How Federalism Settled States vs Federal Rights

When the 13 United States of America declared independence from the United Kingdom in 1776, the founders were trying to break free from the tyranny of Britain’s top-down centralized government.

But the first constitution created by the founders, the articles of Confederation, conferred almost all the power to the individual legislatures of the States and practically nothing to the national government. The result – political chaos and overwhelming debt – almost sank the fledgling nation before it left port.

The founders therefore met again in Philadelphia in 1787 and drafted a new Constitution based on a new separation of state and national powers known as federalism. Although the word itself does not appear anywhere in the Constitution, federalism has become the guiding principle to protect Americans from King George III-style tyranny while preventing rogue states.

READ MORE: How the Constitution of the United States Appeared

Failed Articles of Confederation

The articles of the Confederation were written and ratified while the revolutionary war was still raging. The document is less a unifying constitution than a loose pact between 13 sovereign states intending to enter “a firm friendship league”. The executive or judicial bodies were absent from the articles of the Confederation and the national congress only had the power to declare war and sign treaties, but not the power to levy taxes directly.

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