Last Updated 22 Nov 2022

The History of Federalism in the United States

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The origins of the United States Federalism system dates back to the end of the Revolutionary War between the thirteen original colonies and the country of Great Britain. After the Revolutionary War, the new born country, the United States of America, began as a confederation, a loosely joined coalition where the states would have supreme power over all, even over the federal government. From 1783 to 1789, a weak federal government controlled the United States under the authority of the Articles of Confederation. The Articles of Confederation is actually the first document the United States had to use as a right of controlling the Republic. The Congress under the authority of the Articles of Confederation was so weak that it could not collect taxes. Congress could not collect taxes because the people feared of having another system of government that would be like Britain.

All states, large or small, had only one vote each to decide on amendments and other important businesses that concerned the country as a whole. The Congress in the end was not strong enough to force the states to follow the Articles of Confederation. At the time, this system was so weak that it had no chief executive and no central body to enforce the laws. Since it was hard to have the states follow the rules, a few states refused to follow the 1783 Treaty of Paris which officially ended the Revolutionary War, even though the Articles of Confederation allowed the Congress to create treaties for all the states within the Union.

With Congress making international decisions for the states, trade disputes with other countries stunted the economy, but the Congress under the Articles of Confederation was left powerless to take command of the international trade agreements. Some states in the United States further stifled commerce by imposing heavy taxes on goods from other states (Davidson). There was no authority within the political system that had the power to assume command over the ensuing economic crisis that had been threatening to demolish the young republic. At this time, government was delayed and could not be moved.

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George Washington and other statesmen realized that the republic could live if, and only if, the federal government had actual power to use and control within the nation. However, these very same statesmen wanted to avoid violating the states' rights. With these events in mind, the delegates decided to hold the Constitutional Convention to repair the damage to their democracy. This meeting produced the ideals of modern Federalism and the countries most sacred document, the United States Constitution (Davidson). This Constitutional Convention was created to only improve the Articles of Confederation, but this proved to be a task that could not be completed. Therefore, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention wrote up a completely different document. This document ended up to be the Constitution of the United States of America. The Constitution's supporters, who called themselves the Federalists, imagined a national, central government. This new document, the United States Constitution, empowered Congress with powerful and important abilities, some of which are not shared with the individual states' governments.

A few examples of Congress's powers are: only Congress can declare war, create treaties with foreign nations, issue currency and distribute it, and control or regulate interstate and foreign trade and commerce. The national government's laws will always prevail should they ever be in conflict with the laws of the individual states, for the Supremacy Clause, (Article VI of the U.S. Constitution), says that the federal constitution, and all the laws and treaties based on it, are the "supreme law of the land" (Davidson). As a result of a gradual increase in power at all levels of government within the United States, the authority of the federal/central government has grown to become very powerful. Ever since the adoption of the United States Constitution in 1789, all levels of government-whether it be national, state, or local governments-have acquired more duties and powers.

These systems of government were forced to increase due to the fact that the population was growing at a tremendous rate. There were also increases in huge industries, growth of towns and cities, and the need for better roads, railways, and communication systems. Issues such as crime and transportation once were local issues are now and will be national issues that concerns the whole country (Davidson). While the system for the United States is federalism now, there were also a number of other governmental systems that could have been tested with the new Republic of the United States of America. Some systems were tried and some failed to fulfill the citizens needs.

The Union could have tried a Unita the people feared of having another system of government that would be like Britain. All states, large or small, had only one vote each to decide on amendments and other important businesses that concerned the country as a whole. The Congress in the end was not strong enough to force the states to follow the Articles of Confederation. At the time, this system was so weak that it had no chief executive and no central body to enforce the laws. Since it was hard to have the states follow the rules, a few states refused to follow the 1783 Treaty of Paris which officially ended the Revolutionary War, even though the Articles of Confederation allowed the Congress to create treaties for all the states within the Union.

With Congress making international decisions for the states, trade disputes with other countries stunted the economy, but the Congress under the Articles of Confederation was left powerless to take command of the international trade agreements. Some states in the United States further stifled commerce by imposing heavy taxes on goods from other states (Davidson). There was no authority within the political system that had the power to assume command over the ensuing economic crisis that had been threatening to demolish the young republic. At this time, government was delayed and could not be moved. George Washington and other statesmen realized that the republic could live if, and only if, the federal government had actual power to use and control within the nation. However, these very same statesmen wanted to avoid violating the states' rights. With these events in mind, the delegates decided to hold the Constitutional Convention to repair the damage to their democracy.

This meeting produced the ideals of modern Federalism and the countries most sacred document, the United States Constitution (Davidson). This Constitutional Convention was created to only improve the Articles of Confederation, but this proved to be a task that could not be completed. Therefore, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention wrote up a completely different document. This document ended up to be the Constitution of the United States of America. The Constitution's supporters, who called themselves the Federalists, imagined a national, central government.

This new document, the United States Constitution, empoweredgovernmental systems that could have been brought into power within the United States, Federalism has been the major key system that has survived through thick and thin, throughout the history and the growth of the Union. In the early years of the Republic's birth, a confederacy was tried and failed. A unitary system was not used because of the experience from confrontations with Britain and a dual federalism system is really not that different from the modern federalism system in place now. The only difference between the modern federalism system now and the dual federalism is that the states would, in the end, have more sovereignty. Throughout time, some systems were tried and some failed, but the only one that did not fail was the system of federalism.

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