The Foundations of American Constitutionalism

By Andrew C. McLaughlin | Go to book overview

VI
THE FOUNDATIONS OF FEDERALISM

IN the preceding pages I have been dealing with certain essential principles which have been established in our institutions, and I have paid particular attention to the history of New England. No attention has been paid to what you may think to be the most important of all -- the nature of the federal state as distinguished from the unitary state. To that subject it seems appropriate to give a few moments of consideration. Time does not permit extensive comment, and I propose to present only a few prominent facts.

The fully organized and articulated federal state is a form of political order of the first importance. Its creation in America constitutes a signal contribution to political theory and practice. A federal state is a political system, wherein substantial powers of sovereignty within the body-politic are not confined to a single government but distributed among governments. It is most easily described as a system in which sovereignty is divided, and such was the conception commonly held by the men who established the system a hundred and forty-five years ago. But since the doctrine of divided sovereignty is now discredited as a principle of political science, and since the common definition of sovereignty -- absolute and complete authority -- banishes the possibility of division (for how can you divide and limit and set bounds upon the absolute and the complete?), it may seem best to speak of the federal state, not as one characterized by the distribution of

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