Discuss the unique structure of federalism, and provide examples to support your statement. Do you support the concept of shared powers of the state and the national government under federalism?

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Federalism is based on the idea that power should be shared between the center and the periphery. The thinking behind federalism is that if power is more widely dispersed it makes it harder for some kind of tyranny to develop. This was certainly the rationale behind the establishment of federalism...

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Federalism is based on the idea that power should be shared between the center and the periphery. The thinking behind federalism is that if power is more widely dispersed it makes it harder for some kind of tyranny to develop. This was certainly the rationale behind the establishment of federalism in America, where the colonists had just fought a long, bitter war against what they perceived to be a tyrannical British government.

In the American context, federalism involves a share in power between the federal government in Washington D.C. and the governments of the fifty states. Initially, ultimate political sovereignty resided with the states as the early American colonists were loath to contemplate having a strong centralized government after their negative experience of British rule. In due course, however, this proved to be an unworkable arrangement, and ever since America prevailed in the Revolutionary War, the balance of power between the federal government and the states has shifted dramatically toward the center.

In principle, federalism is a perfectly noble concept, and certainly seems the governmental arrangement most conducive to a free society. Nevertheless, there are problems with how it often works in practice, particularly in the American context. The relative strength of state government in relation to the federal government allowed the Southern states to pursue slavery without any outside interference. Even after slavery was abolished, the system of federalism allowed the very same Southern states to smuggle slavery in by the back door, so to speak, by their introduction of legal segregation, also known as the Jim Crow laws.

What this unfortunate historical example appears to illustrate is that federalism is at its most effective when there already exists a strong, long-standing tradition of freedom for all in society. However, where such freedom is severely restricted, as it most certainly was in the Southern states, then federalism can unwittingly serve to maintain and strengthen existing power structures built on racial oppression and injustice.

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The principle of federalism is that powers in a government are divided between a central government and smaller constituent governments that are more local in nature. The United States Constitution established one of the first governments based on this principle. Its structure includes a federal government which is designated as supreme by the Constitution. Federal law in the United States always trumps state and local laws, and no state, municipality, or county can pass a law that is contrary to the Constitution. The federal government is delegated certain powers, some of which are enumerated (the power to print money, to declare war, to make treaties, and so on) and some that are implied by other powers. These powers are denied to the states. On the other hand, states have several powers that are specific to them. Most licensing, for example, is done at the state level, and states are responsible for establishing and maintaining public schools. These powers are usually called "reserved" powers, and they are as important to the system of federalism as are the so-called "delegated" powers that are given to the federal government. Some powers, such as the power to tax, are shared between the states and the federal government. The concept of shared powers is perhaps the only way to govern a large territory like the United States. Indeed, most large nations feature some sort of federal system. However, the proper scope and breadth of federal power remains a hotly contested question in American politics. Issues ranging from the legalization of marijuana, so-called "sanctuary cities," and many other issues fundamentally involve federalism.

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