The entire structure of the American government is based on federalism. The idea that the central government and its local states should share legal power has long been an important decision, but not all politicians were content with this result. Many debated that the sharing of power would become too difficult for both the states and the central government. Ultimately, they were wrong. The unique form of government, the United States possesses has led to its success in becoming one of the most powerful countries in the world.
Unlike other governments, such as unitary and confederate systems, federalism focuses on sharing legal power with its states. The sharing of legal power is divided in such a way that all states share exactly equal power; this also gives them equal representation in the government. As Madison would state (Classics in American Government, p. 46), this unique sharing of powers between the states and the national government was the basis for the American federal system. Much of the power of the central government originates from the U.S. constitution. It is the constitutional amendments that give the government virtually all of its power. Written since the foundation of this country, the constitution provides the central government with various laws and rulings for it to follow, as well as the power to add or remove any amendments deemed appropriate. The constitution also serves as a directory of every citizen’s guaranteed rights. The constitution not only grants individuals secure rights; it also holds the principal laws that make our legal system work. Many of the amendments provide the basis on which new laws have been built.
Unlike federalism, a unitary form of government grants all legal power to the central government. This gives absolute legal power to the government rather than dividing it among its states. The states (if any) are mandated by the central government in every way and have no say or representation. The opposite of a unitary government is a confederation similar to the one imposed under the Articles of Confederation. In a confederation, each state of a country possesses more power than that the central government. Their extent of power is not controlled by the government, and the states may enact their own laws, issue their own currency, and even negotiate treaties with other countries. Because a confederate government gives its states virtually all legal power and leaves them in the shadow of becoming their own independent nations, confederate governments are most uncommon.
From its beginnings, federalism was viewed in many different ways by Americans. Former republican president James Madison would argue that federalism should be somewhat of a compromise between the ideas of the constitution and the articles of confederation. Many people viewed his opinion as a typical Republican response. Another stance on federalism was given by James Bryce as he stated (Classics in American Government, p. 61). The characteristic feature and special interest of the American Union are that it shows us two governments covering the same ground yet being distinct and separate in their actions. He would state in his ideas of dual federalism that both the government and state would function independently but still be recognized as a single nation.
The establishment of a federal government was the United States’ most successful decision. No other country in the world holds such a unique form of government as we have; by sharing power between the central and state governments, we have created a distinctive balance and created building blocks for the creation of other laws, as well as focused on the civil rights of individuals. Not only was federalism responsible for the creation of the constitution, but it also established a chain reaction.
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