How is power divided between the national and state goverments from a historical standpoint?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that the historical development that ended up displaying how power was to be divided between state and national governments lies in the Constitutional principle of federalism.  The division of responsibilities on state and national levels was something that the framers envisioned in order to share power between both realms.  The fear on one hand was that too much central power will result in the centralized tyranny that the Colonists rebelled from in England.  An equally persuasive fear was that too much state power could result in a politically chaotic situation such as the Articles of Confederation.  The adoption of the Constitution with the principle of Federalism as a major component within it helps to maintain this balance between state and federal governments.  Enumerated powers were those articulated in the Constitution that reside in the federal sphere, while reserved powers go to the states.  This was embedded in the Tenth Amendment in the Constitution.

Throughout American History, the dynamic between state and federal governments have helped to uphold this idea and spark debate about where the framers' intent might have been in the relationship.  Certainly, in the steps leading to the Civil War, the assertion of federalism ideas and the roles of the states in adhering to what they considered to be an unfair central government emerged.  In the post- Civil War setting, McCulloch vs. Maryland spoke to the idea of how the federal government's power is something that can be defined, sometimes against that of the states.  In most recent political and historical relevancy, there has been a movement in the last three or four decades to bring about greater state involvement in political adjudication and less in the way of federal government initiation.  We can see this in the most recent political debates for the Republican candidacy for President, when candidates like Governor Rick Perry of Texas speaks of "being under assault from the federal government" and how states like South Carolina "are at war with the federal government."  These statements help to illuminate the power division of national and state governments and help to bring out how these discussions are still vibrant in our political discourse of the modern setting.