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Introduction To Federalism

Federalism is the form of government in the united states where separate states are united under one central authority but with specific powers granted to both components in a written constitution . Patrick Henry coined the word in 1788 when, during the Virginia ratification convention debates over the proposed U. S Constitution ,he angrily asked, Is this federalism?. In 1787 the constitution replaced it with another, more balanced, version that has worked for over two centuries.

During the time, however the history of federalism has been incessantly disrupted by a constant debate between those who wanted to enlarge the central government and those who demanded that states rights be strictly respected and even expanded. During Reconstruction the war argument over the use of federal power erupted in violence against newly enfranchised blacks and Republican government in the South . In the late nineteenth century the federal government retreated from its temporary expansion of power in saving the Union and trying to remake the South.

Whether in tolerating state created racial segregation or striking down federal efforts to regulate the new industrial order, the federal courts limited federal authority in many areas of public life. At the beginning of the twentieth century progressive reformers wanted to enlarge the role of the federal government and solve glaring economic and social problems. With mixed success they sought federal legislation to regulate the workplace, protect labor unions, and promote moral improvement.

During the 1930s the new deal redefined federalism and saved the economy by recognizing federal responsibility over many areas of public and private activity that previously had been unregulated or solely the purview of the states, Including banking, the stock exchanges, and the workplace. In the last half of the twentieth century federalism was the central issue in both black and womens civil rights. It was at the heart of a redefinition of criminal justice by the Warren Court .

The liberal interpretation of it by this court in turn became the target of a conservative attempt to diminish congressional power under the doctrine of original intent and to use the federal judiciary to return more authority to state and local government. At the beginning of the third millennium, the Supreme Court was bitterly divided over states rights, with five justices generally seeking to curtail the application of laws and four justices insisting upon upholding Congresss power to apply the Bill of Rights to the states to prevent them from infringing on an individuals constitutional rights.

When America declared independence from Great Britain in July 1776, it changed the historical English definition of sovereignty. As Bernard Bailyn, Gordon S. Wood, and other historians have pointed out, the American patriots made a radical and abrupt departure from the British tradition by stating in the Declaration of Independence that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed and thereby placed sovereignty in the people.

In the British system it had resided in Parliament, but in the new state constitutions of the 1770s and 1780s Americans, recognizing sovereignty of the people, made the rulers subordinate to the ruled. The initial call for a convention had been only to revise the Articles, not to discard them out of hand and devise a totally new form of government. Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick pointed out in their 1993 study that the Age of Federalism was legitimate. (Written by Robert P. Sutton, Federalism-page 5. )

The federalists, better organized and more imaginative, had their selling point s, best summarized in the The Federalist, a series of essays written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay for the New York ratification contest. Their main concern was to show how the Constitution contained checks on Congress. Ironically, in the last half of the twentieth century federalism became the center of a Supreme Court controversy over the very racial segregation it had sanctioned in Plessy v. Ferguson. By World War II racial separation was a salient feature of the American South.

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