unacceptable, indeed dangerous. So, in Philadelphia they crafted a constitution based on balanced and divided powers, giving some to the central government and reserving some to the states. But they never addressed the question of what would happen if a future conflict developed over one side abusing or expanding its legitimate power. This unanswered question is what . . .

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