The Readings for Democracy in America unit
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Unit 3 Readings, Federalism: U.S. v. The States
- IntroductionFederalism: U.S. v. the States
- Tocqueville, Democracy in America: In What Respects the
- Constitution Is Superior to That of the States
- Federalist Papers: Federalist No. 46
- McCulloch v. Maryland
- Dred Scott v. Sandford
In examining the Constitution of the United States,
which is the most perfect constitution that ever existed,
wrote Tocqueville, one is startled at the variety of information
and the amount of discernment that it presupposes in the people
whom it is meant to govern. The government of the Union depends
almost entirely upon legal fictions; the Union is an ideal nation,
which exists, so to speak, only in the mind, and whose limits
and extent can only be discerned by the understanding. What
are some of the legal fictions that Tocqueville discussed?
What are the three clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment
that articulate how people are to be treated by the United States
government? Who shall be entitled to the various provisions?
Why does Congress have the power to create a bank, according
to Chief Justice Marshall in McCulloch v. Maryland?
What would be the probable result of the national government
sending a military force against the state?
Why was an act of Congress prohibiting a citizen of the
United States from taking his slaves with him when he moved to
a territory an unconstitutional provision?
IntroductionFederalism: U.S. v.
The first question which awaited the Americans, claimed
Tocqueville, was so to divide the sovereignty that each of
the different states which composed the Union should continue to
govern itself in all that concerned its internal prosperity, while
the entire nation, represented by the Union, should continue to
form a compact body and to provide for all general exigencies.
Generally, federalism refers to this primary question: the relationship
between the states and the federal government. What powers belong
to the national government and what powers belong to the states?
This seemingly simply question organizes and sustains some of the
most important political debates in American history. These relationships
function from strongly separate to mutually dependent. Additionally,
historical periods are marked by particular arrangements between
the different layers of government as people change their perceptions
of how these institutions should relate. The participants in the
Constitutional Convention, particularly James Madison, worked to
arrange federalism, according to the scholar Martin Diamond, so
that the delegates could have their cake and eat it too.
Substantial agreement was the icing they did not quite get to taste.
Federalism scholars have often attempted to figure out exactly what
kind of cake the founders baked. Layer cake has been the conclusion
when the system separates areas of control very strictly between
the state and national governments. Others have argued that federalism
never functions that starkly and that the most separation that ever
occurs is more like a marble cake in which the functions swirl around
each other. Others have suggested its more like a birthday
cake or even a fruitcake.
Whatever kind of cake it was for the drafters, promoters, and signers
of the Constitution, federalism was certainly one of the parts of
the new Constitution that needed the most sweetening for those who
feared that the Constitution was a tool for the centralization of
great, possibly tyrannical, political power. This great question
of the necessity or conspiracy of a more centralized government
directed much of the debate between the Federalists, the supporters
of the new Constitution, and the Anti-Federalists, those who, generally,
found it to be an unsupported grab for power. After the ratification
and adoption of the Constitution, the Democrat-Republican party
would inherit some of the skepticism of the Anti-Federalists.
The earliest years of American history are typically perceived to
be the most layered, that is, with the most clear distinctions between
the fields of the national and state governments. This is often
overstated; there was significant interaction in this early period
particularly in the area of exploring, acquiring, connecting, and
defending new territory. Chief Justice John Marshall, moreover,
found a broad meaning for the powers assigned to Congress as necessary
and proper in affirming the creation of a national bank, and
its protection from state taxes, in McCulloch v. Maryland. The Court
found, alternatively, important limitations on the role of the federal
government, particularly in the application of the Bill of Rights,
which the Supreme Court decided did not apply to states.
This ruling would eventually be rendered moot (in the middle of
the twentieth century) through the application of the Fourteenth
Amendment (in the Readings collected in the previous unit); even
though the initial application of the Fourteenth Amendment was virtually
gutted by the Slaughterhouse Cases, one of the earliest attempts
by the Supreme Court to explore the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment.
While changes in federalism were certainly not the most important
changes wrought by the Civil War and the emancipation of the slaves,
emancipation and the war were the most significant events in the
history of federalism. Not only did the war settle questions of
the ability of states to leave the union but it also resulted in
the passage of legislation and constitutional amendments that would
allow the national government to become the protector of the civil
rights and liberties of citizens against denials by the states.
In the twentieth century, regulation of business and civic rights
have often been questions of the limitations and possibilities of
the federal governments ability to regulate issues previously
regulated by the states, particularly as new forms of corporate
power generated pressing need for a powerful national government
to oppose powerful international corporations. The responses of
the federal government to the Great Depression, World War II, and
the Civil Rights Movement all emphasized the importance of a powerful
national government able to act to achieve national ends. These
events produced important precedents for the federal government
to act on a national scale to regulate business, enforce workplace
compliance, and regulate rather private personal interaction.
At the end of the twentieth century, this national government power
was criticized by those who resisted the growth of the federal government
compared to states, those who resented the Civil Rights Movements
transformation of American society, and by large corporations that
refused to defer to the governments regulation of their business
or believed that they could perform many of the governments
function in a more economical manner. These groups brought significant
pressures to bear within both the Democratic and Republican parties
and realized sizable achievements in shifting power from the national
government to states and from the government to private corporations.
Early events of the twenty-first century (the attack on the World
Trade Centers and the attack on Iraq) also changed the role of the
federal government in relation to the states, through, for example,
the creation of the Homeland Security Office; the national government
distributed federal money through this office, and increased its
power through federal policing agencies (powers historically left
to the states). Federalism remains an important aspect of politics
in the United States. The future of federalism remains, as it was
for Tocqueville, impossible to determine beforehand, with
any degree of accuracy, the share of authority that each of the
two governments was to enjoy as to foresee all the incidents in
the life of a nation.