The American Conception of Federalism                                  



Federalism is a type of government in which the power is divided between the national government and other governmental units. It contrasts with a unitary government, in which a central authority holds the power, and a confederation, in which states, for example, are clearly dominant.
Throughout the 20th century, the power of the federal government expanded considerably through legislation and court decisions. While much recent political debate has centered on returning power to the states, the relationship between the federal government and the states has been argued over for most of the history of the United States.
While the Constitution addressed only the relationship between the federal government and the states, the American people are under multiple jurisdictions. A person not only pays his or her federal income tax but also may pay state and city income taxes as well. Property taxes are collected by counties and are used to provide law enforcement, build new schools, and maintain local roads.
Although the Constitution sets up a federal system, nowhere does it define what federalism is. However, the framers of the Constitution were determined to create a strong national government and address the shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation, which allowed the states too much power. In terms of the balance of power between the federal government and the states, the Constitution clearly favors the federal government.



The initial framing and ratification of the Constitution reflected this theory. Even those people supporting a stronger national government proposed that powers in the federal government be distinct and limited, with certain tasks enumerated for the national government in the Constitution and the remaining tasks left to the state governments. Because this theory leaves each government supreme within its own sphere of operations, it is also sometimes called dual sovereignty.
The theory of cooperative federalism emerged during the New Deal, when the power of the federal government grew in response to the Great Depression. It does not recognize a clear distinction between the functions of the states and Washington, and it emphasizes that there are many areas in which their responsibilities overlap. For example, drug enforcement involves federal agents, state troopers, and local police. The federal government supplies funds for education, but the state and local school boards choose curriculum and set qualifications for teachers. (Interestingly, attempts to set national standards for students in certain subjects have raised concerns of federal intrusion.) The notion of overlapping jurisdictions is expressed by the term marble-cake federalism. Cooperative federalism takes a very loose view of the elastic clause that allows power to flow through federal government. It is a more accurate model of how the federal system has worked over much of U.S. history.