Every country has its unique political system, and the United States of America is not an exception. American Constitution provides for both federal and state governments to have somewhat equal powers or for federalism. Federalism can be described as a system where political power is equally divided between the state and national governments. This system was championed by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and George Washington, who argued that it would prevent oppression from a centralized national government. Before the American Constitution was accepted, the political system was more confederal than federal, with each of the original states holding more power than the weak centralized government. After the American constitution was approved, the political system of the newly formed country shifted to federalism, with the state governments having separate legislative powers to the national government. Initially, federalism in the United States granted somewhat equal and independent powers to the state and federal authorities.
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Although the balance of the political power between state and federal governments changed slightly over time, federalism is still an essential part of the country’s political system. In the course of history, political power shifted more towards the federal government. The political struggle between state and federal authorities led to the Civil War as the North and South states disagreed on several issues, including slavery. This time in US history was marked by nullification as it was argued that states should be able to annul and invalidate any federal law within their borders. South Carolina is the prime example of implementing nullification as the state nullified the 1828 high tariff on the southern states. The radical shift of political power to the national government happened after the Great Depression as the federal government adopted more powers to revive the country’s economy.
Another change in the balance of power between state and federal governments occurred during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who supported the devolution. Devolution is the transfer of political power from a centralized body of government to other authorities, for example, state governments. Devolution also allows for the transferred powers to be assigned back if required by the federal government. Thus, during his presidency, state governments were allowed more freedom than previously. Today, federalism in the USA is based on the careful balance of federal and state governments regulating different aspects of political life. The federal government transfers certain powers to the state authorities if needed.
Federalism, in the same way as any other political system, has both advantages and disadvantages. One of the main advantages of federalism is the political independence that the states have from the centralized government. The state governments can pass laws that are only valid within their borders and, thus, meet the demands and immediate needs of the public. It can also be argued that federalism encourages political participation as the residents of the state can lobby to resolve urgent issues without the interference of the national government. The freedom of state governments to pass laws and regulations can also be considered a disadvantage as individual acts can be forwarded to benefit one part of the population and put another at a disadvantage. In addition, federalism can lead to conflicts between state and national governments if an agreement on an issue cannot be reached and even promote polarization among residents of different states.