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Federalism of the U.S Constitution.


Federalism of the U.S Constitution:

The United States constitution is federal. Originally, it consisted of thirteen states, now it contains fifty units. The thirteen independent sovereign states surrendered some of their powers and created the union. Naturally enough, they surrendered as little powers as could be possible. The federal government has, therefore, delegated and specified powers. All other powers are not reserved to the federal government or to the people were vested in the states. The residuary powers thus lie with them. In this way the constitution leaves a vast authority with the states. Woodrow Wilson pointed out that of a dozen great legislative measure carried through by the British Parliament in the 19th century, only two would have come within the scope of federal legislature in America. The constitution contains three lists of subjects, namely, a list of what the congress can do, a list of what the congress cannot and a list of what the states cannot do.

The constitution enumerates 18 powers for the U.S congress. They include, among others, to impose and collect taxes and duties etc. foreign trade, inter-state Commerce, naturalization, common defence and general welfare of the United States, coinage and weights and measures, promotion of science and other useful arts, constitution of tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court, declaration of war, raising armies and making all laws necessary for the execution of these powers.

The other two lists detail powers which are forbidden to the centre and the state respectively. Section 9 of Article 1 forbids the federal government from suspending a writ of habeas corpus or from passing ex-post facto laws, granting titles or nobility, passing laws affecting religious beliefs of the people in any way and abridging freedom of speech and of press. The states are forbidden from making any alliance or treaty with any foreign powers, coinage and among other things, maintaining armies. The 10th amendment provides that powers granted to the Centre and forbidden to the states vest in the people themselves. These relate mostly to certain rights of the people which no government can violate. The constitution thus preserves the essential authority of the people in consistence with democratic principles.

The scheme of division of powers in the U.S constitution shows that the states enjoy all those powers which have not been given to the Federal Government and which have not been forbidden to the states. Such a system of division of powers is bound to make the Central Government weak since it enjoys jurisdiction over specified items only.

Growth of Federal Authority:

                        There is now a inherent tendency in the United States towards the increase of federal centralization. At the time when the constitution of U.S.A was made, participating states wished to retain the local independence as much as possible and thus they gave a limited number of powers to the newly created federal government. They only agreed to have a union rather than unity. But under the impact of time and circumstances, the powers of the Federal Government have increased beyond imagination.

The following factors have been responsible for the enormous increase in the federal authority.

  1. Doctrine of Implied powers:

                        The supreme court has so interpreted the constitution that the powers of the federal government have increased even at the  cost of  states. It developed the doctrine of “Implied Powers”. This doctrine enunciated mostly by Chief Justice Marshal of Supreme Court, provides that the constitution not only enumerated certain powers for the centre, but also gave all those powers which are implied in the enumerated ones. There have been several cases when the Supreme Court, in interpreting the constitution, has helped the centre through the application of the doctrine. A few examples may be taken to illustrate the application of this doctrine. The constitution empowers the national government to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several states. The congress has derived from this clause of the constitution, the power to control all means of transport and communication. From the clause giving to Congress the power to promote general welfare, it has derived the authority to pass social legislation like old age insurance schemes and other laws of this nature. Again, through the powers of the Congress to impose and collect taxed and duties, the congress got the authority to establish and control exclusively the Central Bank of United States. This is how the Federal Government has acquired much authority which was originally not granted to it by the constitution.

  1. Amendments of the Constitution:

                        Many amendments have increased the powers of the federal government. The fifteenth amendment gave the power of judicial review to the Supreme Court over state legislation. The sixteenth amendment of the constitution authorized the Congress to levy and collect taxes on incomes of all kinds whereas the original constitution had prohibited the central government to impose direct taxes.

  1. Physical, Economic and Social Change:

                        By far the most important factor responsible for the growth of federal authority is the change in physical, economics and social setting of United States. At the time of promulgation of the constitution, America was just a federation of 13 small states. But now it is a Union of 50 states with a huge extent of territory and enormous population. This growth in size population together with complexity of social organization has led to the great shift of power in favour of National Government. The matters which were once considered to be of local importance have now assumed national character. The vast development of communication, trade, technology rise of big business and inter-state co-operation created problems which could not be tackled by states and could only be handled successfully by the National Government people demanded services which the sates were either unable or unwilling to provide. Step by step the National Government took over what the states would not do. Thus there has been a steady flow of authority to Washington, the seat of federal authority.

  1. Role of Powerful Presidents:

                        The powerful presidents have issued rules and regulations in the exercise of their authority widening the federal government. Presidents like Lincoln, Washington, Roosevelt, Wilson have exercised dictatorial powers. They have taken action even without any constitutional justification. President Lincoln declared war against Southern States on the question of slavery. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” has widened the control of Federal Government over subjects originally within State jurisdiction.

  1. The Impact of Civil War (1861-65)

                        The issue of centre-State relationship was effectively decided by the civil war (1861-65) which gave a negative verdict against separation, state autonomy and state loyalty.

  1. Confidence in the National Government:

                        The people of U.S.A at all stages of their development have looked to the national government for solving their problems. Their desire to make the country big and prosperous involved big efforts and bit enterprise and all this evolved a big government. The economic crisis of 1931, for example, appreciably enhanced the prestige of the national government. The resources of the state proved absolutely inadequate to provide relief to 12 million unemployed in the country. During war, importance of central government is enhanced immeasurably. Prosecution of war needs planning and co-ordination. In total war, there should be total power. As long we live in a world where war is an ever-present possibility, the defence activities of the government will be many and varied, and they will impinge on all aspects of over lives. This leads to centralization pure and simple.

  1. Federal Grants-in-Aid:

Federal grants-in-aid are prolific sources of centralization. Grants-in-aid are the payments made by the national government to state and local governments for the support of welfare activities administered by states and other local bodies, housing, agriculture education, and various other like maters. State functions cannot be compartmentalized. All state subjects are national in scope and though they are locally administered, yet must be standardized at high level by the central Government. The centre gives the grants for the specified purpose and subject to conditions stipulated by Congress. It is a matter of common knowledge that one who gives money has a loud voice in calling the tune.

  1. Defence of the country:

The constitution empowers the National government to protect the country from external aggression and when necessary for waging war. The problem of common defence makes the government responsible for gearing up the entire life of the nation and when the country is in the midst of war, all out efforts must be made to win it. It means conscription of men, control of channels of production, transportation distribution, and in fact nearly every aspect of economic and social life in the country. When the war ceases, the government must tackle problems of demobilization and post-war construction. All this leads to increase in authority of the Federal Government.

  1. Impact of World Situation:

The centralizing tendency in the American constitutional system has been further strengthened by the international situation. World War-II was responsible for enormous increase in the powers of the federal government. Post war, cold war between the communist block and capitalist block in the world polities continued to strengthen the powers of the central government of America. According to “Dr. White” the most obvious against pushing us towards the centre is the Russian bear.


This enormity in the growth of federal authority has led to the conclusion, that United States is no longer a federal polity. But it is an exaggeration to say that federalism in America is dead. It is an age when federation cannot exist without having a strong centre. Now everywhere, whether it be India or Canada or Russia or America, there is an irresistible tendency towards the development of what is known as co-operative federalism.

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