American National Government

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POLS 205

American National Government

Lecture 6:

Your Constitution:

Four Main Constitutional Principles

The Separation of Powers, and Checks and Balances


Judicial Review

A Limited Government with a Living Constitution
Laboratories of Democracy

It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system," Justice Louis D. Brandeis wrote in 1932, "that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country."


Calls for political authority to be distributed between a central government and the government of the states. (“Shared Power”)

Both the federal and state governments may act directly on the people

Each has some exclusive powers

Political authority is spread out to prevent power from being concentrated in any one group
Which all sounds like a really great plan, BUT…

Imperium in Imperio

The contradiction of federalism:

  • How can you have a state within a state?

  • How do you know who’s in charge?

How Do Governments Relate?

Federal System


Unitary Nation State



States vs. National Government

Unitary Systems


But Remember:

The power originates in the citizens!

The Articles of Confederation

Politics and Compromise

The “art of the possible”
Compromise will be an essential part of discerning the will of 307.006 million people
“No compromise” is unrealistic in government because

  • to NOT decide is to decide

The Convention and Compromise

Federalists and anti-federalists

  • Federalist: Strong national government

  • Anti-federalist: stronger state role; want guaranteed rights for citizens

A federal system was “more than just a reasonable principle for governing a large country divided by regional differences…the only realistic way to get the states to ratify the constitution.” (Wasserman)

The Convention and Compromise

The Great Compromise

Large states v. small states
The Connecticut Compromise:

Bicameral Legislature

Lower House

Popular Election

Population based representation

Upper House

Selection by State Legislatures

2 Per State

The 3/5ths compromise

Slave states v. Free States

  • How to count slaves for the purpose of apportionment of representation (and allegedly taxation)

  • Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

(Article I, section 2) superseded by Amendment XIV, section 2.)

The Convention and Compromise

The Bill of Rights

A block of amendments are proposed as a way for the anti-federalists to be more comfortable with the large amount of power that this new national government will have

“Protects us from our government”
12 amendments sent out in 1789

10 amendments ratified by 1791

Became known as the Bill of Rights

Amendment #27 was finally ratified in 1992!

(pay raises for congress must have an intervening election)
An internal conflict:

The Supremacy Clause

Article VI, section 2

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

Reserved Powers

The Tenth Amendment:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
Remember: the amendments of the Bill of Rights were part of a political deal to appease the concerns of the anti-federalists

Two Significant Cases:

Marbury Vs. Madison (1803)

Set the precedent for Judicial Review

Said that a section of the Judiciary Act of 1789 exceeded the constitutional authority granted by Article III

Judicial Review - the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of what the constitution means

Allows the Supreme Court to declare a statute or governmental action “unconstitutional”

This is especially important for the review of state activities for constitutionality

McCullough vs. Maryland (1819)

An expansion of federal powers

Said that the Necessary and Proper Clause (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 18) gave Congress the flexibility to create a National Bank as an aid to carrying out its enumerated borrowing and taxing powers and that Maryland's taxation of the bank violated the Supremacy Clause (Article 6, Clause 2)

Laid the groundwork for a significantly more significant federal government!

Answered a pivotal question about who would be the “most equal”

This is especially important in terms of both the size and scope of the federal government and in terms of the balance of powers

One More for the Road (or the bay)

Gibbons vs. Ogden (1824)

established that the power to regulate interstate commerce was an exclusive national power

forbade states from enacting any legislation that would interfere with Congress's right to regulate commerce among the separate states.

Lee vs. Grant (1861-1865)

Why are these cases important?

Because when we fail to solve these issues through the established process, it can be VERY unpleasant.

Woodrow Wilson, Political Scientist

The relations of the states and federal government cannot be settled …“by one generation, because it is a question of growth, and every new successive stage of our political and economic development, gives it a new aspect, and makes it a new question.”
Evolving Federalism:

A Little Visual Aid:

The Federalist Dessert Tray

Cupcake (Confederacy)

Layer Cake (Dual Federalism)

Marble Cake (Cooperative Federalism)

Evolving Federalism

Dual Federalism:

Civil War – 1930’s

National Supremacy in specific areas mentioned in Constitution

State Supremacy in all others

Cooperative Federalism:

The New Deal (1933)

States and Federal Government work together to solve BIG problems

A New Kind of Federalism:
Fiscal Federalism

Follow the money!

Fiscal Federalism

The use of grants and aid money by the federal government to focus, encourage, direct, control, or manipulate programs at the state and local level.

Funds are provided, as long as the recipient meets certain requirements for action, gathers and files the proper sets of information, and follows federal funding “guidelines”.
I can’t drive 55!

Fiscal blackmail or federal leadership?

Federalism and Education

No Child Left Behind

An example of:

The ever-changing, generally expanding, role of the federal government

The concept of purse string as apron strings

“selective federalism”

The Pendulum Swings

Devolve: to send responsibility and sometimes resources to a lower (more responsive?) level of government
Combination of devolve and revolution
Negative spin: Reversing an evolutionary trend
Reagan on Federalism

The Founding Fathers saw the federalist system as constructed something like a masonry wall. The States are the bricks, the national government is the mortar… Unfortunately, over the years, many people have increasingly come to believe Washington is the whole wall.

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