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4.1: Module Introduction

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    American Federalism

    Module Introduction

    Topic Covered

    • The constitutional foundations of federalism
    • Enumerated, concurrent, and reserved powers
    • The evolution of federalism

    Who governs? This is the prevailing question in American politics. In fact, in every pressing political matter of the day, this is the resounding cry: Do the people rule or does power emanate solely from the states and/or the national government? The constitutional principle of federalism functions to address this concern.

    As a part of the doctrine of separation of powers, federalism was fashioned as “double security” for the rights of the people (Hamilton or Madison, 1788). Premised upon the notion that states are “closer” to the people and are, thus, better positioned to protect citizen’s rights, federalism’s design was to construct a divide between national and state powers. This distribution of power, while somewhat articulated in Article IV of the Constitution, is much more pronounced in the Tenth Amendment wherein it is expressed that “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Such verbiage, appears to create a clear line of demarcation between national and state powers. However, the evolution of American society, alongside changes in the international order, has consistently challenged the validity of this principle.

    Chief among these challenges was the American Civil War, with the consequences of such — the abolishment of slavery — being the most marked restraint on states’ rights in American history. Followed by the New Deal recovery, shifts in social order (Jim Crow segregation), America’s war on terror, and even the ongoing marijuana and healthcare debates, federalism, as a constitutional principle, remains as a regularly contested part of American federal government. And for good reason. At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, it was the states that came together to form the national government. Early on, it would seem that the national government was created to be an agent of the states, but as time would have it, the states, by virtue of court rulings, have morphed into agents of the federal government.

    I recommend you to search and review — What is Federalism? Why is it important? (1)

    Learning Outcomes

    1. Students will be able to articulate an understanding of the individual in society.
    2. Students will be able to think critically about institutions, cultures, and behaviors in their local and/or national environment.
    3. Students will be able to think critically about institutions, cultures, and behaviors of the peoples of the world.
    4. Students will develop a historical context for understanding current issues and events
    5. Students will develop a greater understanding of world events


    Upon completion of this module, the student will be able to:

    • Identify the constitutional origins of federalism.
    • Identify powers enumerated to the national government.
    • Identify powers reserved to the states.
    • Evaluate the role and evolution of federalism in American democracy. (1)

    Supplemental Material/Resources

    (Note: This material, in the media form of online videos, is considered supplemental and thus is not used for assessment purposes.)

    Assignments & Learning Activities

    • Review Assigned Readings
    • Review Module 3 Learning Unit
    • Work on a Case Study
    • Take Quiz 3

    4.1: Module Introduction is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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