Truly Reflect A Federalist System Essay, Research Paper
I believe that the United States Constitution does not truly reflect a federalist
system. In fact, I believe that the federalist system, in which states have
considerable power to exercise, was all but abolished by the United States
Constitution. In answering this question, ?American Government,? by Peter Wolf,
gives a few examples of what Federalism meant back in the late 1700?s, and why,
during the framing of the Constitution, there was a big debate between federalists
and anti-federalists. ?That Federalism furnishes the means of uniting
commonwealths into one nation under one national government without
extinguishing their separate administrations, legislatures, and local patriotisms?
(Wolf, 63). Back in that time period, the anti-federalists wanted many limitations,
if there was to be one national government, where as the federalists wanted one
national government controlling all the states. Federalism as a whole attracted
greater attention than any other subject during the framing of the Constitution. It
is easy to understand why the anti-federalists didn?t want to get involved with
another ?central government? considering they had sought freedom from an
oppressive British government. But, in 1787, the federalists won the debate during
the Constitutional Convention, ?which resulted in sovereign states giving up a
significant portion of their authority to a new national government…? (Wolf, 51).
In the beginning, though, only a few powers were granted to the national
government. This was before the establishment of the executive and judicial
branches of our government that we are familiar with today.
With the creation of the three branches of our government, I believe that
states had lost some considerable power. The executive and judicial branches are
federal branches of government, while the legislative branch is the only branch
that is represented by each state. Some may argue that this is the most powerful
branch of our government, but I believe that the executive branch has the most
power. Congress does have considerable power to make laws, but the president
can veto, which in my opinion is the biggest force that you can hand to one person.
After being vetoed, Congress could still make the law, but it is very hard to get a
two-thirds vote, especially when there are representatives who have the same
views, and belong to the same political party, as the president. This limits the
state?s powers tremendously, not to mention that any law that is created will be a
Another example of the United States Constitution?s lack of reflecting an
anti-federalist system, is that states do not have the right to override a federal law.
Recently, there has been discussion in Alaska, and also California, to legalize
marijuana for medicinal purposes. Even if Alaska decided to go through with this,
then the United States government would intervene and tell them that it is
unconstitutional to overrule our ?national government.? This is a glaring example
of how the states do not have considerable power to exercise, as would be
accepted by an anti-federalist system. If we were in this type of system, states
would be able to decide what is right and wrong, and be able to establish laws, and
enforce them, using their own discretion. Also, state administrators are ultimately
responsible for implementing many federal policies, whether they are grant or
regulatory programs adopted under federal guidelines. In this day in age there are
fifty states, and state responses to joint programs vary tremendously. Even back
when there were just colonies and commonwealths, individual responses to laws
would vary significantly.
Furthermore, ?…under the original constitutional design, the national
government was not to intervene directly in the affairs of state governments?
(Wolf, 76). I believe that if states had considerable power to exercise, then they
would be able to make their own laws, without interference from the federal
government. In such a case, states, like Alaska and California, would be able to
decide for themselves what is in their citizens best interests. I?m not saying that
this would be a better way to run our country, but this would better represent an
anti-federalist way of thinking. After all, if there were separate laws for every
state, it would be hard for people to know every state?s laws.
The history of the United States government has seen how there is a
national dominance over the states. Decentralizing the government wasn?t brought
forward, since the early 1800?s, until the Nixon administration and the concept
of ?New Federalism.? ?The move toward decentralization was broadly supported
by the Republican Party. Revenue sharing was inaugurated by President Nixon to
transfer national funds to the states, without stipulation of how the money was to
be spent? (Wolf, 76). This program contrasted the former grant-in programs,
which only allowed states to receive money if they followed federal standards.
Block grants and revenue sharing, enacted under Nixon, Carter and Reagan,
reduced federal requirements, giving state grantee?s greater freedom.
The states and national government have different objectives, resources and
limitations which all affect how they act together in implementing programs. The
national government acts in the states in order to promote uniformity and equity.
Federal grants in aid may be redistributive or developmental in purpose and take
advantage of the national government?s greater fiscal capacity. However,
federalism focuses ?…on the distribution of power between central and peripheral
units of government? (Wolf, 77). The founders of the Constitution had very few
options when they wrote the document. The states were loosely bonded and had
little organization, so ?…[f]ederalism, then, was more than just a reasonable
principle for governing a large country divided by regional differences and slow
communications. It also was the only realistic way to get the states to ratify the
Constitution? (Wasserman, 25). Constitutional basis of the United States federal
system is Article IV (admission of new states), Article VI (national government
supremacy), Amendment X (reserved powers) and Amendment XIV (national
control of state action). The ?enumerated powers? in Article I, Section 8, list the
specific powers of the national government. While these are supposedly the only
powers it has, in fact the commerce and ?elastic? clauses have permitted great
enlargement. ?While the Constitution remains an important limit on centralized
power, the federal government has grown much stronger? (Wasserman, 26). Grant
programs are a major factor in the federal system. The grant authority is based on
exchange, not on the Constitution. If a state does not like the terms, it should
refuse the money.
One example, though, of how states had recently received some power of
local authority, is the repealing of the 55-mile-an-hour speed limit for automobiles.
There used to be a nation-wide speed limit of 55 mph, until the Senate decided, in
1995, to leave it ?…up to the states to pass their own legislation? (Wasserman, 34).
While Congress left it up to the states to decide what their speed limit should be,
under an anti-federalist system this debate would have never taken place.
Congress had passed the national speed limit in 1974, following the Arab oil
embargo and during the ?energy crisis.? ?While, under federalism, Congress could
not directly legislate a speed limit, it accomplished the same thing by threatening
to withhold highway money from states that did not comply with the federally set
speed limits? (Wasserman, 34). Although Congress also mentioned that safety
was a factor in setting this speed limit, not just oil conservation, safety was one
factor that states would argue why the speed limit should be raised. Western
states, especially, would say that anyone who drove 55 mph would risk being run
off the road by the many drivers who would drive much faster. This is a prime
example of how states have it in their best interest to decide what is best for
their own citizens. ?George Will wrote, ?The speed limit issue, having been an
energy issue and then a safety issue, now is a federalism-10th Amendment-states
rights issue, with anti-paternalism in the bargain? (Wasserman, 35).
In conclusion, I believe that the examples given, and also many more that I
haven?t explained, are the reasons that I personally think states don?t have
considerable power to exercise. I also believe that the writers of the Constitution,
and founders of this country, had no idea what type of hidden powers that they
would have given a government that is arguably the most powerful in the world.
Although there is some controversy over the degree to which the levels of
government were truly separate in their actions during the first century of the
republic, there is general agreement that there has been a progression in the shift in
power since the founding of the country, away from the states and towards the
national government. These are all reasons why I believe that the United States
Constitution does not truly reflect a federalist system.