The Power to Govern: Assessing Reform in the United States

By Richard M. Pious | Go to book overview

The Evolving Federal System

DANIEL J. ELAZAR

At least since the end of World War II, a hidden revolution has been sweeping the world—the federalist revolution. Today, over a third of the world's population lives in political systems that formally define themselves as federal, another two-fifths in political systems that, while formally unitary, utilize federal arrangements to accommodate regional and ethnic differences. Moreover, with the growing integration of the European Economic Community, additional millions of people live within the framework of a supranational confederation, however limited in scope. In many respects, all these contemporary applications of the federal principle have their roots in the American federal system, the first modern federal polity.

The American federal system came into existence when the United States declared its independence in 1776. Indeed, the very process of declaring independence involved a series of reciprocal initiatives and actions on the part of the colonies, the Continental Congress, and even the local governments within the colonies, many of which were involved in stimulating colonial and congressional action. The Declaration of Independence, like the Constitution, was both a national and a federal act — national in the sense that the Continental Congress declared independence for all thirteen colonies in one act and federal to the extent that the declaration itself came as a culmination of this interplay and was undertaken by delegates from the states, each state speaking with one voice.

American federalism has gone through several stages. The first was classic confederation. For all intents and purposes, the colonies united on a confederative basis even before the Declaration of Independence through the continental congresses of the early 1770s. This confederation remained in operation until the inauguration of the new federal government in 1789. After 1781, it functioned under the Articles of Confederation, the first United States constitution.

From 1789 until the end of the Reconstruction period in 1877 and the adoption of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, the federal system can be described as one in which the principal role of the federal government was to be the servant of the states, particularly in the areas of foreign affairs and defense, commerce, and national development, including westward expansion. In some

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The Power to Govern: Assessing Reform in the United States
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Power to Govern: Assessing Reform in the United States *
  • Contents *
  • Preface *
  • Contributors *
  • Prospects for Reform *
  • The Evolving Federal System *
  • The Intergovernmental System *
  • Reassessing the "Imperial Presidency" *
  • Congressional Power *
  • Developing Fiscal Responsibility *
  • Legislative Delegation to Regulatory Agencies *
  • The Changing Federal Courts *
  • Women in Politics *
  • Direct Participation in Politics *
  • The Presidency in the Age of Television *
  • The Impact of Government Employee Unions *
  • New Elites and Pluralism *
  • Formulating Foreign Policy *
  • The Revolution in Communications and Diplomacy *
  • Defining the National Interest *
  • The Impact of Population Shifts *
  • Cities of the Future *
  • The Politics of Scarcity *
  • The Power to Govern *
  • Index *
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