Have you ever wondered why the Framers established the government for the United States as a federalist government? Why are all states considered a part of one, unified, country instead of 50 small countries that individually function? Can you imagine how our lives would be different? Simply traveling from Georgia to Florida would require the use of a passport, currency would be different in each individual state, and the federal system would vary if each state functioned as an independent and sovereign country. The Framers created a government that no country had ever seen before—a reaction to the unitary system of Britain and the failure of the Articles of Confederation. Federalism, a form of government that splits powers between the state and federal government, was birthed from the visions that the Framers had for this country. Federalism was a compromise, composed to bring happiness to the Northern states, who wanted a strong central government, and to the Southern states, who wanted the states to have the stronger power.
Power is divided between the federal and state governments; however, the national law is the “supreme law of the land.” When the Constitution was written, the states held a majority of the primary powers and the federal government was not as active as it is in today’s society. In the past 100 years, the national government has become more involved and taken over some areas that the states originally had jurisdiction over. In the United States today, states have jurisdiction over the creation of state laws, the public school system, establishing and/or abolishing local governments, setting election regulations, and providing public health and safety programs. In turn, the federal government has power concerning the coining of money, declaring war, foreign and interstate trade, and amending the Constitution. Federal and state governments work in collaboration with each other to create and collect taxes, enforce laws, charter banks, borrow money, and build roadways. The U.S. Supreme Court determines conflicts over state’s rights versus federal powers when there are questions about who has jurisdiction. Over the life span of this country, there have been ups and downs when it comes to how much power each division of government has.
The balance of the state and federal government is constantly changing due to presidential and US Supreme Court influences. At times, the states have had more power in certain areas than the federal government has. However, throughout history, the federal government has acquired jurisdiction over areas that states typically had power in as well. After the great depression, President Roosevelt drafted a program, the New Deal, that involved the federal government in areas that had previously been the responsibility of the states. However, Ronald Reagan, and his administration, fought hard to return specific powers and authorities to the states claiming that the “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem (Reagan’s Frist Inaugural, n.d., para. 3).” Since the creation of the Constitution, there have always been questions over how much power the federal and state governments should posses. The balance between each division has teeter-totterd back and forth, and I am sure it will continue to evolve and change constantly over time.