When the original thirteen colonies declared their independence and ratified the Articles of Confederation, they established a league of independent states. In this system instead of mutual cooperation the states were made to compete in the economic and political areas. They repealed the Articles of Confederation and in its place promulgated and ratified a new Constitution, providing for a Federal type of government.
The question of states’ sovereignty and federal supremacy ended in the Civil War. 1789-1901 was marked with little cooperation with between the national and local governments, while in 1901-1960 there was collaboration between the two to address the social and economic problems of the times. It was during this time that the national income tax and grant-in aid were adopted.
The Federalists among the Founding Fathers like Alexander Hamilton believed it was necessary to have a central government to ensure the political, economic, political and military gains and independence of the union. There must be a strong central government to unite the efforts in addressing problems of major national impact and concerns like economic, foreign affairs and national security.
The clause in the US Constitution that best defines Federalism is Article I, Section 8 which provides: “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.”
The major influences that may have caused the shifts in the balance of powers between the federal government and the state governments is America’s experience with the tyrannical rule of Britain as a central government that led to the Union’s fight for independence, and the insistence of the states of their sovereignty that led to the Civil War.
Unfunded Mandates are Federal laws and regulations the cost of which are not funded by the Federal Government, but are passed on the states or local governments or private businesses. Examples of these are the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, costs of which are borne by the states, the Americans With Disabilities Act costs of which are passed on the business owners who must ensure their building structures and facilities must be safe and accessible to the disabled, and the Emergency Medical Treatment Act where treatment facilities must not charge those without the means to pay for treatment in emergency cases.
Boyd, E. (1997, January 6). American Federalism 1776 to 1997: Significant Events”
Retrieved June 29, 2009 from http://usa.embassy.de/etexts/gov/Federal.htm
Leidenheim, K. (1999, March 16). History of U.S. Federalism. Retrieved June 29, 2009,