Under the original Articles of Confederation the United States had a great deal of power over their own internal affairs. As a compromise between a strong National government and a system where the states retain most power the founding fathers created a Federal system which balanced powers between the two. In the first half of the 1800s most Americans felt a stronger allegiance towards their state, whilst being less drawn to their national government. Before the Civil War, Americans said “the United States are,” showing the importance of individual states. After the war, they said, “the United States is,” this small grammatical change reveals a greater change in their political ideologies.
One of the main reasons that power moved from the central government to individual state governments is the increasing size of the United States. When the constitution was first drawn up there were only 13 states on the East coast of the country, but as the country expanded towards the West there was a more poignant need for the people to have representation on a level that seems relevant to them. It can clearly be observed that turnout in local elections is higher than it is in Presidential elections.
This shows that people feel a far greater affiliation to their local and state level Governments. This Westward expansion made it essential that the National government devolved some of its power to the States, this devolution also helped to ensure that the States felt safe from any tyrannical exploitation from an over-bearing central power as they felt happened with the Monarchy. As well as the expansion in terms of land area there was also an explosion in America’s population, in 1790 the population was just under 4 million by 1900 it was 76 million and in 200 it was about 275 million. This growing nation needed a growing Government to manage and regulate it.
Originally the Government could only legislate on three main areas: Money, war and peace. The states meanwhile were able to legislate on any area of their choosing. However, the relationship between the national government and the state and local governments has changed since President FDR’s Program of New Deals in and around the 1930s, which coincided with the great depression and the need for a strong united government to deal with the social and economic problems at the time.
For the first time, the national government became involved in areas, related mainly to the economy that had been the responsibility of the states. As a result, a form of federalism emerged, in which the national government took a more active role in policies that had been under the jurisdiction of the states. This transition in power may not be directly viewable as a loss from the states given to the National government but more of a consensus from all the states that times of emergency required strong government from a single place. This can be seen in how the National government became more powerful around the time of the second world war, when they were needed to show a united front in terms of foreign policy.
Amendments to the constitution and Supreme Court rulings have also changed, over time, the relationship between State and National level governments. The 14th amendment to the constitution says that no “State shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without any due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” This has been used to block attempts by states to introduce segregated schools and other forms of racial discrimination.
The 16th amendment to the constitution allows for the creation of an income tax by the Federal Government, this them the ability to implement many Nationwide plans for development, such as improved infrastructure and more recently economic stimulus packages to try to aid recovery.
The first 150 years of the United States’ history can be referred to as the ‘dual- federalism era’ this was when State governments exercised the most political power. After events like the Wall Street crash and world war two the stage of cooperative federalism began, whereby the two areas of government cooperated to help deal with society’s ills. This era coincided with the Presidencies of four democrats, FDR, Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.
During this time new executive departments were created to help cope with the strain on the Government, Defense was established in 1949, probably as a reaction to the need for direct policy advice on pesky communists. The Federal Government was also funding the state with “categorical grants” these had to be spent on certain areas, meaning the Federal government had a far greater say in State spending. By the Clinton era over 90% of the $200 billion given to states was in the form of categorical grants.
However, the reigns of four republican presidents, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush, saw a move towards decentralisation. Nixon called this the ‘new federalism’ era, this was a time where the money given to states was in large block grants that states could spend at their own discretion. Reagan said in his inauguration speech that “the Federal Government didn’t create the states, the states created the Federal government.
During this period of Republican dominance in US politics many republican Supreme Court justices were appointed, this meant that many decisions were made that favoured the ‘new federalists.’ The move towards State level governments has also come from the distrust of American politicians in general and the belief that too much money is wasted on bureaucracy and that the New deal initiatives haven’t been successful enough to warrant any similar spending by the Federal Government.
Although examining some of the facts and figures from Bush jnr’s presidency it seems like America is making a move towards a more centralised system, although this may just be because of a slight lack of spending in all areas by previous presidents giving the need for improvements. And certainly with crises like the 9/11 attacks and the economic recession there can be no real let up in the need for federal spending in the near future.