Essay: Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations

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Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations

Do definitions, perceptions, and understandings of the proper and legitimate role for federal government change in the U.S. system? How? Explain.

"Federalism is a system of government in which the same territory is controlled by two levels of government. Generally, an overarching national government governs issues that affect the entire country, and smaller subdivisions govern issues of local concern" (Federalism, 2013, Cornell Law School). Although the United States began as a federation of states, the relationship of states to the federal government has shifted considerably since the drafting of the U.S. Constitution. The federal government has, over time, become increasingly powerful in terms of how it regulates state conduct and protects individuals' rights, regardless of the state in which the citizen resides.

The U.S. Constitution was originally intended to limit as much as grant the federal government power. "For example, the federal government can regulate interstate commerce pursuant to the Commerce Clause of the Constitution but has no power to regulate commerce that occurs only within a single state," and the Tenth Amendment of the Bill of Rights famously leaves all unspecified powers to the states (Federalism, 2013, Cornell Law School). Although the executive branch has specific governing authority over the exercise of national power, it is inevitably 'checked' by representatives of state power, in the form of Congress.

The relationship between the state and the federal government was further refined with the U.S. Supreme Court decision McCulloch v. Maryland, which instituted the process of judicial review. "This construction allows the federal government to exercise power ancillary to those specifically listed in the Constitution, provided the exercise of those powers does not conflict with another Constitutional provision," thus giving more power to the federal government" (Federalism, 2013, Cornell Law School).

Conflict between federal authority and advocates of states' rights continued to be a thorn in the side of the new nation as it matured. In the case of the Nullification Crisis, it "arose in the early 1830s when leaders of South Carolina advanced the idea that a state did not have to follow a federal law and could, in effect, 'nullify" the law,'" specifically a tariff disadvantageous to South Carolina (McNamara 2013). President Andrew Jackson, unsurprisingly disagreed and the nation appeared to be on the precipice of civil war, with South Carolina threatening secession, until a compromise was reached. This conflict between states' rights and federal jurisdiction would grow even more heightened during the national debate over slavery.

The acrimony between slave and free states was temporarily rectified by a series of compromises, including the Missouri Compromise, which maintained a balance of free and slave states, and the Compromise of 1850, which stated, amongst other things that the "territories of New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah would be organized without mention of slavery," California would be admitted as a free state, and the Fugitive Slave Act would be passed, which "required citizens to assist in the recovery of fugitive slaves" and resulted in the return of many slaves (and free blacks) to the South (the Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act, 1998, Africans in America). Eventually, the stresses of having slave and free states… [END OF PREVIEW]

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