American Federalism


Federalism is a form of government in which political power is shared between a central authority and component members of a political entity usually described as a federation. Usually, federal system of government is run based on the tenets and ideals of democracy. However, due to peculiar realities of socio-cultural and historical backgrounds of different nations around the world; the actual mode of operation of federalism differs somewhat in most countries running federal systems of government around the world. American federalism in particular has evolved since the attainment of independence from Britain until present.

The Evolution of Federalism in the United States

Prior to the mid-1870s, the American Union had been run by The Articles of Confederation which effectively gave very little authority to the central government. This scenario created practical difficulties in resolving issues which sprang up especially in terms of war execution and the economy. For instance, the armed rebellion that rose up in the state of Massachusetts during 1786 and 1787 exposed the inadequacies of the defining document as the central government had practically no authority to unilaterally raise an army to quell the rebellion. This rebellion by a group of farmers in the western Massachusetts was largely caused by the inability of the central government to effectively deal with debts that arose from the American War of Revolution. The inherent inadequacies of The Articles of Association meant that the central authority was effectively hampered in major critical decision making areas such as raising taxes. The central government had the authority to declare war but could not raise taxes to fund an army.

Every major decision had to be put to the vote. And so, the state of Massachusetts was forced to raise an army on its own to quell the rebellion. This less than satisfactory state of affairs motivated the assemblage of 55 delegates at a constitutional conference in Philadelphia in 1787 to take a critical look at the constitution and devise proper changes. At the conference, ideas regarding a bicameral legislature were brought up which includes various checks and balances as well as balanced representation of large and small states.

The Role of James Madison

The motivation for greater central authority is credited to James Madison who wrote a long pre-convention memorandum to delegates urging them to work towards greater authority for the central government. This caused an immediate dropping of the original mandates of the delegates for one favorably disposed to the ideas put forward by James Madison.

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