What are the three periods of development of federalism, the influential leaders of the time, and the future of federalism?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There have been more than three periods of federalism, so there are different ways to answer this question. However, there are some important milestones and divisions in the practice of federalism in the U.S.

  • During the period called "dual federalism" (1836-1933), states and the federal government vied for power. There was tension between the power of the states and power of the federal government, which came to a head in the Civil War of 1861-1865. However, Lincoln led the federal government to have more power through his role in using the government to expand the country economically; for example, he funded the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad.
  • During the period of "cooperative federalism" (1933-1961), the states and the federal government worked together cooperatively. The federal government developed the authority to regulate the states and other government agencies. An example is the New Deal agencies established by Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression. Many of these agencies worked through the states to provide relief and jobs to people.
  • There have been different periods of federalism since 1961. One period was "New regulatory federalism" (1981-1989) under Ronald Reagan, in which the role of the federal government was cut back. 

The future of federalism might continue along the current track, in which states are given some latitude to implement federal programs. While Obama has pushed certain initiatives, states have continued to have some degree of latitude in implementing policies. Especially because many states have been financially ailing, the federal government has at times used the "carrot and stick" approach to try to get states to do what they want by offering funding in return. For example, the states were tasked with implementing Obama's new healthcare law. 

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