ERIC Identifier: ED464892
Publication Date: 2002-05-00
Author: Drake, Frederick D. - Nelson, Lynn R.
Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
Teaching about Federalism in the United States. ERIC Digest.
Although it was not directly named in the Constitution, federalism is a
central principle of government in the United States of America. It is important
for all students to learn about federalism so they can comprehend the federal
system in the United States and recognize examples of federalism in other
countries. Teaching and learning about federalism, therefore, is essential to
education for citizenship in a democracy. This Digest (1) defines federalism and
discusses basic characteristics of the U.S. federal system; (2) provides an
overview of the changing nature of federalism in the United States and
internationally; (3) calls upon teachers to conduct deliberative discussions of
federalism in relationship to other principles of constitutional democracy; and
(4) recommends Internet resources related to federalism.
The word federal denotes alliances
between independent sovereignties. "The Oxford Guide to the U.S. Government," an
important source for any student or teacher of history, describes federalism in
the United States as "the division of governmental powers between the national
and state governments." "The Oxford Guide" informs us that "state governments
can neither ignore nor contradict federal statutes that conform to the supreme
law, the Constitution" (Patrick, Pious, and Ritchie 2001, 234-235). Unlike a
confederation, a federal republic does not permit a state to have full or
primary sovereignty over its internal affairs. If a conflict exists between the
state and federal government, the supremacy clause mandates that federal laws
are supreme. The powers of the central or national government typically are
enumerated in a written constitution.
Under the U.S. Constitution, any powers not specifically granted to the
national government are presumed to be retained by state governments. State
governments have their own spheres of jurisdiction and often have been extolled
as important laboratories for governmental experimentation. Throughout United
States history, individuals have argued that the states are better able than the
national government to respond effectively to public policy issues. Others seek
the strength of the national government, particularly during times of crisis.
The U.S. federal system has five basic characteristics:
* Federalism provides a division of legal authority between state and
national governments. Overlap occurs, but two legally distinct spheres of
* The states are subordinate to the national government in such areas as
management of foreign affairs and regulation of interstate commerce.
* Federalism enables positive cooperation between state and national
governments in programs pertaining to education, interstate highway
construction, environmental protection and health, unemployment, and social
* The U.S. Supreme Court serves as legal arbiter of the federal system in
regard to conflicting claims of state and national governments.
* The two levels of government exercise direct authority simultaneously over
people within their territory. Dual citizenship exists under federalism, and
individuals can claim a wide range of rights and privileges from both state and
Political scientists define two types of federalism: dual and cooperative.
From one vantage point, federalism can be viewed as a "layer" cake (dual); from
another it may be pictured as a "rainbow" or "marble" cake (cooperative).
Proponents of states' rights and powers hold that the Constitution is a
compact between the states and the federal government. Both states and the
national government are supreme within their own spheres. Advocates of dual
federalism argue that the national government cannot "invade" the power that is
reserved for the states.
Proponents of the position that the people, not the states, created the
federal government want a cooperative approach to state-nation relations.
Cooperative federalism emphasizes the "general welfare" clause and the
"necessary and proper" clause of the Constitution by which power of the national
government may be expanded even if the actions of the national government touch
or overlap with traditional state functions.
THE CHANGING NATURE OF FEDERALISM.
The principle of
American federalism, created in the eighteenth century, was bold and has greatly
affected U.S. history. Its influence continues today. During the late 1780s the
debates over ratification of the Constitution by Federalists and
Anti-Federalists shaped controversies concerning the rights and powers of states
in relation to the federal government.
The ideas stated in the "Federalist" papers are at the core of civic culture
in the United States and serve as a reference for citizens in other democratic
nations of the world. The 15th through the 22nd "Federalist" papers, for
example, discuss the defects of the Articles of Confederation, the federal
system that preceded ratification of the U.S. Constitution. The 39th
"Federalist" paper shows that federalism provided by the U.S. Constitution is a
compound system that conjoins national and state powers. Other papers in the
"Federalist" that are especially helpful in explaining federalism in the United
States include the 10th, 14th, 45th, and 51st.
The balance of power between national and state governments and consequent
changes in federalism have evolved in U.S. history. National government power
generally has expanded over state power through Supreme Court decisions,
constitutional amendments, executive orders, and federal statutes. Nineteenth
century states' rights proponents exemplify reactions to a stronger national
government. Twentieth century influences concerning the growth of national
government power within the federal system were initiated by events associated
with two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Cold War, and civil rights
movements. From the Nixon to the Reagan-Bush administrations, however, "New
Federalism" sought to return power to the states.
During the Clinton presidency, the year 1996 was identified as the so-called
"Devolution Revolution" as more powers, such as those pertaining to economic
regulations and social welfare, were directed from the federal government to the
states. By 1997 the development of the "New Federal Order" meant less intrusion
by the federal government into the affairs of state governments.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the issue of national security
in respect to terrorist threats calls into question the fractious relationship
between peoples and governments throughout the world. The issue of creating
unity and protecting security and individual rights in culturally diverse
nations is related to federalism. Some analysts regard federalism as an antidote
to over-centralization because it fosters democratic participation and prevents
the over-centralization of political power.
DELIBERATIVE DISCUSSION AND THE UNDERSTANDING OF
Deliberative discussion is a method for establishing the
credibility of historical evidence and arguments and a means to develop
historical understanding in students. Deliberation involves teachers and
students in careful reading and extended discussion about principles of
government such as federalism and their connections to other key concepts in the
theory and practice of constitutional democracy.
Teachers can engage students in deliberative discussions about issues of
federalism in U.S. history, which are organized around seminal documents such as
selected "Federalist" papers, selections from records of debates in Congress, or
landmark opinions of Supreme Court Justices. Starting with a seminal document,
the teacher and students discuss the central ideas and issues in the primary
source. The teacher asks students to suspend judgments about past issues and
points of view while trying to understand the context of the document. The
teacher then introduces additional related documents so students have a richer
contextual understanding of the period. Students are invited to find other
documents that more fully illuminate their inquiries into the past. This kind of
inquiry offers students opportunities to understand the on-going ideas and
issues that are associated with the principle of federalism.
USING INTERNET RESOURCES.
The following World Wide Web
sites are recommended to teachers and students of federalism:
* American Federalism, 1776 to 1977: Significant events in American
federalism, 1776 to 1997.
* Assessing the New Federalism: Database includes statistics and tracking for
all 50 states, including fiscal, economic, and demographic data. Sponsored by
the Urban Institute. http://newfederalism.urban.org
* Canadian Politics on the Web/Federalism: The Canadian federal system has
changed dramatically since Confederation in 1867, and it continues to evolve in
important ways. The site includes material on the federal-provincial division of
powers in Canada. http://polisci.nelson.com/federalism.html
* Russian Model of Federalism: Problems and Prospects: Shows specific
features and operations of the Russian Federation.
* U.S. Federalism Site: Offers definitions and different perspectives
regarding federalism. Links to related articles and essays.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES.
The following list of
resources includes references used to prepare this Digest. The items followed by
an ED number are available in microfiche and/or paper copies from the ERIC
Document Reproduction Service (EDRS). For information about prices, contact
EDRS, 7420 Fullerton Road, Suite 110, Springfield, Virginia 22153-2852;
telephone numbers are (703) 440-1400 and (800) 443-3742. Entries followed by an
EJ number, annotated monthly in CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION (CIJE),
are not available through EDRS. However, they can be located in the journal
section of most larger libraries by using the bibliographic information
provided, requested through Interlibrary Loan, or ordered from commercial
Bahmueller, Charles F., Charles N. Quigley, and Others. CIVITAS: A FRAMEWORK
FOR CIVIC EDUCATION. Calabasas, California: Center for Civic Education, 1991. ED
Cooke, Jacob E., ed. THE FEDERALIST. Cleveland: The World Publishing Company,
Drake, Frederick D., and Lynn R. Nelson. STATES' RIGHTS AND AMERICAN
FEDERALISM: A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.
Hickok, Eugene W. "Understanding Federalism." PERSPECTIVES ON POLITICAL
SCIENCE 19 (Fall 1990): 216-222. EJ 423 808.
Nelson, Lynn R., and Frederick D. Drake. "Civic Intelligence and Liberal
Intelligence in the History Education of Social Studies Teachers and Students."
In PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICES OF DEMOCRACY IN THE EDUCATION OF SOCIAL STUDIES
TEACHERS: CIVIC LEARNING IN TEACHER EDUCATION, John J. Patrick and Robert S.
Leming, eds., 135-166. Bloomington, Indiana: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social
Studies/Social Science Education, 2001.
Patrick, John J. FOUNDING THE REPUBLIC: A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY. Westport, CT:
Greenwood Press, 1995. ED 393 739.
Patrick, John J. JAMES MADISON AND THE FEDERALIST PAPERS. Bloomington,
Indiana: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education, 1990.
ED 322 083.
Patrick, John J., Richard M. Pious, and Donald A. Ritchie. THE OXFORD GUIDE
TO THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Patrick, John J., and Clair W. Keller. LESSONS ON THE FEDERALIST PAPERS:
SUPPLEMENTS TO HIGH SCHOOL COURSES IN AMERICAN HISTORY, GOVERNMENT, AND CIVICS.
Bloomington, Indiana: Organization of American Historians in Association with
ERIC/ChESS, 1987. ED 280 764.