Federalism is a political philosophy that divides power between the national, or federal, government and the government of the individual subdivisions, such as provinces, states, counties, parishes or towns. In a federal republic such as the United States, national security and defense, monetary policy and other issues of national importance are handled on a federal level. Issues such as road and infrastructure maintenance and education policy are handled by state and local governments. The governments of Canada, Australia and Brazil are additional examples of federal republics. Advocates of federalism are called federalists.
The beliefs of a federalist about government comprise four basic ideas. Initially, the political philosophy of federalism itself. Second is republicanism, or government based on the consent of the governed. Third is the division of government into three branches, executive, legislative and judicial, with a system of checks and balances among the branches to ensure no one branch dominates the other two. Fourth is the concept of free government, which asserts that popular government should be limited by law to protect the security, liberty and property of individuals.
The Federalist Papers
A federalist believes that good government is powerful enough to provide protection against external and internal threats and is limited enough to prevent tyranny in any form. All writing under the pseudonym "Publius," Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay published a series of 85 essays called the Federalist Papers. The authors wanted to influence the vote for ratification of the U.S. Constitution and help shape future interpretations. Through their writings, Hamilton, Madison and Jay outlined the philosophy and motivation of the proposed new government.
Also known as layer cake federalism, dual federalism holds that the federal government and the state governments are co-equals, each sovereign. A large group of powers belong to the states and the federal government is limited to only those powers that are explicitly allowed in the Constitution. Certain parts of the Constitution, such as the 10 Amendments and the Commerce Clause, are subject to narrow interpretations where federal jurisdiction is concerned. Dual federalism ran until the New Deal era of the 1930s.
Beginning during the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, cooperative federalism, or marble cake federalism, allows the national government supremacy over the states. In order to accomplish the goals of the New Deal, the Constitution needed to be more broadly, and creatively, interpreted. Expansion of the Supreme Court, along with a Democrat-controlled Congress, tilted court rulings in favor of Roosevelt's policies. Federal funds, distributed to state and local governments through grants-in-aid or categorical grants, gave the federal government more control over the use of the money and over the governments of the individual subdivisions.
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images